Why Do People With Alcohol Use Disorders Crave Sugar?
The intense sugar cravings experienced by people with alcohol use disorders may be the body's way of compensating for nutrient deficiencies. Chronic alcohol misuse can deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals, such as thiamine, magnesium, and zinc.
September 20, 2023
Alcohol misuse is a complex and challenging disease that affects millions of people worldwide. One of the lesser-known side effects of alcoholism is the intense sugar cravings that often accompany the condition. While the exact reason for this phenomenon is not entirely understood, there are several theories that may help explain why people with alcohol use disorders crave sugar.
The Link Between Alcohol and Sugar
Alcohol is a form of sugar, meaning that it is composed of molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. When we consume alcohol, our bodies break it down into glucose, which is a type of sugar that our cells use for energy. This process triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.
For many people with alcohol use disorders, the body's natural response to alcohol consumption is disrupted. Over time, chronic alcohol use can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. This can cause blood sugar levels to rise, leading to feelings of fatigue, irritability, and intense sugar cravings.
Additionally, alcohol can alter the way our brains perceive sugar. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can increase the brain's sensitivity to the taste of sweetness, making sugary foods more appealing to those who drink heavily.
The Impact of Sugar and Alcohol on the Brain's Reward System
Sugar and alcohol can both have significant impacts on the brain's reward system, which may contribute to addiction and dependence. The following are some of the notable effects on the brain's reward system:
Consuming sugary foods can lead to a temporary feeling of pleasure and reward due to the release of dopamine.
Excessive sugar intake can lead to long-term changes in the brain that may contribute to addiction.
Chronic alcohol abuse can cause changes in dopamine levels and other neurotransmitters, leading to an increased risk of addiction and dependence.
Alcohol use can impair cognitive function and memory, making it more difficult for individuals with alcohol use disorders to make healthy decisions regarding their diet and lifestyle.
The Role of Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies may play a role in why people with alcohol use disorders crave sugar. Chronic alcohol abuse can deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals, such as thiamine, magnesium, and zinc. These nutrient deficiencies can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, muscle weakness, and sugar cravings.
Nutrient deficiencies may play a role in why people with alcohol use disorders crave sugar.
Chronic alcohol abuse can deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals.
Thiamine is critical for maintaining a healthy nervous system.
Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to thiamine deficiency, which can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
The intense sugar cravings experienced by people with alcohol use disorders may be the body's way of compensating for nutrient deficiencies.
The Negative Effects of Sugar on the Body and How it Can Impact Alcoholism
While sugar cravings are common among individuals with alcohol use disorders, consuming excessive amounts of sugar can have negative effects on the body and worsen alcoholism.
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar can cause inflammation in the body and lead to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Relying on sugar as a coping mechanism can lead to addiction.
High sugar intake can affect sleep patterns and mood regulation.
Individuals with alcohol use disorders are already at an increased risk for anxiety and depression; adding excess sugar to their diets may worsen these symptoms.
Monitoring sugar intake as part of a comprehensive treatment plan may help alleviate symptoms associated with both alcoholism and nutrient deficiencies.
Overall, it is important to monitor sugar intake as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for individuals with alcohol use disorders. Reducing consumption of sugary foods and drinks may help alleviate some symptoms associated with both alcoholism and nutrient deficiencies.
Why Do People Experience Sugar Cravings After Giving Up Alcohol?
When people stop drinking alcohol, they may continue to experience intense sugar cravings. This phenomenon is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and can last for several weeks or even months after quitting alcohol. Studies have shown that PAWS can be caused by changes in brain chemistry and function, including alterations in the reward system and neurotransmitter levels.
One theory is that when individuals with alcohol use disorders quit drinking, their bodies are no longer receiving the high amounts of sugar found in alcoholic beverages. As a result, their brains may crave sugar as a way to replace the dopamine release previously triggered by alcohol consumption. Additionally, PAWS can cause symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia, which may further contribute to sugar cravings.
While it is tempting to indulge in sugary treats during this time, it is important for individuals in recovery to maintain a healthy diet. Consuming too much sugar can lead to a range of health problems, including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Instead, those in recovery should focus on eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods and essential nutrients.
Alcohol-induced Hypoglycemia and its Symptoms
Alcohol can cause low blood sugar levels, also known as hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia occurs when there is not enough glucose in the bloodstream to fuel the body's cells.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include:
Loss of consciousness.
For people with alcohol use disorders, low blood sugar levels can be a common occurrence. This is because alcohol consumption can interfere with the liver's ability to produce glucose, leading to a drop in blood sugar levels.
Additionally, alcohol can mask the symptoms of hypoglycemia, making it difficult for individuals to recognize when their blood sugar is low.
It is important for individuals with alcohol use disorders to monitor their blood sugar levels regularly and seek medical attention if they experience symptoms of hypoglycemia. Maintaining a healthy diet that includes complex carbohydrates and protein can also help stabilize blood sugar levels.
The Emotional Connection Between Alcohol Use Disorders and Sugar Cravings
Alcohol use disorders and sugar cravings can be linked on an emotional level. People may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Therefore, individuals with alcohol use disorders may have a strong emotional attachment to sugar, as it can provide a similar sense of comfort and relief.
Furthermore, alcohol use disorders can be isolating and lonely. Sugary foods can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in pleasure and reward. For some people with alcohol use disorders, consuming sugary foods may temporarily provide a sense of pleasure and comfort, helping to alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
To sum up:
There is an emotional connection between alcohol use disorders and sugar cravings.
People may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
Individuals with alcohol use disorders may have a strong emotional attachment to sugar.
Consuming sugary foods can trigger the release of dopamine, which can provide temporary pleasure and comfort.
For some people with alcohol use disorders, sugary foods may help alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
Strategies for Managing Sugar Cravings During Alcohol Recovery
Managing sugar cravings during alcohol recovery can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can help. Here are some tips to manage sugar cravings and maintain a healthy diet:
Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings.
Avoid Processed Foods
Processed foods often contain high amounts of added sugars, which can trigger intense cravings. Avoiding these foods and opting for whole, unprocessed foods instead can help reduce sugar cravings.
Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help reduce feelings of hunger and prevent dehydration-related sugar cravings.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating involves paying attention to the experience of eating, including the taste, texture, and smell of food. This technique can help individuals with alcohol use disorders become more aware of their body's hunger signals and make healthier choices.
Find Healthy Alternatives
Instead of reaching for sugary snacks when cravings strike, try finding healthy alternatives such as fresh fruit or nuts.
Seeking support from friends, family members, or healthcare professionals during alcohol recovery can help individuals stay on track with their diet and manage sugar cravings.
By following these strategies and seeking support when needed, individuals with alcohol use disorders can manage their sugar cravings during recovery and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Healthy Alternatives to Sugar
While reducing sugar intake is important for individuals with alcohol use disorders, it can be challenging to find healthy alternatives that satisfy cravings. Here are some options to consider:
1. Fresh Fruit
Fruits such as berries, apples, and oranges are naturally sweet and can provide a satisfying alternative to sugary snacks.
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews can provide a crunchy texture and a source of healthy fats.
3. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate and can provide a rich source of antioxidants.
4. Natural Sweeteners
Sweeteners such as stevia, honey, or maple syrup can be used in moderation as an alternative to refined sugar.
Spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg can add natural sweetness to foods without adding sugar.
It's important to note that even natural sweeteners should be consumed in moderation as they still contribute to overall sugar intake. By incorporating these healthy alternatives into their diets, individuals with alcohol use disorders can satisfy their cravings while maintaining a balanced diet.
Creating a Support System for Alcoholism and Sugar Addiction
Creating a support system that addresses both alcoholism and sugar addiction is essential for individuals in recovery. Here are some tips on how to build a support system:
1. Seek Professional Help
Working with healthcare professionals who specialize in addiction can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the recovery process. A healthcare professional can help individuals develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both alcoholism and sugar addiction.
2. Join Support Groups
Joining support groups such as those offered through SMART Recovery and/or The SheRecovers Foundation can provide a sense of community and connection with others who are going through similar experiences.
3. Involve Friends and Family
Involving friends and family members in the recovery process can provide additional emotional support and accountability. Loved ones can help encourage healthy habits, join in on sober activities, and provide encouragement during difficult times.
4. Build Healthy Habits Together
Creating new healthy habits together with friends or family members can be an effective way to stay motivated and accountable. This could include cooking healthy meals together, exercising regularly, or attending group therapy sessions.
By building a strong support system that addresses both alcoholism and sugar addiction, individuals in recovery can increase their chances of success while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
Individuals with alcohol use disorders may experience intense sugar cravings due to nutrient deficiencies caused by chronic alcohol abuse. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar can worsen alcoholism and lead to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can also cause sugar cravings after quitting alcohol. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, can be a common occurrence for people with alcohol use disorders and can mask the symptoms of hypoglycemia. There is an emotional connection between alcohol use disorders and sugar cravings; individuals may turn to both substances as coping mechanisms for stress and negative emotions.
Strategies for managing sugar cravings during recovery include eating a balanced diet, avoiding processed foods, staying hydrated, practicing mindful eating, finding healthy alternatives to sugary snacks, and seeking support from healthcare professionals and loved ones. By building a strong support system that addresses both alcoholism and sugar addiction, individuals in recovery can increase their chances of success while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
Volkow ND, Morales M. The Brain on Drugs: From Reward to Addiction. Cell. 2015 Nov;162(4):712-25.
Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(1):20-39.
Wherever you are on your journey, Birch Tree Recovery can work alongside you to create a healthier life, establish self-connection, instill effective coping mechanisms, eliminate anxiety, depression and further the path of your individual success in recovery.