Sugar Addiction

(Dr Orla Flannery, Senior Lecturer)

Whilst, there is little evidence showing humans are chemically addicted to sugar (1), a study by Schulte et al. (2015) provided some preliminary evidence that certain foods such as highly processed foods may be more addictive than others (2).

The majority of research in this area is mainly in rodents, however, Morris et al. (2014) reported that there is evidence from human studies that when stressed humans have a greater preference for high sugar foods. In their study on rodents, they found that when rodents were fed a high sugar diet there were changes to neurotransmitters which are associated with the hedonic appraisal of food (3).  Furthermore, they reported that when the high sugar foods were withdrawn from their diet, the rodents demonstrated stress like responses.

A recent review of the limited evidence on sugar addiction by Ahmed et al. (2013) indicated that sugar and sweetness results in rewards and cravings that are similar that of addictive drugs like cocaine (4). One of the main areas of research in this area focusses on the role of stress in developing addiction to high sugary foods (5).



  1. Hebebrand J, Albayrak O, Adan R, Antel J, DieguezC, de Jong J, Leng G, Menzies J Mercer J.G., Murphy M, van der Plasse G, Dickson SL. (2014). Eating addiction, rather than food addiction, better captures addictive-like eating behaviour. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 27, 295-306. Retrieved from:
  2. Schulte, E.M., Avena, N.M & Gearhardt, A.N. (2015). Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load. Plos One, 18, 10(2).
  3. Morris, M.J., Beilharz, J.E., Maniam, J., Reichelt, A.C. & Westbrook, R.F. (2014). Why is obesity such a problem in the 21st century? The interesection of palatable food, cues and reward pathways, stress, and cognition. Neuroschience Behaviour Review, 10,
  4. Ahmed, S.H., Guillem, K, & Vandaele, Y. (2013). Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 16(4), 434-9.
  5. Yau, Y.H. & Potenza, M.N. (2013). Stress and eating behaviours. Minerva Endocrinology, 38(3), 255-267.


Useful links

Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health

How I broke my sugar habit. Retrieved from:

Slideshow: the truth about sugar addiction. Retrieved from:


Press reports

Can Britain end its love affair with sugar? Retrieved from:

How to give up sugar in 11 easy steps. Retrieved from: