Sugar Addiction and the Alcoholism Link

Scone for blog
Is Sugar the Boss of Me?

While it took twenty years or so for the fact that I’m not about to become an alcoholic and to sink in, sugar has always been a monkey on my back.  I have long battled with what I’ve suspected to be a sugar addiction.  Sugar is a delightful treat, and has always been.  It’s a cheap treat, a quick way to carve-out time for myself during a busy day in which I’m giving bits of myself to everyone around me and without any time to center myself.

But it’s not so delightful when I decide to cut sugar out of my diet for a while; I can’t believe how insanely hard it is.  When I decide to shut it out, I begin to see just how much power it has over me.  It’s horrifying.  (I can appreciate, in those moments, how difficult and humbling it must be to manage a drug addiction.)  I don’t like being a slave to something so small.  Something I can hold in my hand…bosses me around?!   Truly, for a chocolate chip cookie or a candy bar to have the power to reduce me to a zombie taking its commands from a lump of sweetness it just…humiliating.  And sounds like addiction, too.

Signs Of Sugar Addiction

My “gateway drug” is The Scone. Those times when I’ve decided to cool it with sugar for a week or month or so, it’s often the scone that puts me back on the road to eating sugar again.  For some reason, a fews days into discontinuing sugar, I’ll decide it’s “safe” to have a scone, because it’s “bread” and far, far, far from the candy bar category–but the truth is that The Scone is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

How do you know if you have a sugar addiction?  You very may well have a sugar addiction:

* If you think you have a sugar addiction (I mean, you know yourself well enough to be right, right?)

* If you generally crave lots of carbs for the ‘lift’ they give you

* If you fantasize or obsess about sugar (or cakes, pies, candy bars, etc.) and carbs (bread, crackers, chips, scones) right after deciding to stop eating them

* If you are secretive about eating sugar or hide your candy, or you’re defensive about your sugar intake

* If you think that you “need” it in order to work, face a certain task

* If you think you’ll faint, explode, or die or just have a sense that “something really bad will happen to your body” if you don’t eat sugar Right Away

* If you’re hypoglycemic

* If you’re a recovering alcoholic

Even without reading this, you probably knew the answer. Right?

The key reason for the connection between sugar addiction and alcoholism is that the sugar in alcohol functions just like the sugar in candy and carbs. Most alcoholics are hypoglycemic  (my mother was, come to think of it, and boy did she love sugar).

Still Not Sure?

If you have any doubts, do this:  stop eating sugar for a week.  Does the idea of that freak you out?  If you’re not addicted, then avoiding sugar (and food products that contain sugar), then it won’t be a big deal at all.  But, if you start to think of excuses for why you need to have a sugar-containing treat, ‘accidentally’ have sugar when you really , crave sugar, or carbs, and get cranky and desperate…well, there’s your answer — your body and mind are addicted to sugar.

You Love Sugar, But Sugar Doesn’t Love You Back

For a few moments it might feel like sugar can wrap its arms around you and love you back, but you know that’s not true.  Is that fleeting moment of “love”when you satisfy the anticipation of a treat and take the first, everlasting bite  enough to sustain you deeply?   If you use sugar to hide from yourself and avoid your feelings because you don’t like something about what’s going on with you…you have an opportunity to figure that out.  You have an opportunity to learn about being present. Being present is a good idea for a lot of reasons, especially people who grew up with alcoholic parents becasue we’re always in our heads and rarely letting go enough to be intimate with the moment and the people in it–even if that person is solely you.

Try being present in the moment right now. Try being present in the moment the next time you want to reach for a treat.  This is the only way to find out what you’re afraid of.  And that’s hugely informative. Is it fear of success?  Fear of discovering that you’re not in the job you want? Fear of things changing?  Fear of the enormity of your everyday emotions?  Fear of…simply:  being without sugar?

