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Why Do Addicts Crave Sugar?

Woman with sugar craving

Your parents probably advised you not to eat too much sugar when you were younger because it can cause cavities. They also probably warned you not to do drugs for the obvious health implications. While a sweet tooth seems like little to worry about in comparison to a substance abuse problem, drug addiction and sugar cravings are, in fact, more similar than people realize. Today, our rehab in Pennsylvania is taking a look at why drug addicts crave sugar, as well as comparing the impact of drugs vs. sugar on the brain. 

Drug Addicts and Sugar: What’s the Connection? 

It all has to do with the brain. Addiction is a disease that results from changes in the chemical makeup of your brain. For instance, when a person abuses opioids like prescription painkillers or heroin for long periods and develops an addiction, their brain becomes hardwired to crave the drug. When they’re not on the drug, the individual may experience withdrawal symptoms and struggle to function normally without it. 

What starts out as a drug use habit will develop into dependence and addiction as the brain begins to rewire itself in anticipation of using this drug again. Specifically, drug abuse often triggers the reward system in the brain. These drugs can disrupt the normal flow of chemicals or cause a surge of neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in the brain, mainly ones called dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.   

Dopamine, in particular, plays a major role in addiction. This is the brain’s feel-good chemical that’s naturally released whenever we do something pleasurable, signaling us to repeat the activity in the future. Because drugs can also activate dopamine, drug-taking behavior is reinforced.  

The result is an unnatural euphoric rush that the brain comes to crave. All of these factors work together to make someone dependent on drugs. This is why many addicts struggle to stop on their own without the help of medical detox or inpatient care. 

When it comes to understanding the relationship between drug addiction and sugar cravings, it’s been discovered that sugar has a similar effect on the brain. Like many illicit drugs, sugar triggers the brain’s reward system and increases the production of dopamine. It causes the same initial euphoria as drugs, hence the term sugar rush, but is typically less intense.  

The sugar crash experienced following the consumption of sugar is also similar to the comedown of some abused drugs. Although people are not as likely to become addicted to sugar in the same ways as they would to drugs, there is some evidence to suggest that intermittent sugar intake can lead to both behavioral and chemical changes in the brain that are similar to the effects of substance abuse.2 

Why Do Drug Addicts Crave Sugar? 

Because drug addiction and sugar cravings involve the same chemicals and parts of the brain, some drug addicts will crave sugar in recovery. Drug addicts’ brains have adjusted to expect that euphoric rush and dopamine surge that drugs provide, and they may seek out the same effect by consuming more sugar.  

Unfortunately, because the bodies of recovering drug addicts are often used to higher levels of these chemicals, they may consume large amounts of sugar in one sitting to chase this high. In particular, drug addicts in early recovery may start to experience sugar cravings as their bodies go through drug withdrawal and their brains desperately crave these chemical changes that the drugs are no longer providing. 

What Drugs Cause Sugar Cravings?

Numerous substances, including some medications that interfere with the body's biochemistry and boost the desire for sweet meals, might cause sugar cravings. For those attempting to lead balanced and healthful lives, it is imperative to comprehend the link between drugs and sugar cravings.

Examples of these substances include:

  • Opioids: Opioid-based drugs such as codeine, morphine, and oxycodone may affect the body's natural reward system. They affect opioid receptors in the brain, increasing dopamine levels. This heightened dopamine response is associated with pleasure and reward, which may lead to cravings for calorie-dense, sugar-rich foods. The craving for sweets may intensify as the brain looks for additional dopamine triggers, creating a cycle of consumption.
  • Corticosteroids: These drugs, which are frequently prescribed to treat autoimmune diseases, allergies, and inflammation, can also make you crave sweets. Prednisone and other corticosteroids impair insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, raising blood sugar levels. In order to balance out the blood glucose levels, the body then desires sugar, which may lead some people to eat sweets more frequently. Corticosteroid users must be careful about their sugar intake and think about healthier options to satisfy cravings.
  • Antidepressants: While some older tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and MAO inhibitors may potentially alter appetite and metabolism, SSRIs have been shown to enhance appetites for carbs and sugary foods. Some people who use TCAs may gain weight as a result of an increased appetite that includes a potential preference for sweet foods. The levels of neurotransmitters and appetite regulation may be changed by MAO inhibitors, which may affect the desire for sweet foods.
  • Antipsychotics: In addition to clozapine and olanzapine, quetiapine and risperidone are further antipsychotic drugs that may cause weight gain and changes in appetite. These medications may interfere with metabolic functions and increase the craving for sweet foods, raising the possibility of weight-related issues.
  • Stimulants: While abusing stimulants can have a reputation for suppressing hunger while they are in use, they can also cause post-stimulant hunger, which is frequently accompanied by a craving for foods high in sugar. When the brief appetite-suppressing effects wear off, people may experience rebound hunger and turn to calorie-dense foods, such as those high in sugar.

