The Connection Between Drug Addiction and Sugar Cravings - Banyan Treatment Center

The Connection Between Drug Addiction and Sugar Cravings

Woman with sugar craving

Your parents probably advised you not to eat too much sugar 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.

Sugar Cravings & Drug Addiction in the Brain

It all has to do with the brain. Addiction is a disease that is the result of changes in the chemical makeup of your brain that make a person crave the substance they are abusing. 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. The result is an unnatural euphoric rush that the brain comes to crave. These drugs also increase the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter related to reinforcement of pleasurable activities.1 All of these factors work to together to make someone dependent on drugs. This is why many addicts struggle to stop on their own without the help of an inpatient or outpatient treatment center.

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 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. Drug addicts’ brains have adjusted to expect that euphoric rush and dopamine surge that drugs provide. They may come to look for this same effect outside of just drugs, and sugar is a less intense but still a viable way of achieving this. Unfortunately, because their bodies are used to higher amounts 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 brain desperately craves these chemical changes that the drugs are no longer providing.

Recovering Drug Addicts & Sugar

When a drug addicts gets treatment like at our drug rehab in Langhorne, PA, 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 that 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. In early recovery, it is best to avoid too much sugar and instead focus on developing a healthy diet. Patients in our Philly PHP and other treatment programs 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 how we may be able to help your or your loved one, call us today at 888-280-4763.

Sources & References:

  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 who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.