Sugar addiction

There is a universal assumption that sugar is an addictive substance and could be as addictive as cocaine and alcohol (Benton, 2010). While the word "addiction" is currently omitted from the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) , the American Psychiatric Association (2013) states that a substance use disorder is based on the maladaptive pattern of behaviour in relation to the use of the substance causing a clinically significant impairment. To determine the validity of this assumption, numerous studies and reviews have been undertaken. This essay will aim to examine the current research and determine if sugar is an addictive substance.

The term addiction is usually associated with drugs of abuse such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin and insinuates a psychological dependence (Hone-Blanchet, Fecteau, 2014). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition, (DSM-5) states that substance abuse is present if at least the following criteria of the eleven is accounted for: (1) bingeing, (2) tolerance and (3) withdrawal (Rogers, 2017). 


The animal model for sugar addiction hypothesises that ... Avena et al. (2008) suggests that under certain circumstances sugar can act as an addictive substance. The rats in this model undergo a twelve-hour restriction, followed by twelve-hour access to a sugar solution. After a month following this regimen, both behavioural and physiological symptoms related to addiction were evident (Benton, 2010). When observing the signs of addiction in the animal model it was proposed that it would then transfer into a human model of sugar addiction. However, the human model did not support that sugar is an addictive substance as there are multiple factors, both socially and culturally that can influence humans which are not seen in rodents (Benton, 2010). Support for sugar addiction in animal models does not transfer to humans. The addictive-like behaviours observed in rats are as a result of a strict feeding schedule. Moreover, the model does not account for the inability to observe a pure sugar withdrawal due to humans complex diets (Freeman et al., 2018).

"Food addiction" (FA) is a relatively new concept and is a disputed term seeing as though eating is a necessity. Even so, it is important to investigate the plausibility that rather than sugar itself being an addictive substance, there is instead an addiction to food. FA is characterised by the repetitive cycle of compulsive eating (Shell & Firmin, 2017).

The current sugar addiction model stems from the results that rats would prefer a palatable sucrose solution if given the choice. However, there is a need to demonstrate that the behaviour shown in the animal model cannot be replicated with carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners or fat-rich palatable foods (Benton, 2010). Hyper-palatable foods are processed foods that contain not only sugar but fats carbs.

While hyper-palatable foods... in the current societal environment the eating style and cues... Individuals with binge eating disorder reported that (sugar, high fats, processed foods)... Moreover, studies have supported that external cues related to food can trigger reward associated brain circuits (Morris et al., 2015) causing the individual to eat. Due to the convenience and cost of processed refined foods in our modern society...