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Neuroscientist Selena Bartlett said the study, published by international research journal PLOS ONE​, shows that drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could also be used to treat sugar fixations in animals.

Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain. It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine​,” said Professor Bartlett.

After long-term consumption, this elevation reverses to prompt a reduction in dopamine levels, leading to higher consumption of sugar to get the same level of reward.

We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation​.

Our study found that Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs like varenicline, a prescription medication trading as Champix which treats nicotine addiction, can work the same way when it comes to sugar cravings​.”

PhD researcher Masroor Shariff said the study also put artificial sweeteners under the spotlight.

Interestingly, our study also found that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin could produce effects similar to those we  obtained with table sugar, highlighting the importance of reevaluating our relationship with sweetened food per se​,” said Shariff.

Professor Bartlett said varenicline acted as a neuronal nicotinic receptor modulator (nAChR) and similar results were observed with other such drugs including mecamylamine and cytisine.