Present Moment Awareness

You can, and should, come up with your own tricks for tuning your mind to the present moment, but here’s what I do:  it seems like the words, “be here,” walk through my brain, and I usually take a slow deep breath (and realize that I’ve been breathing shallowly/not at all) and I feel my eyes relax and ‘sit back’ a bit in their sockets in an observational, reclined position. This is calming. I also feel my ears open, I’m wanting to listen to the person or people around me. I feel much more creatively-minded, like I can observe people and nature around me in such a way that I can actually learn something through observation, rather than rushing along from one task to the next, nearly blind. “It’s okay, this quiet is living,” runs through my mind. It doesn’t last that long, but it’s a wonderful feeling!  I feel honest, more like myself, and whatever defenses that seems to be up usually fall away without any effort.

Please try it.

This article from Psychology Today is good:  The Art of Now: 6 Steps to Living in the Moment

How to Get Back in Control

The key is to shoot for balance, rather than cutting out all sugar. I used to cut out all sugar from my diet from time to time, and hated the anguish I felt when I failed to keep it up.  That kind of extreme action wasn’t fair to myself.  It was never realistic.  If you try to rid yourself of all sugar, you’re likely to spend all your time obsessing about sugar–rather than enjoying how much healthier you feel.

If you want to read a inspirational book about the emotional side of eating, you’d love Geneen Roth, author of “When Food is Love” and “Breaking Free From Emotional Eating.”

The key to eliminating sugar cravings is to neutralize the ups and downs to your blood sugar, so that you’re not “needing” sugar to stay awake or feel ‘up.’   The focus is nourishing your body, rather than withholding something from it.  If your body is satisfied, it won’t crave sugar.  In this sense, it’s shockingly easy to reverse your sugar addiction.  If you feed yourself better, your mind won’t even have to get involved, and you won’t have to “think” your way out of the candy store.

Change What You Eat for Breakfast

Get to know what foods are low on the glycemic index — you won’t get the sugar spike/dive from those foods like you do from foods high on the glycemic index.

Check out a couple sites to lear more:

The Glycemic Index site, which has a searchable index.

Here’s the list  from the South Beach diet people, pretty basic and easy to read. I’m not recommending this diet. I don’t recommending dieting, ever. I recommend exercising and eating more vegetables and fruits.

If you do one thing to fight sugar addiction, then don’t start the day with sugar;  do this:  eat protein for breakfast. Know that the earlier in the day you can get vegetables into your body, the less likely you’ll be to crave sugar.

The classic, quick breakfast is cereal, right? LOADED with sugar. If that’s what you’re eating for breakfast, then you’re jumping on the sugar train from the very start of your day. Even if you’ve managed to find a cereal at Whole Foods that has no sugar and only two or three ingredients (and congratulations if you did), cereal is still a carb.

Similarly, if you’re eating yogurt – unless it’s plain greek yogurt – you’re getting a TON of sugar in it.

Carbs, like pancakes, waffles, bagels, and scones – all are high in sugar, and put you on the road to needing another ‘lift’ soon.

What about oatmeal?  Fine, but eat the smart kind of oats:  steel-cut oats.  Don’t put sugar on top of it, however; just stir in figs, raisins or other fruit, and milk.

I love how much this guy loves oats, Former Fat Guy, and I have to say that for me, oatmeal means steel cut oats, never rolled oats and never-never ‘envelope oatmeal’ or instant stuff.  There’s nothing in it to save your life.  Get to know the difference, it’s so important.

If you have toast, make sure it’s a whole grain toast (read the ingredients, there should be only 3-5 ingredients and NO sugar), and put something like a pure, organic almond butter or a pure, sugar-free peanut butter on it, or cheese, pesto, or an egg.

If you can make time to eat eggs for breakfast, do so — and add spinach or broccoli.

An Asian-inspired breakfast is rice and broth (chicken broth or miso), with a bit of chicken or vegetables — warm and sugar-free.

Sugar Might Shorten (or Just Worsen) Your Life 

  • Sugar is hard on your immune system – making you more susceptible to illnesses
  • Sugar can trigger anxiety and stress
  • Sugar decays your teeth (do you really brush after every soda and scone?)
  • Sugar can trigger a rise in bad cholesterol
  • Sugar limits your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and nutrients
  • Sugar can lead to diabetes
  • Sugar can cause hormonal imbalances
  • Sugar can offer a good mood, but leave you in a bad one – and trigger depression

There’s a lot more, which you read up on here:  76 Ways Sugar Can Harm Your Health website.

