Sugar & Your Recovery
Late in the year, it can seem like the whole world is sprinkled with sugar.
There are cookies and cakes and pies and candies and peppermint hot chocolate and pumpkin spice lattes. Everywhere you look, you’ll see something sweet to eat or drink. And let’s face it: most of it is downright delicious. During the season of giving, it is all too easy to give yourself the gift of one (or two or three…) or more sumptuous treats.
But if you are a person in recovery from a substance use disorder, consuming too much sugar can be more problematic than it is for most people. A surplus of sugar isn’t good for anyone’s health, of course, but for the person in recovery, sugar can quickly become a substitute addiction.
That might seem unlikely at first blush. After all, sugar is not a drug. So you may well be wondering what it has to do with drug use, sobriety, and the challenges of recovery.
Let’s take a look at some less-than-sugary-sweet facts about sugar.
Sugar Fires Up a Familiar Cycle
You remember how it was: You would take a drug or drink alcohol so that you could enjoy the good feelings that a given substance can provide. Those good feelings would be temporary, of course, and so you would take the drug or drink the alcohol again—maybe in larger amounts. And then the good feelings would wear off again, so you would turn to the drugs or drinks yet again. Around and around you went until you made the decision to get yourself the help you needed to break the cycle.
It turns out that sugar has the power to kick off the same sort of cycle. Sugar stimulates the brain in a similar—albeit less powerful—way that drugs do. When you eat or drink something sugary, you increase the glucose level in your blood in a big hurry. That feeling—we often call it a “sugar rush”—is often one of happiness or contentment. When the sugar levels drop, those feelings drop away, too. But your brain isn’t ready to let those feelings fade away, so you find yourself craving more sugar.
This time of year, that additional sugar sure is easy to come by—but truthfully, there’s plenty of sugar all around us regardless of the time of year.
So how do you step outside of the cycle? We have some ideas.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can help you curb sugar cravings. Among them:
- Keep your eye on the nutrition labels. When you take a look at the labels on processed foods, you will discover that there is an awful lot of sugar in things we don’t even think of as sweet.
- Stick to a regular eating schedule. Eating healthy meals that feature whole foods (as opposed to processed foods) on a set schedule can reduce the amount of snacking you do during the day—and make it less likely that you will pick up a snack bursting with sugar.
- Amplify the spice. It turns out that eating spicy foods seems to short out your brain’s desire for sugar.
- Sleep beats sugar. If you are getting enough rest, your body is less likely to crave sugar and the energy burst it can provide. This is just one of the many, many ways quality sleep can support your ongoing recovery.
- Make each choice with intentionality. It is so easy to eat a lot of sugary food and drink a lot of sugary drinks without really thinking about it. You feel a little hungry, and there is a cookie nearby, so you eat the cookie. You go to your favorite coffee shop and order the same sugary beverage you always order. If you can train yourself to be in the moment when you make a decision about food, you can start to make healthier choices. Swap out an apple for the cookie. Get the drink in a smaller size. Be sure you are actually making a decision rather than eating and drinking sugar due to force of habit.
There Is Nothing Sweeter than Regained Sobriety
When you are in the grips of a substance use disorder, nothing about life feels particularly sweet. At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we can help you regain your sobriety—and the sweetness of a life without the influence of drugs or alcohol. We also provide evidence-based mental health services that can help you address co-occurring mental health disorders that may be intertwined with your substance use disorder.
We won’t sugarcoat it: If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, you need to get help right away. Wooded Glen Recovery Center is here to provide personalized treatment grounded in experience and compassion. We will help you reclaim and maintain the sweetness of sobriety.