From the perspective of your brain, sugar, alcohol, and drugs all serve a common purpose: A means to improve mood and alleviate pain. Increasing sugar intake during early recovery is fairly common — and occasionally even recommended. Yet what happens when you indulge that sweet tooth? Here, we explore why your cravings for sugar may intensify even if you haven’t been a fan in the past. More, we look into why cutting out the “white stuff” may be important for your drug and alcohol rehab experience.
Sugar: Another High
The way that sugar impacts a person’s brain is so intense and also similar to alcohol that without eliminating it from a person’s diet, the addict is much more likely to relapse. Numerous studies have shown that sugary foods and drinks prompt the release of euphoric endorphins and dopamine in the brain, much like illicit substances. The same neurotransmitters, neural receptors, and areas of the brain impacted by drug use are impacted by sugar consumption.
In terms of addiction, sugar is much more likely to be a culprit than cocaine. When given the choice between cocaine and sugar water, 94 percent of rats chose the latter. Even when they had previously been addicted to cocaine, the majority made a quick switch when presented with the alternative.
Also like coming down from the high of drugs or alcohol, coming down from a sugar high isn’t pleasant. Once the sugar is processed, the neurotransmitters plummet, which causes people to feel lethargic, depressed, irritable and craving more.
The Cycle Repeats
While it’s common knowledge that the body builds a tolerance to drugs and alcohol, less known is that the same thing happens with sugar. As indulgence in sugar increases, the brain needs more and more in order to attain the initial high. The brain reduces receptors when neurotransmitters are overstimulated. As a result, tolerance builds to the point where it’s difficult to feel happy, normal or relaxed without sugar.
Worth noting, sugar doesn’t impact all addicts in the same way. Many people addicted to food never touch alcohol or other drugs; likewise, many people who struggle to abstain from drugs or alcohol have no attachment to sugar. It all depends on what substance triggers the award part of the brain. However, there is an increased likelihood that the person addicted to drugs or alcohol will turn to sugar in order to light up those reward receptors.
Controlling the Cravings
Many people who want to make a life change for the better want to tackle all issues at once. Such an approach is apt to fail, unfortunately. If you aim to quit drinking, quit sugar, start exercising and cut out fatty foods all at once, your brain will be on overload and will likely reject them all outright. On average, the brain needs 30 days to experience a change, 30 more days to practice it and another 30 to see the changes taking place enough to believe that the change is sustainable.
It is best, then, to cut out the substance most apt to kill you or ruin your life first — the drug or alcohol — and wait the 90 days before pursuing another drastic change. At that point, cutting out sugar will dramatically increase the chances that you’ll be successful in recovery.
Importance of Shutting Out the Sugar
Alcohol and sugar are two sides of the same coin. When an alcoholic craves a drink, it is really the sugar he is craving. The alcohol merely acts as a quick fix to the same problem. Alcohol is readily absorbed into the intestinal wall, thereby providing a fast track to the high desired. However, sugar has absolutely no nutritional value. More, it is comprised of roughly half fructose and half glucose, of which the fructose portion your body is unable to process — other than in the liver. If you are an alcoholic, your liver is already working overtime. Placing more strain on it contributes to the likelihood of liver disease.
Whether you’re in drug and alcohol rehab or simply trying to live a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to reduce the amount of sugar consumed. While it provides a temporary fix for cravings, it is only harmful to your body in the long run.