Just the fact that there are 76 ways (holy crap!) makes me want to unslice the slice of chocolate cake I ate between breakfast and lunch.  For now I’ll just be sure I have organic broccoli with dinner.

–ae

 

 

Comments

  1. Danielle says:

    Just like eating protein for breakfast will help sugar cravings, eating some protein with every meal will do the same. It sounds like a stupid book, but “Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads” has some great advice on eating to curb sugar cravings. It’s a bit too strict for my to follow realistically, but I definitely notice that after eating a protein-less meal I’m hungry again quickly and I want SUGAR.

  2. Jen says:

    Thanks for another great post! I am a recovering alcoholic/addict and I have always believed the “sugar link” theory. I guess it was popular back in the 30′s or so but then “debunked”, but let’s face it the entities who conduct many of thesse studies have their own interests at heart. As a kid I would spend all my allowance at the candy store, eat ALL my candy at once and spin off to a hyper sugar induced high, only to crash and become crabby and sleepy. As an adult I could never understand why anyone on earth would only have 1 or 2 beers…what’s the point? If there was alcohol in my house, it was consumed in it’s entirety! I have always craved sugar and eaten a high carb diet. After 10 years without a drink I still love my sugar and carbs! I am eating healthier than in the past, but I have to admit not a day goes by with out something sweet! At least for me it’s a hell of a lot better than drinking!

  3. amyeden says:

    Love the title of that book…Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads…and that sounds right, to get some protein in with each meal (cheese on my scone, hmm).
    Think b-a-l-a-n-c-e as the key, because all or nothing is too dramatic, a behavior we’re trying to out-grow, and it…doesn’t work in the long run and not the short run either.
    And, right, sugar is better than relapsing/alcohol, for sure; sugar addiction can feel really bad, but it can’t (as far as I know) wreck your life, home, relationships, job, etc. like alcohol/drug addiction can.
    Sweetly yours -
    ae

  4. Olivierweil says:

    Ahhh … sugar … after 23 years of consciously learning about and practising cultivation arts/knowledge, I’ve come across a lot about sugar and its effect on me and others within the grand matrix of what we’re experiencing.
    I had the great priviledge of being around a Moy Lin Shin, founder of the Taoist Tai Chi Society, and he ate very little sugary treats, and if he did he ate a very tiny amount – I’d say he was exemplifying the Taoist philosophy of taking a little bit of poison once and again is good for youin the grand scheme of things.
    I also think that ae is dead on when she talks about how surprising it can be to try and go without sugar for a couple of weeks. That sugar / serotonin release and however it happens to fit into a person’s week can be a lot more addictive than people realise, and facing the thoughts/beliefs that underlie the lack of serotonin flow in those times which are an extension of our day/week/month time can be pretty tough giving rise to moodiness/irritability/obsessiveness/rigid thinking etc.
    Byron Katie’s the work and/or Dr.Daniel Amen’s ANT eating exercise (ANT = Automatic Negative Thought) are great ways to turn those arghhh times into oh! wow! experiences of self realisation – same goes for exercise, opening up – (really opening up in a heart directed way ) with someone, meditation, and if there are also nutritional supplements such as 5HTP &/or GABA &/or St. John’s Wort that can help – but the supplements should only be used after a fair amount of research and work best when combined with other natural approaches.
    Any of Dr. Amen’s books especially his most recent will help anyone better understand what parts of their brain tend to be may over or underactive and how food, relationships, internal thought habits, exercise, relaxation practises etc. can help us become more functional, happy and loving.
    I know I’ve written a lot, but I’d just like to add the following which Doc. Amen’s books helped me tu understand-
    sugar usually only causes anxiety because its consumption lowers prefrontal cortex activity which can result in reduced performance level which can lead to worrying as a person realises they are not as on the ball as they can be … the funny thing is that unless the person realises that this is partly because they ate too much sugar (which sometimes can even be just a little bit and can even be the case with fruit) … the funny thing is that unless the person can make the connection between their lowered performance level and the sugar, they may actually eat more sugar, because sugar catalyses the release of serotonin – helping us feel more easy going and less rigid – which can then further impede our performance – which can lead to a totally wacked circle.
    Hope I didn’t go on too long!
    Blessings to all,
    O

    • delia says:

      I TOTALLY didnt know that. my gosh..perfect…tomorrow when i get off of sugar i’m gonna wait for the jeckl & hyde transformation to occur and wait it out….i like dr amen’s stance on ADD. I wish katie was my actual Mom.

