Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Bethany Caulkins

Reader 2

Joel Mackey

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Obesity is an imminent public health issue worldwide and is partially driven by increases in refined sugar consumption. Though the adverse effects of excessive sugar consumption are often known to the public, overconsumption remains a global issue. One potential explanation for continued high consumption is the possibility that sugar may be habit-forming, or addictive, in nature. Food products that contain refined sugar have had all other nutrients such as protein and fiber removed, thus increasing the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream, resulting in quicker gratification for the consumer. There are three subsequent ways in which glucose may cause addiction once it is in the blood: the pleasant feeling in muscles after glucose is supplied, additional energy creation in the brain galvanized by the presence of glucose, and dopamine release in the brain also initiated by the presence of glucose. The ability of glucose to trigger the release of dopamine in the brain is perhaps the most realistic of these three possibilities, given that energy production is regulated in non-hepatic (muscle and brain) tissues, therefore the presence of excess glucose yields negligible effects.

This review aims to show that dopamine release in the brain is the driving force behind sugar’s potential addictive ability. Building on these findings, this review proposes an experiment that questions one aspect of addiction in particular: continued consumption while facing negative consequences. By varying both sensitization during the treatment period and consequences after an abstinence period, this experiment will attempt to effectively determine the extent to which sugar is truly addictive. It is expected that rats treated with the highest concentrations of aqueous glucose will display the highest rate of consumption in the face of negative consequences, while the opposite will be the case for those treated with low doses of glucose. This experiment would provide the basis for both a future study done using cocaine as the addictive agent and a congruent study with a variable abstinence period.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.