Move Over, Heroin: "Sugar Addiction" May Be a Reality

By Nina Bai | December 10, 2008 3:53 pm

cookiesMany people (Discoblog editors included) who crave that mid-afternoon cookie fix may joke that they have a sugar addiction, but now scientists have made it official. Researchers at Princeton University report that sugar-loving mice demonstrate all three criteria of addiction: increased intake, withdrawal, and cravings that lead to relapse.

Previous work has shown that mice deprived of food for several hours and then allowed to binge on sugar water (with concentrations similar to that of soft drinks) soon developed addictive behaviors. Sugar intake causes the release of dopamine in the brain, a reward chemical. After a month of sugar binging and increased dopamine levels, the rats’ brains developed fewer dopamine receptors and more opioid receptors—changes similar to those observed in mice on cocaine and heroine.

When their sugar supply was suddenly cut off, the mice exhibited signs of withdrawal, including teeth-chattering, anxiety, and refusing to leaving their tunnels. The latest research showed that when these mice were offered sugar once again, they worked harder to attain it and consumed more than ever.

Cookies today, cocaine tomorrow? We hope not, but that leftover Halloween stash could act as a sort of gateway drug, the researchers say. The changes in brain chemistry made the mice more susceptible to other forms of addiction: When the sugar-addicted mice were cut off from their sugar supply, they binged on alcohol instead.

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DISCOVER: The Biology of… Addiction

Image: flickr / lorda

MORE ABOUT: addiction, drugs, mice, sugar
  • sam

    We have lost the art of figuring out what is good for the body and the mind.
    The solution to today’s problem is know what is beneficial.
    Who will inform us? Definitely not Obama, Blagojevich, The Pope too is questionable, the mullahs are out, the gurus are all shambos.
    We have to become sensitive. Not the nonsensical sensitivity training.
    Happiness is no quick fix.

  • o

    I believe it… Although I didn’t originally exhibit an addictive behavior towards sugar, I certainly did when I entered sober recovery after a three-year period of addiction to prescription opiates, *especially* once I quit smoking. Although exercise can help with the lack of dopamine stimuli, I still fight off strong cravings for sweets and soda — and it is nearly as strong for me as nicotine. You have to wonder if many of the heavily obese that just cannot seem to get their diet turned around have a real physiological dependence on sugar and/or fatty food. Obviously, just like in the case of heroin or cocaine, that is NOT an excuse for their self-destructive behavior, but potentially they could create medicinal interventions in the future that would block the dopamine response to sugar and fatty foods much as the opiate antagonists do for opiates and the new drug “chantax” does for nicotine.

  • Adelaide

    I woke up about five weeks after having my son six years ago shaking uncontrollably and wanting sugar.
    I hadn’t ever ate sugar before and never even thought about drinking soda or eating candy or anything like that but that morning I think I would have done just about anything to get something sugary.
    I told my husband to go to the corner store and buy about five candy bars which he did and when he returned I ate all five and then the shaking and sick feeling I had went away.
    I have been addicted to sugar ever since but what I’m wondering is how did I become addicted to it in the first place when I never even ate it before?

    I’m not diabetic nor am I hypoglacenic but this addiction of mine is a total mystery to me and if I refuse myself sugar my whole entire body goes into meltdown and it’s torture so I’ll give in and eat a piece of chocolate or drink some water with sugar mixed in it and immediately afterwards I feel normal and all symptoms of withdrawal are gone.

    So sugar addiction is a very real thing you can even become addicted to it wouthout ever having eaten it I guess!

    • Anonymous

      I see that it’s been three years, but this undoubtedly sounds like very, very low blood sugar, on the verge of diabetes.

  • Mark Hillyard

    I’m just coming off of 30 days of “walking pneumonia”, 15 days of anti bodes. Today I ate two helpings of anchovies. They came with the pizza my wife brought home. Couldn’t get enough of them and they are gone. Sea Salt works for a while but I want salty, stinky fish. What’s wrong with me. I have plenty of sugar stuff in my fridge, shelves, and even in my pockets. Don’t want it I want stinky, salty fish. One Pizza Owner delivered the pizza himself because he could not believe that someone would want to eat that. Another Pizza chick asked me…”Do you really eat that?”
    Send me anchovies.
    Mark
    foster@inreach.com

    Mark

  • Bill

    soon sugar will be banned and we will have sugar dealers on the streets where we will pay 20 or 25 dollars for a little baggie of that sweet stuff LMAO! Gimmie a break! Too much of anything is bad for you and one could claim addiction to many many different things! Get a fricken grip people!

  • http://offlinetutorials.110mb.com Fernando

    To much of one thing is bad is right. What you describe on this article, is like everything we drink. Even water is addictive, and if you drink to much it can kill you. So is water bad?

    Not to sure why attack Halloween. Candy is 99% sugar. Study was water and sugar solution. Why did they not give soda? If the study was to show issue with soda, then why not soda? I think that this article was made by someone who does not like Halloween. First attack Christmas and now Halloween.

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  • Susan

    Sugar Blues
    Author: William Duffy
    Copyright: 1975

  • Stewart

    Sugar causes the release of the chemical – dopamine from the brain. Dopamine is the feel good chemical, that’s why we eat chocolate when we feel depressed or unhappy because the sugar in the chocolate causes the release of dopamine and makes us feel better. It also has the affect of making us want more of what we are eating (sugar) and we remember what we ate and want to eat it again.

    So that’s why those sneaky food manufacturers put sugar in just about everything we eat…. because it releases dopamine and makes us feel good and want more – then we get fatter!!

    Check it out next time you’re in a supermarket and see how many processed foods have sugar – you will be quite shocked. It’s pretty hard to find foods, other than vegetable etc that don’t have sugar. The worst part is a lot of foods we eat daily such as breads have high levels of sugar. The fast food chains started it years ago by putting high levels of sugar in their buns to make us feel better and want more now it’s wide spread and getting worse.

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  • Anonymous

    Second half defense hasn’t been that bad, especially after the lakers shoot close to 70% in the first half. Problem is the offense this half has been horrific.

  • Anonymous

    delted wrong site

  • jim

    sounds like my addiction to water

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