Individuals taking these medications should make proactive dietary decisions by being aware of the correlation between drug addiction and sugar cravings. This can be done by speaking with a healthcare professional, which is extremely helpful in managing any subsequent cravings. It's crucial to keep in mind that each individual can experience drug effects differently, and not everyone will feel these desires to the same degree or at all.

What Are 7 Signs of Sugar Addiction?

Identifying signs of sugar addiction is crucial for maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. While it's normal to enjoy sweet treats occasionally, an excessive and compulsive craving for sugar can lead to a range of health issues.

These sugar addiction signs include:

  1. Intense cravings: Even when a person is not physically hungry, intense cravings for sweet foods or drinks can be a telltale symptom of a sugar addiction. This frequently results in a vicious cycle of seeking for and eating high-sugar foods.
  2. Loss of control: People who are addicted to sugar frequently struggle to control their intake. When they repeatedly try to cut back or stop, they could wind up consuming more sweet foods than they had intended to.
  3. Mood swings: Sugar addiction has been associated with mood swings like anger, anxiety, or depression. Consuming sugar causes blood sugar levels to jump quickly and then drop quickly, which can cause mood swings.
  4. Physical withdrawal symptoms: This can include headaches, weariness, and irritability when sugar consumption is abruptly reduced. These signs may point to a physical reliance on sugar.
  5. Neglect of nutritious foods: A concentration on sugary foods frequently causes people to overlook more wholesome alternatives. An imbalanced diet results from substituting high-calorie, low-nutrient foods for vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  6. Preoccupation with sugar: Strong signs of addiction include persistent thinking about when and where to get the next sugar fix, as well as scheduling meals and activities around consuming sugar. One's ideas and actions may be completely controlled by this obsession.
  7. Continued use despite negative consequences: Even when eating sugary foods causes weight gain, dental troubles, or other health concerns, people with a sugar addiction may continue to indulge in them despite being aware of the harmful effects of excessive sugar consumption.

The first step in treating sugar addiction and preventing the possible trap of switching one addiction for another is recognizing these symptoms. It's important to keep in mind that switching from a drug addiction to a sugar addiction can have its own set of negative effects. In order to build healthier eating habits and keep up your overall wellness, seeking assistance from medical professionals, nutritionists, or support groups can be very helpful. Never forget that it's never too late to make adjustments that will improve your health and well-being.

Is Sugar More Addictive Than Drugs? 

As we previously mentioned, addicts crave sugar because it produces a similar effect on the brain as drugs of abuse, particularly those that activate dopamine. It’s been found that there are significant similarities between eating sugar and using drugs, such as binging, craving, tolerance, withdrawal, dependence, and reward. Even so, sugar is not more addictive than drugs of abuse.  

Although sugar can alter the brain in similar ways as cocaine, quitting sugar is significantly easier to do than quitting drugs, and it can be done without professional care. On the other hand, addictive drugs like alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids require professional inpatient or outpatient treatment to prevent health complications, decrease the risk of relapse, and ensure the individual actually completes their treatment plan. 

Recovering Drug Addicts & Sugar 

When a drug addict receives drug or alcohol addiction treatment at our Pennsylvania rehab, it is not uncommon for them to be tempted to replace one addiction with another. For some, this may mean turning to sugar for a more natural high than their substance abuse once provided. Unfortunately, when consumed in excess, sugar can lead to serious health problems. 

For long-term drug users, a high-sugar diet can be especially damaging as their bodies are often already in bad health, and they may be experiencing malnutrition. Early on, it is best to avoid making the common mistake in recovery, which is consuming too much sugar, and instead focus on developing a healthy diet. Patients in our Philadelphia addiction center will be educated about nutrition and encouraged to follow a healthy diet. 

Whether you struggle with drug addiction yourself or know someone who does, it is time to take action. To learn more about our Pennsylvania addiction treatment programs, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763.



  1. NIH - Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction 
  2. NCBI - Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake 
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Why Do Addicts Crave Sugar?
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