Sugar Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms


For many years my own addiction to sugar and fat made weight loss almost impossible for me. I want to share a few things I’ve learned about sugar addiction, and addictions in general, because there are some common misconceptions.

One thing many people don’t know is that the vast majority of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol (and sugar) are able to kick their habits all by themselves.

Yes, there are withdrawal symptoms.

And it often isn’t easy.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t give up your habit. In fact, compared to many addictions, giving up sugar and other refined carbs is easy. It’s staying “clean” afterwards that’s hard.

Like many people, I got to experience withdrawal symptoms when I decided to stop drinking coffee. I knew there would be a headache (and there was), so I scheduled my headache for the weekend.

I didn’t get much done around the house that weekend, but by Monday morning my headache was gone. Caffeine is addictive, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stop drinking coffee – it just means I’ll pay a small price if I do.

Other drugs, such as tobacco, have far longer and more disturbing withdrawal symptoms. Sugar addiction’s withdrawal symptoms, by comparison, are quite mild. The symptoms of sugar withdrawal can include headaches, fatigue, depression, drowsiness, skin eruptions, and mucus or throat discomfort.

Some of these symptoms, especially the mood swings, fatigue and drowsiness, can occur on a daily basis as the blood sugar rises and falls on a high-sugar diet. Whether or not you’re successful in kicking an addictive habit depends on how you handle three different stages in the process.

To make it easy to see what I’ll be talking about, I’ve drawn out the three stages here.

The black line on the left represents the status quo – before you’ve given up your habit. The red square represents the withdrawal symptoms that are a natural consequence of removing an addictive substance, like sugar, from your body. With sugar addiction, the withdrawal symptoms may be weakness, slight nausea, headache, and other fairly mild but possibly uncomfortable symptoms.

My caffeine withdrawal headache lasted 2 days, sugar withdrawal symptoms may last for a week or two. Some people may experience little or no discomfort at all.The blue line on the right represents life after withdrawal. That’s our goal, because it leads towards health.

The first step towards giving up a habit that involves an addictive substance is acknowledgment. It is very important to acknowledge that there are perfectly good reasons why you would like to make no changes – you enjoy the bagel in the morning, you like the taste of sugar, it helps you feel better in the afternoon, you enjoy sharing your baked goods with your friends and family, etc.

We all have reasons for eating the way we do now. Acknowledge those reasons – it’s an important part of the process.There are also very good reasons for giving up the sugar and white flour habit – it makes you fat, it leads to heart disease and diabetes, etc.

Look at both sides of the issue, educate yourself as much as possible about nutrition, and then make an informed choice. I hope you’ll see that life without sugar is worth it, in spite of the few days when you’ll experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

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560 thoughts on “Sugar Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  1. this article is GREAT. it calmed me down and got me excited (as excited as i can get knowing i am stiooping sugar alltogether:)lol) that im going to try this. great job, you wrote just what i needed to read!

  2. My 8 year old daughter is Hypoglycemic and we’ve been told by her Doctor to reduce her sugar intake. She is a very active girl, loves her swimming and sport and is slightly under weight for her height. She craves chocolate and sweet things and I believe she has a sugar addiction. Can anyone give me some advice on how to handle her “meltdowns” when I say no to chocolate? I’ve made some flapjacks with xylitol to try and calm her sweet craving, and changed our rice/bread to brown. Should I be reducing her sugar gradually over a period of time and if so how long? Will she ever get over the craving of sugar once I’ve reduced her intake for a period of time? Any advice would be greatly welcomed!

    • Caz, the book Little Sugar Addicts might be helpful. It addresses this problem, but I haven’t read it. A book I have read recently discusses the way mothers in France deal with food issues with their kids, and I’m really impressed with the common-sense approach. (The book is called Bringing Up Bébé) . According to the author, one of the reasons why American kids tend to be overweight and to not eat a balanced meal is that we give our kids snacks all day long, so they’re never hungry at mealtime. I can see this happening with my grandson, who is also very active, slightly underweight, and constantly eating bread, cookies, candy, etc., between meals, and leaving his plate untouched when mealtimes come around. The book about the French kids explains how the mothers use a particular tone of voice that makes kids know a tantrum isn’t going to help, and they learn to wait until the regularly scheduled mealtimes, plus one snack per day (which, in that country, includes a sugary treat). Very few overweight kids, very little diabetes, and the entire population is healthier than we are.

