I will admit it, I have a substantial sweet tooth.
While what I take into my body is vastly different in my recovery compared to what I was feeding myself during my addictive addiction, I still love my Skittles, my ice cream, and I love to fill my black coffee with at least two spoonsful of pure cane sugar each morning.
Imagine my surprise when I opened up my daily Yahoo News feed today and saw an article in which some researchers are staking the claim that sugar should be classified as an addictive substance.
I came from an era where Saturday mornings consisted of heaping spoonfuls of sugar in my Rice Krispies so that it could make the glucose quicksand at the bottom of the bowl. I used to drink Coca-Colas by the six-pack and didn’t seem the worse for wear. And don’t even talk to me about Skittles…
Sure, my favorite sugary treats give me a little kick in the pants and I liked the rush it gave me, but seriously–is sugar as addictive as substances like cocaine?
A recent study published in the journal Plos One suggests that sugar can rewire the brain to the same capacity as hardcore drugs. Researchers from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, heightened a family of lab rats sugar cravings by granting them access to a constant supply of sucrose-fortified water for a total four weeks. These rats developed a tolerance for the sweet water during this time frame, meaning they needed more and more of it to feel satisfied.
Once the rats were “hooked” on the water mixture, one group of rats was given a drug called varenicline which is used to treat nicotine addiction while the other group continued to drink the water mixture. The rats that were given the medication were able to walk away from the sugar water feeder more frequently and easily than the control group.
Interesting study for sure, but what connections did the researchers find between sugar intake and addictive behavior? Much like drugs and alcohol, sugar initiates the release of dopamine and it floods the neurons. The brain area where the effects of dopamine are pronounced in the nucleus accumbens which is considered the brain’s main reward circuit.
Much like long-term substance abuse, those who abuse sugar long-term causes the natural production of dopamine in the brain to decline. As a result, people would consume more sugar in order to achieve the same effect–much like what is seen with drugs and alcohol. If people try to cut sugar out abruptly from their diet, it causes an imbalance of dopamine that is similar in those who are experiencing cold turkey withdrawal.
Also, the study showed that sugar addiction–like drug addiction–can be arrested through proper medication interventions. Researchers found that sugar has a similar affect on us as tobacco which explained the use of varenicline in the study.
So, what does this mean for us in recovery? In previous articles here on Sober Nation, the role of diet in recovery is an important one. A proper and sensible diet not only promotes physical well-being, it also helps promote a healthy sense of mental well-being and helps the body increase its ability to fight off infections and allows the body’s organs to function properly.
Foods that are high on the glycemic index such as pizza, chips, cookies and ice cream can cause blood sugars to dramatically spike. Not only can these foods cause people to display the attitudes and behaviors that mirror addiction patterns, they can cause a variety of health problems such as liver disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and even Alzheimer’s disease.
By incorporating foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and water into your diet, blood pressure decreases, the risk of diabetes decreases significantly, sleep improves, and most importantly in helps improve mood.