In popular culture, many people claim to be addicted to sugar and the term is used quite frequently, along with testimony of mental highs and lows as well as withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms tend to be much milder than more serious addictions, such as to nicotine or alcohol, and may include mood swings, depression, or physical sickness. Additionally, a significant part of the struggle for those who seem to be addicted to sugar may be psychological, as mental addictions can often be as compelling as biological addictions. Whether or not people can be biologically addicted to sugar in the same manner as being addicted to drugs is still up for debate within the scientific community. In general, researchers have not yet conclusively found that sugar creates the characteristics needed to classify it as biologically addicting, and those who seem to be addicted to sugar may be more accurately characterized as sugar-dependent.
In general, those who seem to be addicted to sugar testify to a constant sweet tooth. Specifically, many of these individuals may taste something containing sugar and feel compelled to finish more than they know they need or are reasonably capable of eating. On a daily basis, those dependent on sugar may undergo mood swings throughout the day as their insulin level moves up and down. Fatigue, drowsiness, or depression are typical lows, while high energy or feelings of euphoria are commonly testified highs. In severe sugar dependency, however, the highs become less prominent, and individuals will often need to consume sugar simply to avoid the lows.
Sugar withdrawal symptoms are some of the clearest indications of being addicted to sugar. Mood swings and irritability may, for some, be accompanied by headaches, nausea, and fatigue. In many cases, sugar withdrawal is the natural result of coincidentally abstaining from sugar for a period of time because of other circumstances. Many in this situation will binge even harder on sweets after this period of abstinence, and this is another mark of possible sugar addiction.
As with those with more severe addictions, many of those dependent on sugar have a psychological relationship with it. It is common for those who are sugar-dependent to turn to sweets when feeling depressed or stressed. The dependency may also manifest in the usage of sugar as a means of self-reward, such as for completing certain tasks or accomplishments throughout one's day. Especially in cases in which binging is involved, an individual's psychological dependency on sugar may also be related to an eating disorder. In addition, many testify that feeding the cravings only results in larger cravings, which is another classic symptom of addiction or dependency to a product.
While some researchers have performed experiments on rats that seem to support sugar dependence, in order for sugar to be classified as biologically addicting in the same manner as drugs, scientists would need to be able to perform reproducible double-blind experiments affirming three characteristics. First, individuals should undergo a change in brain chemistry and behavior as a result of the sugar. Second, withdrawal should be accompanied by further changes in brain chemistry. Third, the aftermath of the withdrawal should be accompanied by signs of craving and relapse. While these characteristics have not officially been confirmed in research, many laypersons attest to similar experiences.