Sugar Can Be Addictive
When we think of sugar, we are generally thinking of something positive. After all, most of us love sweets. And the good associations we have with sugar cause us to use the word in other contexts as well. We use the word as a pet name for a loved one. We use it as a synonym for a kiss. We associate the sweetness of sugar with the sweetness of children. It serves as a marker of love and affection in song after song after song).
But we also know that sugar has significant downsides for our overall health if we consume too much of it. That reality is why the world is full of sugar substitutes and ideas for how to lessen the amount of sugar in our diet.
Too much sugar can be problematic for anyone. But for people in recovery from a substance use disorder, sugar may pose an additional problem.
If you are in recovery, you may find yourself craving sugar. In fact, those cravings may remind you of the way you used to crave drugs or alcohol. All of a sudden, it seems like you simply cannot get enough sugar—and so you are eating candy and consuming sugary drinks and baking batches of cookies that are gone nearly as fast as you can make them. And you are starting to notice the negative health impacts—including weight gain.
What is going on? Why would a person in recovery develop such a powerful sweet tooth?
A Stand-In For Drugs
It turns out that consuming sugar can provide the brain with a less powerful version of the stimulation it used to get from drugs. The brain of a person in recovery has been primed for this kind of experience, and in the absence of drugs, it creates cravings for sugar to try to replicate the feelings of elation associated with drug use.
Here’s how it works: When you eat or drink something with a lot of sugar, the glucose level in your blood shoots up. This sugar rush can provide a sense of happiness, satisfaction, and/or contentment. But those feelings may not last very long because, soon enough, your glucose levels will drop. When that happens, your brain will encourage you to consume more sweets right away.
Sounds familiar, right? You consume a substance to feel good. The good feelings only last for a little while. You consume more of the substance to get the good feelings back. And around and around you go. The process is the same whether we are talking about drugs or sugar.
Solutions for the Sugar Cycle
If sugar has become a sort of substitute addiction for you, there is a good chance you are feeling frustrated. You worked so hard to regain your sobriety and you are continuing to work to maintain it—but now you find yourself struggling with a different sort of addiction.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to curb the cravings connected to sugar. Good strategies include:
- Eating regularly on a schedule that does not leave too much time between meals.
- Focusing on nutritious foods from across the food groups. In general, you want to stick to whole (that is, unprocessed) foods.
- Amping up the spiciness in your diet can help because spicy foods seem to cancel out the brain’s desire for sugar.
- Getting enough quality sleep. A well-rested body is less likely to crave the energy boost that comes from consuming sugar.
- Working toward moderating your sugar intake. It is difficult to avoid sugar entirely, but by making conscious choices about what you eat or drink (could you replace that mocha latte with an unsweetened latte, for example?), you can make significant progress. Reading nutrition labels can also be a helpful strategy, because sugar can be hiding where you least expect it (in your ketchup, for example).
You can make significant progress toward breaking your sugar cycle in a short period of time if you diligently apply these sorts of strategies.
We Can Help You Reclaim the Sweetness of Sobriety
At The Aviary Recovery Center, we understand all of the ways in which a substance use disorder sours the experience of life—and we want to help you reclaim the sweet sensation of sobriety.
With expertise and compassion, we will customize a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. That plan will include addressing any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to your substance use disorder. And we will provide you with support, resources, and strategies that will serve you well as you begin your recovery journey.
We Are Here to Help
There is no way to sugarcoat the problems that come with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. But a life of long-lasting sobriety can be quite sweet indeed.