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How Is Sugar Addicting?

There’s been an ongoing conversation in the scientific and health community regarding the nature of sugar, with many claiming that a substance that is found in almost everything is nearly as addictive as cocaine. Whether or not this is true has been in hot debate, but what is known is that sugar is a major contributor to dental issues like cavity, plaque, tartar, and gum disease. But is it also an addictive substance?

What Defines An Addictive Substance?
The best place to start answering that question is by defining what makes a substance ‘addictive’. According to the DSM 5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, defines an addictive substance as one that causes craving, that continues to be used in spite of unpleasant consequences, is difficult to stop using, that we can develop a tolerance to, and yet leaves to withdrawals when we cease using it. Does all of that apply to sugar?

Sweet Temptations
Within the brain dopamine is a vital substance, one that helps direct us towards those things we like and that provides us with a sense of reward when we get them. This system begins to fire when we even anticipate positive feelings. Cakes, candies, sugary drinks, chocolate, and in fact all things that contain sugar can fire off our dopamine system at the mere thought of having them. Sugar can be found in some unexpected places as well, including chips, crackers, and bread.

Increasing Tolerance
The more our system gets activated by sugar, the less it responds to it. This doesn’t cease the craving, mind you, instead it makes us crave the substance even more so we can experience that feeling of reward. What does this mean? A constantly rising need for sugar to get the same positive feeling we received with less. Clearly sugar meets the requirements of a substance we can gain a tolerance to.

Withdrawals
Surely this substance that we use every day doesn’t also cause withdrawal, does it? It actually appears that if we were to cut off our supply of sugar “cold-turkey”, we clearly start experiencing withdrawals. Reduced energy levels, depression, cravings, even agitation caused by the presence of what we crave and our inability to use it.

Negative Effects
As we mentioned above, there are decidedly negative consequences to consuming sugar, especially in large quantities. The consumption of sugar leads to obesity, tooth decay, diabetes, just to name a few of the negative consequences. Yet we still continue to consume it in unhealthy quantities in spite of this.

So Should I Quit Sugar?
We won’t tell you that you should avoid eating sugar entirely, most of us simply wouldn’t be able to achieve that goal, or truly desire to. Reducing your sugar consumption, however, can aid not just in good dental health, but in good overall health. By limiting how much sugar you consume you can slow damage to your teeth, reduce acne, aid in the loss of unwanted weight, and even help you sleep better and experience overall better moods. With benefits like that, we could all benefit from a little less sugar in our diet.

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