  5. Ana says:

    I’m not an alcoholic, but I was raised by one. I did have a dependence on sugar, and crave carbs, which I learned to eliminate after a doctor tested me and found I had Celiac disease.

    What was interesting, was what the doctor said about the hereditary element of Celiac, and that in her experience a higher percentage of patients who had generational family histories of alcoholism also had more cases of Celiac in their family.

    This was certainly true in my family; I wonder what studies if any have been done to connect the two?

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  7. cam says:

    After reading this post, I tried to eliminated sugar. Yesterday, I made it to 11:30 am. I was so consumed with thinking about sugar. I believe sugar crashes are contributing to my clinical depression. I’d love to see more on this topic.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Wow. Case in point. Cold turkey is tough! But it sounds like you got a taste of how deeply sugar is “needed” and craved by your body.

      One thought – sleep loss impacts both mental health and sugar cravings (or just any kind of carb cravings). Even sleep loss of one hour or trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or having restless sleep can lead to sugar/carb craving and a day filled with that roller-coaster ride. Not to mention the ill effects on one’s mind from that combination….

      Thanks for the comment! I’ll research/write more on this topic (one of my favorites, out of necessity).

    • Helen says:

      Do try veg juicing after three days I feel fab and free…. I left post on this site 10th December 2013
      Best of Wishes
      Helenx
      You can do it…..

  8. delia says:

    have you figured out the candida
    sugar craving, alcohol connection. candida gets passed on from generation to generation.
    You start craving alcohol when the candida infestation spreads to the liver.

  9. My dad is a piece of crap alcoholic. The alcoholics anonymous “Big Book” compares alcoholism to an allergy and an illness.

    Am I the only one who is saying “huh?!” You have to DRINK in order to become an alcoholic, whereas contracting most forms
    of illness, (with the exception of STD’s, lung cancer induced from smoking, etc.) are contracted through no fault of the person stricken with the illness. My dad didn’t have to start
    drinking, he chose to.

    • Linda says:

      Most people start drinking when they are teenagers and have not got the maturity or common sense to know what they are getting involved in. Drinking is actively encouraged in our culture.

      I felt like you when I was much younger and thought everything was black or white.

  10. Anita says:

    I have spent my whole life craving sugar. But what I discovered recently was that sugar equals comfort. What I was actually doing was feeding my inner self with sugar because what I craved was not sugar itself, but the emotional feeling attached to getting sugar, chocolate etc.

    One of my earliest memories is crossing the Chanel ferry from Dover to Calais in the sixties as a small child, and stealing sugar cubes from the tables, and getting laughed at because of it. Another of my earliest memories is getting up one morning when I had to go to school and saying to myself “it’s OK because I can have marmalade on my toast for breakfast”. I was comforting myself with sugar.

    Now, while this isn’t any great big news to most people, you really have to let it creep into your brain. It’s easy to say “yeah, yeah, we all love comfort food” but to know what sugar does for you emotionally in a really deep way is pretty important I think. It is a controllable, portable, easily digested and hugely enjoyable thing, but boy does it do wacky things to your adrenal system. I immediately feel sick if I eat sugar at breakfast, yet during the afternoon, I have absolutely no issue with it and used to eat a bar of chocolate every day when I was in my twenties and working in the city.

    When I was a kid, my father (who probably had Aspergers’ Syndrome and grew up in boarding schools and the army so had no nurturing whatsoever) who was married to a class A Narcissist, used to get a kick out of giving us kids a bar of chocolate on Friday nights when he came home from work. He also used to make us wait for it and if we asked him for it we wouldn’t get it (how controlling is that). When we did get it, we weren’t allowed to enjoy it because we were always told not to eat it all at once, and were given various glances of what I am sure was jealousy from my mother, or disapproval from my father (he both loved giving us chocolate and loved controlling how we ate it). So you can understand why I became both an avid sugar binger as a child andan adult.

