Sugar, Addiction, and Sugar Addiction


Jeff O’Connell, author of Sugar Nation, has explored the depths of this variety of food addiction. He writes,

Researchers at Princeton University have studied the effects of sugar on the brain chemistry of rats, and what they’ve found is that their subjects exhibit all the effects of heroin addiction. Sugar does this by triggering the release of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine in the section of the brain normally associated with addictive behaviors. The dopamine release produces a drug-like ‘high.’ Yet the brain adapts. So it takes more of the substance — in this case, sugar — to produce the same effect… Lessening the sugar stimulation only makes the body want more dopamine. Remove the substance altogether, and the sugar abuser experiences physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. The body is addicted…

Are you convinced yet? Well, good luck avoiding sugar. It’s everywhere. As Latwanas Stephens wrote, with perhaps only slight exaggeration,

When you look at a list of ingredients on a product, the manufacturer is required to list them in order of amount, from highest to lowest. So they can bury a quarter cup of fructose, a quarter cup of sucrose, a quarter cup of dextrose, and a quarter cup of corn syrup in the middle of the list, so you won’t be as likely to notice that when you add them all up, the main ingredient in the product is sugar.

A novel called Portobello, by Ruth Rendell, contains one of the most thorough and accurate portraits of an addictive personality to be found in literature. The character, Eugene Wren, has previously fought off potential addictions to cigarettes and liquor, but is currently hooked on one particular flavor of a certain brand of sugarless sweets. Okay, so it’s not directly related to sugar.

But all addictions are basically the same, and the author portrays it stunningly — the denial and the rationalizations, the secrecy, the awkwardness, the cover-ups and lies, the social stigma, the paranoia, the shame. Although he’s no kind of macho man, Wren is mortified because his substance of choice is a wimpy thing like diet candy. The addictive personality has a warped perspective. It finds something manly, something perversely heroic, in dying of an overdose like Jim Morrison or lung cancer like John Wayne.

In real life, the heroism is in getting over it. Recovering addicts are some of the most formidable people you will ever run up against. Someone with 30 years of sobriety has dealt with the most powerful opponent in the world — the self. With that battle won, dealing with you, or anybody else, is a stroll in the park.

Still, character-building as it may be, we don’t want to give our kids the opportunity to be recovering addicts. We don’t want them to be addicts in the first place. We don’t want them to face a future like that of the man described by a Childhood Obesity News visitor, whose ex-husband habitually imbibed at least six and as many as 12 cans of soda per day. She writes,

When we married he had a 28″ waist measurement. Today, 36 years later, it is 46″. When I met him he had gorgeous teeth. Now they are ruined. When I met him he was extremely fit with no health problems. Today he has diabetes, heart disease and a 20 year history of developing kidney stones. When analyzed the stones are always found to be 90% oxalic acid, one of two types of acid found in colas. His teeth have gone bad because of acid erosion of enamel. And the weight gain is no doubt related to drinking so much soda. His doctors have confirmed that much of his deteriorating health can be linked directly to soda.

Aside from its addictive qualities, sugar is the very definition of empty calories. Its effects on the body are multitudinous, and none of them are good. Sugar is a ridiculously addictive substance, and children encounter it from Day One. If there is such a thing as a “gateway drug,” sugar is it. And Halloween is all about sugar. So the feeling is, something needs to be done about Halloween.

Did you know that October 30, the day before Halloween, is Sugar Addiction Awareness Day?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sugar Addiction: A Nation in Need of Rehab,” Crazy Sexy Life, 10/04/11
Source: “Do You Know What Foods Contain Hidden Sugar?,” Elev8, 06/22/11
Image by Dr. Pretlow, used with permission.

One Response

  1. Funny but real. I had to reframe from eating candy this Holloween. It was everywhere, work, library and even my daughters daycare. I let my daughter go trick or treating for the experience. We only when to 3 houses.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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