Why Avoiding Sugar in Addiction Treatment Is Beneficial

Last Updated: February 20, 2023

Jump to Section

What is the link between addiction and a diet that is high in sugar?

Sugar cravings are common, which can partly explain why obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. Not only can sugar cause weight gain and other health issues, but it may also play a role in drug addiction.

How does sugar affect addiction to drugs or alcohol, and how can limiting sugar be beneficial to addiction treatment?

Sugar Intake May Lead to Increased Drug Misuse

According to recent research, consuming too much sugar can not only put people at a higher risk of addiction, but it can also interfere with addiction treatment.

Evidence suggests that table sugar can trigger addictive behaviors in much the same way that alcohol and drugs can. More specifically, sugar can activate the brain’s reward areas the way drugs do by overstimulating these centers over time.

Opioid misuse may be linked to a poor diet, including high amounts of sugar. Researchers have found that a diet that is rich in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) could modify neural responses to opioids and may weaken the reward experience associated with the drug. As a result, it may trigger the need to consume more substantial amounts of drugs. By dampening the reward system, people who have developed a tolerance to drugs may increase their use.

People in rehab should avoid consuming too much sugar to increase the odds of a successful recovery.

Ongoing exposure to refined sugar may decrease the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. When the brain is exposed to pleasure-inducing stimuli like sugar or drugs, it responds by triggering the release of dopamine. Over time, chronic sugar consumption can dampen the release of dopamine and affect the neural and behavioral responses to drugs. In turn, the need to take more drugs to achieve the desired effects increases.

A diet high in sugar may weaken the reward system associated with drugs, which could cause people to take more of the drug to achieve the same desirable effects. The opposite may also be true. Evidence from clinical studies suggests that chronic exposure to drugs such as opioids may be linked to increased consumption of sugar, which means both increased drug use and sugar intake may fuel each other.

Why Sugar Intake Should Be Limited in Rehab

Since sugar may lead to reduced sensitivity to drugs, it can perpetuate addictive behavior. This fact is the opposite of what people want in addiction treatment programs. By consuming large amounts of sugar, it’s possible that people in rehab may be putting themselves at a higher risk for relapse.

Further, sugar itself can be an addictive substance. Sugar can stimulate the reward system in the brain, which can impede the brain’s ability to communicate to a person to stop eating. Instead, the person will crave more sugar. The last issue people in rehab need is to swap one addiction for another. Instead, patients should make healthy food choices in recovery to work through the challenges of addiction recovery.

At The Recovery Village Columbus, our intake coordinators are available to provide you with the support and guidance you need to find the right treatment for your addiction. Contact The Recovery Village Columbus today to discuss your options for rehab.

Our Recovery Advocates


Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.

Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.