When we think of addiction it is often alcohol or banned substances that come to mind. Too often we focus on the substance and not the behavior. By thinking this way, it is easy to dismiss addictions to chocolate, sugar or coffee. This is not to say that anyone who enjoys or craves chocolate is an addict, only that these cravings can progress to an addiction with similar emotional and mental component to a controlled substance or alcohol addiction. While the negative effects on the body may not be as severe as those of alcohol, the reason for the addiction is likely related. Sugar is a great example. Sugar addictions are easy to miss because unlike other substances that are known to be addictive, it is easy to dismiss because it is in everything! Even foods that do not contain added sugar itself are recognized as sugar by our bodies – (rice, potato, bread) and may be the object of a sugar addiction.
It is important not to forget about addictions such as a sugar addiction because of what it represents. The danger of an addiction is not usually the object of addiction, but the behavior and impact on daily living. Sugar, like other substance addictions, has both a physiological and emotional component. If you get to the point where you cannot say no to a sweet and find yourself depending on ingesting them during times of stress to soothe and calm out, it is possible you are addicted to sugar. Because of the intertwined physiological and emotional components of addiction, whatever the object, it is important to address both in treatment.
The article by Karley Randolph Pitman highlights a few tips and resources to heal sugar cravings and addiction. Compassion for self is key – this is something I repeatedly bring up with my patients struggling with addiction. She also mentions the growing interest in sugar addiction in the research world. Many people recognize sugar as addictive and it has been suggested it is as addictive as cocaine for some individuals. It is possible that vitamin and mineral imbalances, candida overgrowth, and hormonal imbalances can contribute to a sugar addiction. These are all aspects of health that I focus on when addressing addiction.
As a naturopathic doctor I frequently encourage individuals to cut down on their sugar intake regardless of whether they are full blown addicted. I do this because while sugar is necessary – our brains, for example, depend heavily on the energy from sugar, too much of the simple, highly processed forms can stress the liver and gut and exacerbate inflammatory conditions. If sugar cravings have become an addiction there are additional aspects of treatment that address the underlying cause, often emotional, to move beyond needing a sweet ‘fix’.