Can Sugar Be As Addictive As Heroin?

Personal Training for Life
Find a personal trainer

Can Sugar Be As Addictive As Heroin?

02nd Apr 2013

Is Sugar Addiction Possible?

One of the most captivating and alienating subjects is the concept of food as a toxin. When I talk about sugar and it’s detrimental effects on the human body, people are often up in arms about the possibility that something on sale to adults and children can be as addictive as heroin. The unfortunate thing is that there is a lot of evidence that it actually is.

The biggest challenge comes in the form of parents accepting that some food companies are, in essence, slowly poisoning their kids. I guess we have a battle royal between maternal instinct and common sense. The instinct is to protect the child and not harm it, so why are earth would you feed your child something that is harmful? The answer is you probably won’t but in practical terms, you have been told that the food we eat is harmless.

From this point on, I want to remove any emotion and discuss science and certain reactions in the human body.

The Human Brain & Drugs

Most of the weight loss and diet advice is kept simple, for the reason for this is the pecking order that has been created for human beings in regards to information distribution. The food pyramid is a great example of simple (yet ineffective) dietary advice. If someone started telling you about the effects of sugar on your opioid receptors, chances are you would probably switch off fairly quickly. This however is the key to understanding the sugar/ heroin connection.

Lets keep this simple then, ever noticed that people tend to crave and binge on sugar? You don’t tend to see a lot of people get hooked on broccoli now do you? Here lies the issue, why on Earth would someone get hooked on food? The most obvious explanation is that there is something that is making this happen. This seems to be the effect on certain receptors in the human brain, the opioid receptor in particular.

Opioids are psychoactive chemicals that bind to the opioid receptors. These include Endogenous opioid peptides like endorphins which are produced in the body and morphine and heroin which are put into the body. It has also been suggested that sugar acts like an opioid in the human body. There was actually a study done in 1987 which demonstrated an increased pain threshold similar to morphine when rats were given table sugar. Another study in 2002 at Princeton university showed after just 4 weeks rats became “dependant” on a sugar solution given to them. There was then another study in 2008 which linked sugar to the opioid receptors and the release of dopamine. This demonstrated the potential addictive effect of sugar.

Common Sense

In the fitness industry, we tend to lean towards things like “abs blast” workouts and things of this nature. This makes things simple and easy to follow. I understand and appreciate that people don’t always want the complicated science stuff. It’s not always easy to stay focused and, in truth, gets kinda boring!

On this basis, let’s bring back our friend common sense. If we observe our behaviour when it comes to sugar consumption, how many times have you craved something sweet? I know that this has happened to me loads of times. How about children? Have you ever noticed how the behaviour changes when excessive sugar is eaten? Ever noticed that there is almost a deranged craving and demand for sweet things? Do you ever see that with cabbage? I would assume not!


In conclusion, you only need to look around at the state of this nation’s health and current dietary to know something is wrong. At first, when someone says, “sugar is as addictive as heroin” people gasp because sugar is legal and widely available to both kids and adults. Heroin is a refined plant that stimulates feel good receptors in the human brain. Sugar is a refined plant that stimulates feel good receptors in the brain. The difference is that heroin can kill people on the spot, sugar can’t. Addictive class A drugs are a moral issue, sugar appears not to be. Interesting stuff, would you agree?


A diet promoting sugar dependency causes behavioral cross-sensitization to a low dose of amphetamine

Evidence That Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake Causes Endogenous Opioid Dependence