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Sugar Addiction Statistics

Excessive sugar intake can be a significant issue, leading to health problems and addictive behavior. While specific statistics on sugar addiction may be elusive, the rising trend of sugar consumption in the US underscores the need to address potential health imbalances in the body and brain.

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Statistics About Sugar Addiction

There’s no question that sugar intake can become a big problem for certain people. While we need sugar to fuel our bodies, over-eating sweet foods can lead to numerous health issues and even addictive behavior.

Statistics on sugar addiction may be hard to find, but the reality of sugar consumption in the US is not. Learning about the health trends related to sugar consumption is essential to addressing sugar addiction and the imbalances it can cause in both the body and the brain.

How Common Is Sugar Addiction?

Although the evidence for sugar addiction’s existence only continues to grow, studies specifically on sugar addiction are in short supply. However, there is no question that sugar consumption in the US is growing exponentially.

  • Sugar is estimated to be found in 75% of packaged foods in the US.
  • According to data from the University of Georgia, on average, the US population consumes more than 300% of the daily recommended amount of added sugar.
  • The American Heart Association recommends adult women consume ≤6 teaspoons (∼25 grams) and adult men consume ≤9 teaspoons (∼38 grams) of added sugar daily. According to the Washington State University College of Pharmacy, Americans consume three to six times the recommended amount of sugar daily.
  • The Washington State University College of Pharmacy also reports that the average American consumes ∼66 pounds of added sugar annually, which translates to 82 grams or 19.5 teaspoons daily.
  • Research from the US Department of Agriculture reports that per capita soft drink consumption has increased by almost 500% in the past 50 years.
  • Research from the University of Leeds reveals that an estimated 47.2 to 56.8% of people with binge-eating disorder meet the criteria for a food addiction diagnosis. Food addiction tends to develop around consuming highly sugar-rich foods.

Comparisons Between Sugar and Cocaine

Several studies have been published recently showing that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. These studies were conducted on rats, whose anatomical, physiological, and genetics are most similar to humans.

In these studies, researchers proved that refined sugar had a similar effect to illegal drugs like cocaine and activated the same opioid receptors in our brains. Sugar intake affects the brain’s reward system, including activating the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

Because sugar causes the release of dopamine and other drug-like effects, excessive consumption of sugar can lead to the same behaviors seen in drug addictions, such as bingeing, tolerance, intense sugar cravings, withdrawal, and dependence.

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Harmful Effects of Sugar

Excessive sugar intake has been linked to many serious health problems. However, it’s important to remember that sugar is not inherently evil. All our food is broken down into sugars called “glucose,” which becomes fuel for our cells.

Natural sugars from whole foods and vegetables aren’t as bad for you. Sugar becomes a big problem in its refined form, often found in highly refined, processed foods like candy, ice cream, cereals, white bread, soft drinks, savory snacks like chips, desserts, and convenience or microwaved meals.

  • Washington State University College of Pharmacy reports that incidences of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) have doubled since 1980 due to the rise in consumption of refined sugar.
  • A study conducted by Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital confirmed an association between NASH and fructose (refined sugar) consumption. An estimated 13% of children now suffer from NAFLD, and 37.6% of children and adolescents with NAFLD also demonstrated evidence of NASH.

Sugar and Obesity

Experts are hesitant to plan the obesity epidemic on sugar, but there is certainly a link between sugar intake and excessive weight gain. The reason sugar contributes to obesity so strongly is that it provides a major and unnecessary source of calories with little or no nutritional value.

  • A study commissioned by the World Health Organization linked unhealthy food and sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption to weight gain and obesity.
  • According to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, as compared with non-calorically sweetened beverages, results in weight gain and an increase in BMI in children and adolescents.

Sugar and Dental Decay

Sugar often destroys healthy teeth, leading to cavities, root canals, and gum disease. Dental decay occurs because sugar interacts with the bacteria within plaque to produce acid. Over time, this acid can eat away tooth enamel and lead to unpleasant and expensive dental issues.

