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Why You Get Sugar Cravings After Quitting Alcohol

About a year into my sobriety, I struggled to piece together what in the world was happening with me and soda, in particular, diet sodas.

When I got sober in December 2016, I realized I was consuming way more soda and sugary foods than I had before.

I read that it’s normal that lots of people “switch” to sugar when they stop drinking. Switch?

Clearly, I had taken one thing and replaced it with another.

That thing was replacing copious amounts of alcohol (not great) with copious amounts of diet soda (also not great). It was my last remaining vice, and I desperately wanted it.

Why did I crave sugar after quitting alcohol?

When I first noticed the uptick in soda consumption, it made sense to me. I wasn’t a coffee drinker and needed a caffeine source because I was taking care of a newborn on very little sleep with Google as my primary resource for understanding why my child would not stop screaming.

But once we both got into a groove (and a bit more sleep), I noticed my consumption remained the same. If anything, it increased.

A glass of whiskey sits behind several sugar cubes. The title reads Why you might replace alcohol with sugar in sobriety
sugar cravings after quitting alcohol

Sugar and Sobriety:

Why are sugar cravings so common in early sobriety? There are a few reasons:

  • Alcohol has high sugar content. When you quit drinking, your brain still needs to get its sugar fix.
  • There is evidence that the neurobiological pathways of drug and sugar addiction are similar and affect the same brain area.
  • We become psychologically dependent on sugar to help us feel better because we no longer consume our former feel-good substance – alcohol.

Essentially, sugar acts as a natural replacement, both physically and psychologically, for alcohol.

In the early days, we do what we must to stay sober, but at some point, the sugar bug becomes its own kind of monster.

Health Risks of Replacing Alcohol with Sugar

I realized this soda thing had become a problem. Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I dropped to 145 pounds (because I never had time to eat), but I was slowly packing those pounds back on.

My belly fat increased, not just in that new mama way. My teeth started to feel sensitive and lacked their usual luster. Is that the beginning of discoloration, I see?

battling sugar addiction in sobriety

It was the same cycle all over again.

Then there were the digestion issues and painful gas, and bloating. Obviously, I shouldn’t be drinking something that is making me feel bad, but I couldn’t seem to stop.

Before I knew it, I was catching myself drinking 4-6 cans per day, knowing full well that it was making me look and feel awful, yet I could not stop.

I made plans in my mind to cut back and stuck to none of them. The time of day when I would first crack open a can would get earlier and earlier. Diet Coke for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do!

I grabbed a soda if I felt stressed. Tired? Grab a soda. I was tired way more often. Bored? Crack open a fizzy drink.

I didn’t feel in control. Several times a day, I would argue with myself about my soda consumption. Stop. Don’t stop. Cut back.

Why are you drinking this? Before getting sober, I had the exact same arguments with myself about cigarettes and alcohol.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I even did the ceremonial throwaways. You know, tossing out those remaining bottles and saying, “I’m done!”

But you aren’t. A few hours or days later, you’re right back at it.

addiction transference in sobriety

How did soda get to me like this?

Clearly, I hadn’t changed much at all. I’d merely transferred my alcohol issues onto something slightly more benign, and now it drove me crazy.

I needed to kick the soda habit, but unless I did some deeper level work, I’d just pass it on to something else, and this little merry-go-round will stay spinning.

It’s like that late 90’s film, Fallen, starring Denzel Washington, where he fights a demon that keeps jumping from one body to the next. When he thinks he’s got it beat, it finds another host.

Addiction can feel like that too.

Understanding Addiction Replacement

I beat myself up over the soda and sweets thing. Maybe you’re reading this with a donut in one hand, nodding vigorously.

It’s important to save a little grace for ourselves.

Addiction replacement is common in sobriety. When you drink heavily for an extended period of time, it rewires and reshapes your brain. We become overly sensitive to the craving cycle and susceptible to impulsive behavior.

It’s why so many alcohol-dependent people struggle with binge-eating, gambling, compulsive shopping, or even overworking.

This behavior is rooted in a sense of lack. We’re trying to fill the hole that alcohol used to fill for us with other things.

Access should not be a barrier to help.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a therapist with the knowledge and background to help you navigate your specific issues, try BetterHelp. Learn more about my counseling journey with BetterHelp or visit their website below.

So how do you handle addiction replacements like sugar in sobriety?

Everyone is different, but the primary things I’ve found helpful that are backed by science are the following:

  • Meditation and mindfulness help heal the brain and form healthier neural connections.
  • Counseling – to help address the roots of your addiction and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Lifestyle changes – focusing on exercise and nutrition to help combat cravings, heal the body, and correct vitamin deficiencies.
  • Patience – because none of these things happen overnight and take time to work.
  • Staying busy – staying active and finding healthy distractions also helps.

Eventually, I was able to work on the underlying factors that drove me to push my addictive tendencies onto other things. I haven’t perfectly mastered them all, but it’s getting better, and that’s the most important thing.

If you’re struggling with sugar addiction or another addiction replacement in sobriety, please know you are not doomed to be trapped by this behavior forever.

You can also utilize specific tools to transform this aspect of your life. The entire Soberish community is available to support you along the way.

FAQs about Alcohol and Sugar Addiction

Sugar impacts the same area of the brain as alcohol and other drugs and, in high quantities, can release the same euphoric endorphins in dopamine.

This is why so many alcoholics wind up developing a sweet tooth. It’s also why people crave sugar when they quit drinking.

And while the impact on the brain and even withdrawal effects can mimic those of drugs and alcohol, they are not the same. Alcohol addiction ruins lives, brains, and bodies in profound ways.

While sugar consumption also has significant health, I would not put sugar addiction and alcohol addiction on the same level.

Yes, it can! Many alcoholic drinks are packed with sugar. On top of that, when you mix alcohol with other sugary drinks like soda or juice, you increase your sugar intake even more.

Alcohol can also cause your blood sugar levels to spike and drop. Additionally, alcohol increases insulin secretion and prevents the liver from releasing glucose, which makes heavy drinkers susceptible to hypoglycemia.

Quitting alcohol can lower blood sugar if you do not replace your alcohol consumption with sugary treats and drinks.

Consuming alcohol leads to spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that quitting alcohol temporarily improves insulin resistance levels in participants and helps stabilize blood sugar levels.

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