Sugar is a hidden component in all kinds of different food items. But even if ‘sugar rush’ is a common concept, sugar is not the first thing that comes to a person’s mind when talking about drugs. Nevertheless, both share some similarities, which would allow the labelling of sugar as an ‘addictive substance’. Research also shows the influence of sugar on the dopamine production in the brain, similar to already classified drugs.
It is necessary to test sugar and drugs similarly, to understand whether sugar has an addictive potential as well. Following the main theory of addiction, sugar acts through a reward system. So when a person is addicted to a substance, the psychological ‘wanting’ is increased, while the ‘liking’ is not necessary. Think of the anticipation you feel when your favourite food is being prepared – that is wanting or craving. And liking is the joy you feel when you eat your favourite food.
These two concepts have proven valuable in drug research, but they have not been fully separated in human research. The availability of different tests, such as questionnaires and computer games which explore ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’ in different manners, allows us to possibly re-examine this relationship.
To fully decide if sugar is addictive or not, we need a better understanding of how to measure wanting and liking. So the next time you engage in impulsive shopping of sweets, decide for yourself: Do you like them? Or is it just your sugar dependence lurking around the corner?
Research group 7b