It’s Legal, It’s Everywhere, How Can It Be Addictive?

sugar addiction

Is sugar addictive?

More to the point, are you addicted to sugar? It know, it seems stupid to even think that something which is so easily available and is loaded into so much of our food, could be addictive.

Here are the criteria the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV and the WHO ICD-10 use to determine addiction:

The substance is taken in greater amounts or for a longer time than intended

You open that packet of Timtams or Oreos planning to have or maybe two, with your cup of tea. And next time you look, there’s only one in the packet. How did that happen? Or, imagine a slice of your favourite cake, luscious, creamy, smelling great – could you only eat half of it?

There is a persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control use

This one makes me laugh too – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “gone off sugar”, and it was only in 2010 that I finally completely cut the tie. How many times you have tried to eat less sugar, or stop eating sugar altogether?

Major time is spent in seeking, using, or recovering from the effects of use

Do you always buy a few bars of your favourite chocolate when you do the family shopping, or a packet or your favourite biscuits? Do you have a stash of jelly beans in your desk drawer? Do you ever sneak-eat chocolate so others can’t see you do it? And, have you ever had that major pig-out and for the next few days you’ve felt ‘off’ – the sugar hangover?

Frequent intoxication or withdrawal interferes with responsibilities

This is where we get into the territory of “I’m not addicted because this isn’t me”. Take a deep breath and think about these questions:

  • Do you live in cluttered chaos?
  • How often are you late meeting people, or paying your bills?
  • Do you have that mid-afternoon sleepy dip when you’re really too tired
    to do anything and all you want to do is nap?
  • When you eat or drink sugary stuff, do you feel revived, alive, and sociable?

There is a decreased level of social, recreational activities due to use

Again, this seems funny – but how often do you prefer to eat your sugary foods when you’re alone? How often do you not go places because you’re not sure if they’ll have the sugary foods you like? How many of your friends also love sugar as much as you do, and do you prefer spending time with them because of it? The biggie: if you didn’t all eat sugary foods together, would you still be friends?

There is a continuous use despite adverse consequences

If you’re reading this, you probably know the downside of sugar – the mood swings, the depression, the lethargy, the mental fog, the damage to your arteries, the weight that feels like it’s gotten away from you. You know it, but you don’t care…

There is a marked increase in tolerance

This goes back to the packet of Timtams or Oreos – you can’t just have one, because one doesn’t feel like enough. I knew my sugar use was out of control when I found myself buying two peppermint crisps because one vanished too fast, and I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with one. Okay, it wasn’t the first time….

There are withdrawal symptoms

Real withdrawal symptoms don’t kick in for a few days, but you might have noticed that when you have the Timtam, you feel brighter, more awake, and maybe even more confident. And when you don’t have the sugar, you feel lethargic, down, sleepy, and a bit withdrawn – and you know you’ll feel better when you get some sugar into you.

There is use to prevent withdrawal

You might be able to predict when you’ll start to feel cranky, or when you’ll need a boost of some sort – maybe it’s the mid-afternoon desire for ‘something’, or you can feel yourself getting edgy and you reach for a jellybean.

What do you think?

Does any of this ring true to you? Just three of these symptoms puts you into the may be addicted category, and you only need to partly agree with the statement for it to be a yes. And I know that can be scary – addicts are no-hopers who are out of control and morally questionable. And if sugar was addictive, it wouldn’t be legal would it?

At college, I did a paper on addiction and compared alcohol to quilting – a person who answers ‘yes’ to all the above in relation to their quilting is less likely to be vilified than someone who says yes in relation to alcohol.

And that’s only because quilting is seen as something that is kind of harmless, reasonably productive, even artistic, and can in fact add value to a person’s life. If it becomes their life, well that’s not all bad is it? Their friends will be quilters, they’ll go to quilting bees and retreats and shows and conferences, they’ll spend their money on new tools and subscribe to quilting magazines, they’ll take classes to learn new techniques, and they’ll plan their holidays based on the quilter’s trail through a state. And they’re not harming anyone, are they – though if you were to ask a family member you may get a different perspective.

The fact that someone can get addicted at all says that we’re wired for pleasure, to repeat things that give us pleasure, and it’s up to us to be aware of just what we’re doing so that we can make conscious choices about what we do.

For me, I gave up the peppermint crisps, and now I don’t even go down that aisle in the supermarket because my interest level is zero. I’m like, oh look there’s a peppermint crisp, I used to love eating those.


Well you might not believe me until you try it yourself 🙂 My Easy Way to Quit Sugar Program looks at the main triggers we have that seems to drag us helplessly towards sugary foods, and helps you discharge them. Honestly – no more white knuckles, ever!! It’s true – you can quit sugar easily.

1 Comment

  1. Amy Warden on January 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Ack! I think I’m addicted to lots of things…

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