      So, I guess they would say that the trick is to make sure your daughter is really eating the kind of well-balanced meals that she needs, and in order to do that she needs to be hungry when she sits down to the table. If she throws a fit when you refuse to give her treats, the first book I mentioned claims to know how to handle that. Good luck! This is something that almost every parent in America is struggling with, and I hope you find a good solution.

    • Thanks so much for getting back to me Jonni, I’ve just bought a copy of Little Sugar Addicts today! I’ve started to read it and will let you know how I get on and fingers crossed I can get my little girl back on track.
      I think her sugar addiction started at an early age, she’s never really been interested in food from about the age of 2, at that point I asked for expert help from her Health Visitor as her weight had dropped. I was told by the HV just to get the calories into her and if it meant giving her a chocolate mousse every day then that was what I had to do. I think that must have been the point that my daughters addiction started and thinking back, that was probably the worst advice I’d ever been given! Like most people say sugar addiction is similar to a drug addiction and its getting a child to understand the impact sugar has on their body that’s the most difficult thing to achieve. I’m really hoping that the book will set out a good structure for her future diet and well being.
      Thank you so much for your help and I will keep you posted on how we’re getting on.
      Kind regards

  3. Its interesting that you mention fatigue and drowsiness as common symptoms. Since I quit sugar 4 days ago I’ve had constant nervous energy, even on reduced calories. Maybe my body is using up a back log of sugar…don’t know. But I can’t sit still and its hard to think about anything long enough to work on it. You mentioned that it can take a couple of weeks to adjust, so I’ll give it another 2 weeks. If I still don’t have my equilibrium back, I may just have to get back on sugar. Maybe I’m just wired to need it now…

    • Insomnia is also really difficult to deal with, and paradoxically it just seems to increase nervous energy rather than diminish it. Very strange situation…

  4. My 12 year old son shows symptoms of sugar addiction. We have always had a rational sense of how much sweet stuff he gets – no pre-sweetened cereals, no soft drinks, a limited amount of candy, avoid gum, etc. Yet if he can’t get it at home, he’s taken to stealing it. He was caught rifling through a teacher’s cabinet at school this week to find the means to get gum. He’s stolen candy and gum in grocery stores, he takes any sweets at home he can get, even going through his parents’ bedroom to find more. He steals small amounts of cash then rides his bike across town to buy candy. We can’t leave him at home any longer without supervision; neighbors have been warned NOT to leave him alone in a room. His teachers cannot leave him in a classroom alone either. His consequences at home are dire, but nothing stops him – even his therapist is unsure what to do.

    I think he’s an addict, and I want to help him get off the sweets. I’m willing to purge the house of all sweet stuff, including syrup and ketchup, but I’m worried about withdrawal. I would be happy to increase the amount of fresh fruit in the house, and he will eat pears, pineapple, strawberries, and apples, but will that be enough?

    For the record, he is NOT fat. If anything, he’s underweight. He’s a black belt in TKD, exercises strenuously 3 times a week, and loves to walk, ride bikes, and even run. I can encourage him to exercise more, if that would help, but I’m at a loss of where to go from here.

    • Renee, I’m not an expert in anything, but it sounds like your son’s behavior is being caused by a real physical need for some nutrient that he isn’t getting. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that it’s the sugar that he’s after. There are nutritional deficiencies that people try to correct with sugar, even though it doesn’t really help. Since behavioral therapy obviously isn’t working, I’d get him to a doctor for a full checkup, and try to find out what’s causing him to be so desperate that he’s willing to break all the rules to get his snack. Since some MDs tend not to take things like this seriously, or perhaps assume that the patient just doesn’t have any willpower, you might want to try a naturopathic physician if your son’s regular doctor can’t help.