    When I stopped eating sugar for a while in my early twenties, I recognised something extraordinary. I actually did not crave it at all once it was out of my system. What I then realised was that when I get tired or am hungry, what I am really looking for is protein (because of my lifelong issue with intense anxiety I need to be eat regularly – usually every two hours). Protein became my greatest help. I would eat eggs, cheese, peanuts, fish, chicken and sometimes meat, but I knew that eating protein was what my body wanted. Not sugar.

    Now I have see-sawed over the years, but I am always at my best when I cut sugar (refined) out of my life and just eat natural sugars as a substitute (not the artificial ones). So I can now eat fruit and honey quite happily and they don’t have the same effect on my adrenalin as refined sugar has.

    Another major discovery I found was that for a long time I drank tea and coffee. I used to drink it because my family (two olders sisters and parents) drank it. When I stopped taking sugar in my tea and coffee, I realised I don’t actually like it. It reminded me of that silly poem

    “I eat my peas with honey, I’ve done it all my life.
    It makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on the knife”.

    Ostensibly the thing which sticks out in that poem is eating peas with honey, but the silliest thing about it is eating peas with a knife. If you just eat peas with a fork, you will not need the honey right? So, as with drinking tea and coffee, whose taste you really don’t enjoy because it is so bitter, you should drink something else instead which is better tasting rather than add sugar to the tea and coffee to make it palatable. What you are really doing is drinking sugar, not tea and coffee.

    I still struggle with sugar but at least I now know for myself what works and what doesn’t and that sugar became something of a little god in my life and why.

    • Linda says:

      Yes. I read a book called the Zone Diet years ago. Very long-winded read. Bottom line is, balance blood sugar levels by eating more protein. Especially at breakfast as if you start your day with carbs you are likely to spend the rest of the day craving more.

      1/3 Protein daily, 1/3 slow release carbs and 1/3 essential fatty acids

      Another bit of advice I found helpful from somewhere is to “eat more like a body builder”. Check out some websites and see what body builders eat. They don’t eat the crap that we eat. Obviously if you are a female best to look at what female body builders eat, don’t overdo quantities unless you are working hard at the gym. But you will find some good ideas and recipes.

  11. Marcy says:

    Yup, Loved my candy bars till I grew up and discovered alcahol.

  12. Helen says:

    Mmm Have finally realized that I get the same sort of pay off from sugar as alchoholics get from beer etc., It makes me feel so much better in the short term,, clears brain fog, increases energy etc but long term, mood swings, irritability, etc., etc., I fall on and off the wagon. Quickest way to de sugar is veg juice …. Feel great balanced, alive and happy after three days….. Healthy eating and juices, water, sleep etc and I will feel great start sugar again and it is in control again. My advice….. Just give it up.

    Juice I use (some fructose fine)

    20 apples
    1 Pineapple
    1 whole celery head
    1 whole broccoli head
    1 cucumber
    1 lemon
    2 limes

    Juice above

    Then blend with flesh of two Avocado’s

    Bottle and keep in back of fridge

    lasts me two days…

    four to six juices a day

    plus 3 litres of spring or filter water

    Basically no sugar and mega amounts of enzymes, vitamins and minerals…..

    All the other healthy living advice regular meals with protein, no white carbs, eight hours sleep exercise, conversation etc.,

    Three days simply juicing and my sugar craving is gone…. One pudding and I’m moody more an I am back on the roller coaster and out of control of myself and my life…..
    Hope this helps

    PS I’d love to see rehabs try this approach!

    • Linda says:

      Thanks for your post. An acquaintance of mine has recently been advised to do a juice diet by a nutritionist. I don’t know if she has a sugar problem but she was about 3 stones over weight and not feeling very well. She has lost the weight and feeling so much better.

      I know I have sugar/alcohol/wheat/caffeine/nicotine issues. I have given up the nicotine and the caffeine. I have mostly given up wheat but not entirely. I rarely have sugar. My biggest remaining problem is apple cider (liquid sugar, I know).

      Thanks for your recipe, will definitely give that a try.

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