Sugar-based polymers have been extensively explored as a means to increase drug delivery systems' biocompatibility and biodegradation. Here, we review the use of sugar-based polymers for drug delivery applications, with a particular focus on the utility of the sugar component(s) to provide benefits for drug targeting and stimuli-responsive systems. Specifically, numerous synthetic methods have been developed to reliably modify naturally-occurring polysaccharides, conjugate sugar moieties to synthetic polymer scaffolds to generate glycopolymers, and utilize sugars as a multifunctional building block to develop sugar-linked polymers. The design of sugar-based polymer systems has tremendous implications on both the physiological and biological properties imparted by the saccharide units and are unique from synthetic polymers. These features include the ability of glycopolymers to preferentially target various cell types and tissues through receptor interactions, exhibit bioadhesion for prolonged residence time, and be rapidly recognized and internalized by cancer cells. Also discussed are the distinct stimuli-sensitive properties of saccharide-modified polymers to mediate drug release under desired conditions. Saccharide-based systems with inherent pH- and temperature-sensitive properties, as well as enzyme-cleavable polysaccharides for targeted bioactive delivery, are covered. Overall, this work emphasizes inherent benefits of sugar-containing polymer systems for bioactive delivery.