Heroin and sugar seem to activate the same parts of the brain, according to science. Find out how this information translates to people with substance use disorders.

Scientists continue to search for an answer to a key question: does an “addictive personality” exists?

In other words, if someone tends to become easily addicted to one substance, can they easily become addicted to another? For example, heroin and sugar cravings have recently been grouped together in media reports stating that sugar may be as addictive as heroin.

Substances like heroin are called opioids because they act on the brain’s mu-opioid receptors. Scientists have uncovered that activation and inactivation of these receptors do indeed seem to dictate eating behaviors in addition to opiate addiction, connecting opioid abuse to other markers such as dental health, diabetes risk and obesity. Drug stimulation of these mu-opioid receptors has also been linked to increased sugar cravings.

Research shows that people who have had prolonged exposure to opioid drugs demonstrate a stronger preference for sugary foods over those who have not used opiates. It was also discovered that blocking these same receptors, as done with anti-abuse drugs like naloxone and naltrexone, has either a weight-neutral or weight-loss effect. Therefore, it seems that the same areas of the brain responsible for heroin addiction are associated with sugar cravings.

Heroin use has also been linked to insulin resistance and, as a result, heroin users are at greater risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Both people addicted to heroin and methadone patients were found to have higher blood sugar levels and increased fasting insulin.

If you or a loved one is in recovery for heroin addiction, you may want to watch for other health risks such as diabetes. People on methadone often gain significant amounts of weight, potentially related to insulin resistance, sweets cravings and tolerance as they began to eat more food.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, we’re here to help. Call The Recovery Village to speak with one of our experts to help guide you in the process of recovery.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Hillary Webster, ND
Dr. Hillary Webster is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor and a self-proclaimed Hormone Advocate. Read more

Selleck, RA; Baldo, BA. “Feeding-modulatory effects of mu-opioids[…]he nucleus accumbens.” Psychopharmacology, 2017. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Mysels, DJ; Sullivan, MA. “The relationship between opioid and suga[…]inical applications.” J Opioid Manag, 2010. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Billes, SK; Sinnayah, P; Cowley, MA. Naltrexone/bupropion for obesity: an i[…]apy for weight loss. Pharmacol Res, 2014 Jun. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Reed, JL; Ghodse, AH. “Oral glucose tolerance and hormonal resp[…]-dependent males.” British Medical Journal, 1973. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.