      Your son might enjoy this a bit more if you could turn it into a mystery to solve. If there’s something his body needs but he isn’t getting it, you could work together to find the solution. Since lots of eating would be involved, and new foods to try, it could be interesting, especially if he could see his craving as a signal his body is giving him, rather than as something that he should feel ashamed of. It would even make a good science project.

      Good luck. I hope he gets better soon. Let us know how things turn out.

  5. I’m on day 1 of trying to kick the habit. In January, I went on a 10 day cleanse. Well, I kicked breads and sweet treats to the curb for about 11 days. I was over the headaches and all, but I caved in and had a soda and fast food. Well, for the last two months, I have been living it up with my eating. It has been out of control. A few days ago, I started feeling very odd. I started feeling really fatigued, a bit sick to the stomach, and very irritable. My first thought was diabetes. I have a family history of this. So, I’ve been checking my blood sugar. I’m hopeful that I’m not diabetic as of yet. My fasting blood sugar has consistently been between 95 and 99. A couple of hours after eating a high carb meal (pizza), my blood sugar was at 105.. So, I’m hopeful that it’s not diabetes. However, it is in the very least a big wakeup call. Today is day 1 for me.. I’m going to give it two weeks of no candy, soda, burgers, bread, tortillas, etc… I’m concentrating on eating alot of nuts, chicken, tomatoes, peppers, apples, blueberries, carrots, lettuce, and other fruits and veggies. Right now, I am absolutely miserable. I’m not trying to be absolutely perfect. I’ll allow myself a teaspoon of ketchup with my chicken… But I really need a strong two weeks to at least break the soda habit. I feel as though I’ll be OK once I kick that. Plus, I’m back to running. I had taken some time off of working out mostly because much of what I like to do had to be stopped after tearing my rotator-cuff. But, I was able to start working out again on Thursday. I just hope that it isn’t too late. I”m going to workout daily and cut out the sugars for a couple of weeks to see how I’m doing. From there, I think it’s important to maintain some of the changes… again, no soda.. cut out candy/cookies/brownies/ice cream. I doubt that I’ll be able to completely give up the bad carbs. But I do need to be more responsible. Maybe limit it to two meals a week such as give in and have pizza or a burger ..or a sandwich. But, I do need to be more responsible. During the next two weeks, I will be monitoring my blood sugar just so that I can evaluate whether or not I need to see a doctor. I hope that I’ve started in time. I know that even early onset diabetes can be controlled extremely well.. but I don’t want that at the age of 36.

    • I forgot to say.. I’m miserable with fatigue and irritability. I can barely stay awake. I desperately want fajitas right now… but I don’t need the rice, beans, or the tortillas. God help me..

    • Murph, you may be so miserable because your blood sugar is now too low. Try eating something – some whole wheat crackers, sweet potato, squash, beans, or some other healthy food that is mostly carbs. Also make sure you’re getting enough water. Irritability is pretty normal when going off sugar, but do remember to take good care of yourself for a few days. And if you aren’t feeling better soon, talk to your doctor.

  6. Hi Jonni, thank you for this page – the comments have been such a support!

    I’m at the close of day 9. After suffering the usual flu-like symptoms, headaches and paranoia I felt much better over the last couple of days, so I went to yoga last night. Today I feel rough again, not quite square one but ill all the same. I also had this quite disturbing realisation that all the sweets and love I’d been given as a child was poison. My poor grandmother… And I’ve done it myself. I’m famed for my toffee apples. Oh dear, this is such a cultural challenge as much as anything else.

    It’s encouraging to hear that this process will eventually clear. I need to find replacements for the sugar love in my life – what can I give the kids on bonfire night?

    Also, are people dropping alcohol too – Fustig says alcohol and sugar are the same, so will it trigger me back to sugar addiction? I understand that they are metabolised in the same way and that ethanol and fructose trigger the same responses. Does anyone have experiences of alcohol consumption post sugar addiction?

    Thank you everyone!

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