  • Research conducted by Newcastle University revealed that, in the United States, 15.7% of children and 23.7% of adults have untreated dental cavities.
  • That same study indicated that each 5 g of sugar was associated with a 1% increase in the probability of developing cavities.

Sugar and Cardiovascular Disease

The link between sugary foods and cardiovascular disease is one of the greatest risks for individuals with sugar dependence or addiction. Sugar increases a person’s risk of cardiovascular diseases because it promotes inflammation in the body, leading to excess stress on the heart and blood vessels.

Sugar overconsumption also contributes to other conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes, all of which can result in cardiovascular issues.

  • In a study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine in 2014, researchers compared people who consumed a lot of added sugar and those who ate less sugar. Among the high-sugar group, 38% had a greater risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Research published in the journal BMC Medicine showed a 5% increase in a person’s total energy intake that comes from sugar was associated with a 6% higher risk of heart disease.
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Find Help & Overcome Sugar Addiction

If you or a loved one are showing signs of sugar dependence or sugar addiction, now is the time to seek treatment to avoid serious health consequences associated with sugar. While rehab treatments are commonplace for substance abuse issues, sugar addiction treatment often centers around diet changes.

Aside from diet changes, therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy can help address the addictive behaviors sugar addicts struggle with. Ask your doctor or mental health counselor about treatment options for sugar addiction.

You can also try SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to learn what treatment options are available in your area.

FAQs About Sugar Addiction Statistics

How much of the population is addicted to sugar?

There is no current estimate of how many people are addicted to sugar. However, research indicates that people in America consume more than 300% of the daily recommended amount of added sugar.

How long does it take to detox from sugar?

Although sugar tends to leave your bloodstream two hours after eating, the effects of sugar can last much longer. Individuals experiencing sugar withdrawal symptoms may experience adverse effects anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on several factors.

For people who quit sugar cold turkey, symptoms like headaches, body aches, nausea, brain fog, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, mood swings, and sleeping issues may be severe but short-lived. Others who slowly cut down on sugar intake over time may experience milder symptoms for longer by comparison.

How does sugar affect the brain?

Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners have been proven to activate the same opioid receptors in the brain as other drugs of abuse. Sugar also tends to activate the brain’s reward center, where chemicals like dopamine and serotonin are released.

Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and happiness. As the sugar addict consumes more sugar to trigger this flood of pleasurable chemicals, new pathways of addictive behavior are formed, and the brain becomes dependent on sugar to function normally.

What is the difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar?

The biggest difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar is in its chemical makeup and what it’s made from. Average refined white sugar comes from beets and cane sugar, with a composition of 50% fructose and 50% glucose.

High-fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, is made from corn and is made of 40% glucose and 55% fructose. Other common sugar names you might see include “dextrose” and “sucrose,” but most of these sugars have similar effects on the body.

Is sugar more addictive than cocaine?

So far, several studies have indicated that sugar may be more addictive than cocaine. All of the studies thus far have been conducted on rats, which have anatomy and organ structures similar to humans.

While research on sugar’s addictiveness is still ongoing, these early studies reveal why sugar overconsumption is a serious issue for public health and people predisposed to certain addictive behaviors.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 28). Get the Facts: Added Sugars. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/added-sugars.html
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  4. Ede-Osifo, U. (2023, February 14). High Sugar Intake Linked to Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke: Study. NBCNews.com. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/heart-health/high-sugar-intake-risk-heart-disease-stroke-study-rcna70406
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  7. Ndumele, C. E. (2021, November 1). Obesity, Sugar and Heart Health. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/obesity-sugar-and-heart-health
  8. Statistics About Diabetes. Statistics About Diabetes | ADA. (2023). https://diabetes.org/about-diabetes/statistics/about-diabetes
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  10. White, J. R. (2018, January). Sugar. Clinical Diabetes: A Publication of the American Diabetes Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5775006/

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