“He thought all alcoholics should constantly have chocolate available for its quick energy value at times of fatigue. He added that occasionally in the night a vague craving arose which would be satisfied by candy.”
And the nail in the coffin…
“Many of us have noticed a tendency to eat sweets and have found this practice beneficial.”
-The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous page 133-134 of The Family Afterwards
This guidance, although certainly well intentioned, implies that sugar should be our best friend in recovery. Unfortunately, this advice may be creating more obstacles for you to overcome while you develop and maintain an honest recovery program.
At this point you may be tempted to click away from this article so you can peruse something a little less joy shattering as the suggestion that sugar may not be the best thing for addicts and alcoholics in recovery, but here me out.
From a physiological perspective, eating loads of sugar produces a similar response in the body as taking in drugs or alcohol. Even though we don’t experience the mind-altering high associated with our drug of choice, sugar destabilizes blood glucose, causes exaggerated peaks and valleys in blood sugar, and may worsen withdrawal symptoms or ignite cravings for that which we are trying to abstain. If we are experiencing physical discomfort as we withdraw from sugar, drugs, and/or alcohol or we are hit with epic cravings for sugar, drugs, and/or alcohol, we are a wee bit more likely to take in sugar, drugs, and/or alcohol.
A few symptoms associated with volatile blood sugar levels, the result of chronic or acute alcohol or drug intake, in addition to a diet high in sugar and other refined carbs, include: anxiety, confusion, irritability, hunger, shakiness, weakness, and fatigue.
Do Alcoholics Process Sugar Differently?
Dr. Joan Matthews Larson, author of Seven Weeks to Sobriety, believes that the vast majority of alcoholics present an altered ability to metabolize sugar properly and she suggests that until severe fluctuations in blood sugar are stabilized, alcoholics will be predisposed to alterations in mood, outlook, and ultimately health.
The effects of sugar upon blood glucose are more pronounced in alcoholics as alcohol is straight sugar, but addicts are vulnerable as well. Research suggests that drug use in associated with increased sugar intake, which directly alters blood sugar and the body’s ability to properly manage blood sugar levels.
Oh, and did we forget to mention that sugar is highly addictive? Sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitter in the brain. When we take in large amounts of sugar, the brain releases a bunch of dopamine and we feel really, really, really good. Unfortunately, the more often we expose the brain to the sugar-dopamine response, the more dependent it becomes on sugar to produce feelings of wellbeing with diminishing returns, which encourages us to eat more and more sugar.
All is not lost, my friends, as a little sugar every once in a while within the context of an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle may be okay. For example, if you’re celebrating the birthday of a loved one (belly button or otherwise) or it’s a fairly significant holiday, eat some cake or a cookie! But be modest and recognize the context of the celebration – family, community, or religious observation.
When a sugar craving develops, a few strategies you can employ, include:
- Eat a breakfast rich in protein and healthy fats. Protein and fat are more satiating then sugar/carbohydrate rich foods and are better at stabilizing blood sugar for extended periods of time.
- Eat early and often. It may be easier to promote healthy blood sugar levels by eating smaller meals more frequently.
- Favor whole, unprocessed foods. Real foods that are consumed in a form close to that which they are found in nature contain more vitamin, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber, which help keep blood sugar steady and the body healthy.
- Get ample deep sleep. Sleep revitalizes body and mind and may help prevent emotional eating.
- Eliminate stress. Stress is known to contribute to poor dietary decision-making and makes the body more susceptible to cravings for foods that stimulate the body or comfort the soul.
If you’re physically unwell or have been diagnosed with a serious health concern, the “sugar in moderation” suggestion may not apply, so please consider your current health status before indulging in anything sugar laced.
Back to the original question – is sugar friend or foe? My belief is that it is neither as long as we maintain awareness about its potentially detrimental effect upon health and sobriety and keep our consumption modest and within the context of a celebration or important life event.
Too much of anything may be a bad thing. And, this definitely applies to sugar and the actions we take to promote a healthy, honest, balanced, sober life.