Many 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.
A few months ago at a party, one of my friends pulled a group of us aside, pulled an inconspicuous clear plastic bag out of his pocket, and cautiously opened it as we peered inside. The bag contained a small handful of red berries—magical berries, he proclaimed—which would completely alter our reality. He’d been under the mind-warping influence of such berries before, and was able to get his hands on them in San Francisco. Eat these berries, and afterwards… everything tastes sweet.