It’s common for people who quit drinking to suddenly find themselves craving sweets. This is probably one reason there are usually doughnuts at pastries at AA meetings. A treat every now and then is fine, but you may have cause for concern if you suddenly find yourself snacking all the time. Eating too much refined sugar can ruin your mood and concentration and lead to weight gain, which causes other problems. If you recently quit drinking and suddenly can’t put down the Krispy Kremes, there are two main reasons.
Also called a transfer addiction, this is when you quit one addictive behavior but feel like you need to replace it with something else. You just feel like something has to replace your old addiction. Sweets fit the bill for several reasons. First, you get more of a dopamine boost from foods that are high in sugar or fat. Doughnuts check both those boxes, but a piece of cake or a candy bar works well too. Second, they’re convenient. You can pick up a candy bar just about anywhere. You can take a candy bar break the way you might take a cigarette break. Or you may feel you’ve been working hard staying sober, so you deserve a treat, or lots of treats.
Regular heavy drinking can lead to low blood sugar.
The vast majority of people with alcohol use disorders have low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. Some studies put the number as high as 95 percent. The liver stores glucose in the form of glycogen and it releases glycogen into the blood steadily throughout the day. Alcohol prevents the release of glycogen, causing blood sugar levels to drop. Other studies have shown that alcohol increases blood flow to the pancreas, increasing the amount of insulin released. Whatever the primary mechanism, alcohol causes your blood sugar to drop and slows its return to normal levels.
This is an extremely important point because many of the symptoms that make quitting difficult may actually be symptoms of hypoglycemia. These include irritability, aggression, headaches, dizziness, cravings, confusion, lack of concentration, and depression. When your blood sugar is low, it’s normal to crave sugary foods to try to boost it. Unfortunately, this is a temporary fix. After eating sugary food, your insulin spikes and your blood sugar soon drops below normal again, leading to a cycle of sugary snacks and irritability.
A sugar addiction might be better than an alcohol addiction in the short term, but in the long term it can lead to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. What’s more, the cycle of snacking and low blood sugar actually makes it harder to stay sober. If you’ve been experiencing the symptoms of hypoglycemia, including frequent hunger and cravings for sweets, consider seeing your doctor about getting your blood sugar checked. Hypoglycemia can typically be brought under control by some simple dietary changes that will make you feel better and help you stay sober.