Sugar and sweet food have been associated with drug addiction in the past. For some people, using opioids may induce a craving for sugary foods.

Article at a Glance:

  • Opioids and sugary food affect some of the same receptors in the brain.
  • A history of opioid use seems to influence a person’s cravings for sweets.
  • Opioids are also linked to weight gain in humans and non-human animals.

The Relationship Between Opioids & Sugar Intake

Drugs activate the reward centers of the brain that deal with pleasure and well-being. Researchers have found an association between opiate use and sugar consumption in rats, which has caused them to question whether high sugar intake is associated with opioid use in humans.

This particular study looked at the responses of rats who were given unlimited access to high fructose corn syrup to see whether or not this altered their behavioral and neural responses to the opioid drug, oxycodone. The findings suggest that a high-sugar diet dampens the rewards associated with oxycodone and could encourage greater consumption of the drug, which could lead to abuse, addiction and possible overdose.

High fructose corn syrup is a refined sugar that is found in processed foods and beverages such as soft drinks and candy. There is a significant relationship between greater consumption of these types of foods and beverages and health issues that include hypertension, weight gain and metabolic syndrome. Past studies have also shown a positive relationship between opioid abuse and sugar intake.

FAQs

Do drugs make you want to eat more sweets?

For some people, activation of mu-opioid receptors from using an opioid medication can induce a preference for sweet foods.

What drugs have this effect?

It is unclear, but any opioid medication has the potential to have this effect.

What receptors does sugar affect?

Sweet tasting foods are associated with the activation of the endogenous opioid receptor system, meaning that they have minor “painkiller” effects in some people.

How Eating Sugary Foods Is Similar to Drug Addiction

This recent study is not the first time that sugar and junk food have been associated with drug addiction. The connection has been made in the past based on similarities between these substances in terms of how they act in the body and mind. Among them are:

  • The Dopamine Connection: dopamine causes the feeling of reward in the human brain and is a natural “pleasure” chemical. When you eat sugary foods or take opioids, they stimulate the opioid system and the dopamine system.
  • Cravings: Have you ever craved sugary foods or beverages? Craving sugar is not the same thing as being hungry. This is your brain asking for a “reward,” which is similar to what happens with drugs.
  • Tolerance: When your brain becomes used to higher levels of dopamine from either sugar or drugs, it can develop a tolerance. This means that you will need more to experience the same effect.

Opioids and Weight Gain

Opioid withdrawal appears to be related to weight gain in humans and other animals, perhaps fueled by eating higher amounts of craved sugary foods. In people who successfully complete a methadone treatment program, significant weight gain is often witnessed. It has also been found that obese adults with binge eating disorders may have lower amounts of mu-opioid receptors on their cells, which can lead to overeating.

Getting Help for Opioid Abuse Through Drug Addiction Treatment

Opioid addiction is serious and prolific. The National Institutes on Drug Abuse reports that more than 49,000 Americans lost their lives to opioids in 2019, which is more than half of all overdose deaths that year. If you or any of your loved ones are suffering from an opioid use disorder, there is a way out. Contact The Recovery Village now to learn about our comprehensive and personalized opioid addiction treatment program. We can help you get on the road to recovery from addiction.

Erica Weiman
Editor – Erica Weiman
Erica Weiman graduated from Pace University in 2014 with a master's in Publishing and has been writing and editing ever since. Read more
Conor Sheehy
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more
Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” January 29, 2021. Accessed October 5, 2021.

Minhas, Meenu, et. al. “High Fructose Corn Syrup Alters Behavioural and Neurobiological Responses to Oxycodone in Rats.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, June 2021. Accessed October 5, 2021.

Mysels, David; Sullivan, Maria. “The Relationship Between Opioid and Sugar Intake: Review of Evidence and Clinical Applications.” Journal of Opioid Management, November 2010. Accessed October 5, 2021.

Kracke, George; Uthoff, Katherine; Tobias, Joseph. “Sugar solution analgesia: the effects of glucose on expressed mu opioid receptors.” Anesthesia & Analgesia, July 2005. Accessed October 5, 2021.

Johns Hopkins University. “The Impact of Methadone Maintenance Therapy on Food Reward Processing in Opioid Dependence.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, December 16, 2020. Accessed October 5, 2021.

Karlsson, Henry; et al. “Obesity Is Associated with Decreased μ-Opioid But Unaltered Dopamine D2 Receptor Availability in the Brain.” The Journal of Neuroscience, March 4, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2021.

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.