If you were, or are a seasoned drinker, then alcohol has in the past given you plenty of dopamine hits, but if you’ve taken the healthy decision to go sober then it’s likely that you’ve got sugar cravings now you’ve given up the drink!
It could be sweets (candy for our friends across the pond), cakes, fizzy drinks or chocolate or a combination of two or more of these as just like alcohol sugar rewards your brain with dopamine in a similar way.
Why Do We Get Crazy Sugar Cravings After Quitting Alcohol?
Sugar, much like alcohol gives you a booster of the reward chemical in the brain called dopamine so when you’ve given up drinking you may start to feel cravings for sweet treats as alcohol is itself converted into sugar once it enters your bloodstream.
If you’ve previously used alcohol to reward yourself, perhaps after a long shift at work or an arduous workout, then it could be a psychological craving which you are experiencing.
What Can I Do About My Sugar Cravings?
1.Don’t be too hard on yourself in the early stages of sobriety.
Sugar itself is a very addictive substance so don’t hate yourself if you’ve suddenly developed a very sweet tooth just try to limit the amount of sugar gradually over time.
2. Look out for hidden sugar.
Check and double check the labels on your pre-packaged food. Even if it says low or no added sugar make sure to check the nutritional information on the side just to be safe.
Avoid fruits that are high in sugar such as apples and oranges. Just because it grows naturally doesn’t mean that it’s the healthiest option.
3. Get a good night’s sleep.
Being tired can make you reach for snacks which are high in sugar or energy drinks. This is because tiredness causes higher levels of the hormone controlling hunger Ghrelin being released whilst lowering levels of the satisfaction hormone leptin.
4. Plan your eating accordingly.
Allow for some sweeter tasting fresh foods in your diet following your launch into sobriety. Go for things such as raspberries and blueberries which will give you a slow steady release of energy through the day.
Root vegetables, whole grains and turkey will help to give your serotonin levels a natural boost.
Protein, fibre, and healthy fats release energy more steadily throughout the day as opposed to sugar giving you that quick surge followed by a crash so add more of these to your daily diet.
Keeping an eye on your daily caloric intake is never a bad idea either and do your best to avoid using sugar to alleviate any feelings of boredom which you may experience. Try to recognise these feelings and have a plan to combat them which doesn’t involve eating.
Beware of hidden sugar as well and make sure to check labels to try and keep your sugar intake to 25 grams or less.
5. Take a cold shower or ice bath.
You’re craving sugar because you’re no longer getting your dopamine from alcohol so what if I told you that recent research has suggested ice baths and cold showers can increase dopamine by 250%!
I cold shower most days and so have acclimatised myself to it, but it wasn’t easy to begin with…I recommend if you’re starting out to heat the bathroom and have a towel warmed up ready to go on the radiator. Try to keep in the cold shower for at least three minutes to best feel the results.
6. Start a regular exercise routine.
The cold showers may help you with this one!
Exercise can help boost your mood by bumping up the production of your brains feel-good transmitters AKA endorphins, and in addition to this can also help avoid an early death, type 2 diabetes, reduce chances of heart disease and strokes and osteoarthritis amongst many other health benefits.
Luckily the cravings don’t last forever (provided you don’t go too ridiculous on the sugar) so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Hopefully the new healthy version of your brain will adapt and start rewarding you with dopamine from sources other than sugar and alcohol, you just need to be mindful and give the old grey matter a chance to adjust the balance.
If you prepare yourself and your food stocks sensibly and have a daily diet that sticks to the 80/20 rule as well as keep a well-stocked sober toolkit (plenty of blogs and resources here in your Sober Bubble) then you’ve got this when the sugar cravings come knocking.