There I was…after many, many, many years of drinking…finally sober. This was it. NO MORE drinking. I was DONE! I guess I expected to grow angel wings and hear bugles. I didn’t. I expected to get more rest and to suddenly become a better person. I didn’t. I was fresh-faced, freaked out and filled to the brim with the f-words…FEELINGS. What fresh hell had I signed up for here? Everybody knows feelings were to be stuffed DEEP down, ignored or obliterated in a sea of alcohol, right? Without my (dubious) friend alcohol, what did I do?
I ate. A lot. It seemed every minute I was munching on something. I would sheepishly sweep aside piles of wrappers to get into my car. Late night trips to the drive through were peppered with guilty gas station pit stops for treats galore, especially the sweet stuff. I was grappling with this new world called reality and my mind and body railed against it. When all else failed, my new Sweetie, Sweet McSweetness seemed to carry me through. What the heck was going on?
I learned later that I was not the only one who went through this. Often, newcomers would come to my AA home group desperate, beat down and willing to do anything to get sober. Just like me. With time, their eyes would change and get brighter. They started to smile and open up. They started to experience real happiness and real peace. And, like me, their waistline expanded a bit.
What is it about we alcoholics and drug addicts that makes us turn to sugar in early sobriety? I set out on my quest for knowledge.
Reasons we love sugar in early sobriety
1. We have low blood sugar
This is pretty interesting. It turns out that heavy drinking actually lowers our blood sugar. 95% of binge drinkers are hypoglycemic.This is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism :
In addition, the body’s glucose production is inhibited while alcohol is being metabolized (2). The combination of these effects can cause severe hypoglycemia 6 to 36 hours after a binge– drinking episode (1). Even in well-nourished people, alcohol can disturb blood sugar levels.
Alcohol stops the liver from releasing glycogen (aka: sugar) into your system, thus, less blood sugar. So, science tells us that in the few days after a binge, we don’t have enough sugar in our bodies. That explains why we need sugar at the beginning of sobriety. But what about the weeks and months after a binge?
2. It makes us feel better
Let’s face it. Alcoholics and drug addicts like to feel good. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place. Turns out that sugar releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These are called the feel-good chemicals for a reason. Guess why? Because they make us feel good. The neural pathways that are affected by drugs and alcohol are the same ones that are affected by sugar. They all make us feel good. That is, until they don’t. For me, the alcohol feel-goods lasted for shorter and shorter periods until they became the feel-bads. Every. Time.
3. We tend to overdo things
Moderation is not something we alcoholics are known for. Still, I cannot have one cookie, one cigarette, or one Netflix show. I’m just not wired that way. Chances are you aren’t either. If we like something we want more. And more. And more.
4. Sugar makes you want more sugar
Initially, you crave sugar when you don’t have enough sugar in your blood stream. When you eat sugar, your body releases insulin to lower the sugar levels in your blood. Often, though, too much insulin is released, which lowers your blood sugar too much and you crave more sugar. And off we go, into an endless cycle of glorious gluttony. Sound familiar?
So, what can we do about it?
This is where I am going out on a limb. If you ask me what you should do about your sugar problem, I say do nothing. Listen, I am not a doctor. If you are diabetic or have an underlying health condition, disregard this article. I’m talking about seemingly healthy folks here. I’m just an old alcoholic that learned how to get sober. Time and time again, I have seen the sugar cravings attack some unwitting newcomer for a while and then subside. It happened with me too.
Quitting drug and alcohol addiction is no joke. It’s hard. Maybe the hardest thing you will ever do. It takes perseverance and surrender. There are dark, dark days, confusion and times when we want to give up. Many of us, myself included, had to learn how to do the simplest things other people take for granted, like talk to people, keep a job, take responsibility. Shoot, I couldn’t even merge onto the freeway without freaking out before I got sober. Having something on hand that is legal and calms our nerves while we change our whole lives is not a bad thing.
At some point we have to ask ourselves what is the biggest hurdle here. Is it to quit alcohol and drugs and be better people for the ones who love us? Or is it to stay a size 5?
Even the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about having chocolate available for times of fatigue. It also recounts how a man who drank too much coffee and smoked too many cigarettes was asked to quit by his wife. He quit but went back to drinking. At some point we have to ask ourselves what is the biggest hurdle here. Is it to quit alcohol and drugs and be better people for the ones who love us? Or is it to stay a size 5? Which one is more important? I know lots of skinny miserable addicts who can’t get their lives together. Trust me, having a dress size in the single digits does not a beauty make. I would rather be pleasingly plump and have peace.
Besides, this too will probably pass. Sugar cravings are usually temporary while our brains and bodies heal. After a while, when sobriety gets easier, you have the time to tackle diet and exercise, quit smoking or any other thing you want to change about yourself. The cool thing is that you have new strength and a whole new way of looking at life while you do it this time.
One AA saying comes to mind as I write this: First Things First.
Nobody every got pulled over and taken to jail for eating too many Ding Dongs. Focus on getting yourself together. Find new friends and a new perspective. Be a better parent, friend, spouse. All of these things will happen with sobriety.
And, if you find you can’t kick the sugar or anything else later, Twelve Step it. If it works for alcohol and drugs for millions of people, it can work for gaming, gambling, porn or candy corn.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize and Miracles Will Happen. If you need donuts to help you get there, so be it.
This old alcoholic, and millions more, are on your side, cheering you on. So, get out those stretchy pants, a selection of your favorite treats, and join us on the Broad Highway to sweet, sweet sobriety. You won’t regret it.