Why is sugar not recommended for someone recovering from alcoholism?
One of the most surprising struggles for people who are recovering from alcoholism is a craving for sugar and sugary foods. Unfortunately, for many individuals, sugar can also be an addictive substance and the side effects from consuming too much sugar can be dangerous. While not as damaging as the alcohol abuse, there’s no reason why you or your loved one should exchange one addiction for another. Many recovering alcoholics find themselves reaching for a box of cookies, tub of red licorice or a piece of chocolate cake in the way that they would have craved a six-pack of beer or a bottle of booze.
The Sugar Connection
Medical studies have shown that sugar affects the brain in the same way that alcohol does, by increasing the dopamine level to create feelings of pleasure. When a person is recovering from alcoholism, the brain and the body are looking for new ways to increase those dopamine levels to satisfy and indulge those cravings. Sugar adds another layer of mood elevation in that it also increases serotonin, a hormone that is responsible for increasing feelings of happiness and euphoria.
The Dangers of Sugar Addiction
One of the most obvious side effects of consuming too much sugar is the negative impact that it can have on our weight. Despite the fact that the scale keeps climbing and clothes begin to get tight, many will continue consuming the sugar after alcoholism recovery, simply because it makes them feel better. Similar to the way that the alcoholic is unable to control his or her drinking habits, a sugar addict will often eat sweets at an uncontrollable pace, leading to what is known as binge eating.
Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms
If you are recovering from alcoholism and find yourself dealing with a sugar addiction, it is important to know that you could experience withdrawal-like symptoms if you decide to suddenly go “cold turkey” and quit consuming sugar. Many doctors will recommend a gradual reduction in sugar prevention to avoid common withdrawal symptoms, such as shakiness and anxiety. While not anywhere near as dangerous as alcohol detox, these symptoms can be unnerving and cause problems for the individual.
Because of sugar’s addictive nature, some researchers have conducted studies that reveal a link between sugar addiction and alcohol abuse. Children who have a family history of alcoholism, will often have a “sweet tooth” or craving for sugar that is heightened above their peers. The chemical reaction in the brain is similar enough that this risk factor is something to monitor. However, just because someone has sugar cravings, does not mean that they will ultimately become an alcoholic or exhibit other addictive behaviors.
Preventing Sugar Addiction
The best way to avoid trading one dependency for another is to prevent sugar addiction from happening in the first place. Many alcohol recovery centers encourage a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and lean meats, avoiding sugar treats that are often commonplace at group meetings for birthday celebrations or served alongside the obligatory coffee that is available to participants. If you know that sugar is a potential pitfall, let your alcohol treatment director or counselor know that you would like to avoid it during your alcoholism recovery.
In addition to weight gain and overall poor health, other side effects associated with sugar addiction can include an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, as well as the development or feeding of some cancers. If you or a loved one is concerned about sugar addiction following recovery from alcoholism, make sure to express your concerns and make adjustments to your program to ensure that it doesn’t become a problem.