In this post, I will discuss how the addictive processes of alcohol and sugar are similar.
Common Trigger Similarities for Alcohol and Sugar
The most common trigger for both alcohol and sugar is THAT BOTH ARE FOUND EVERYWHERE! No standing on the street corner for these drugs. Christmas (cookies and liquor), New Year’s (champagne), Valentine’s Day (chocolate and wine), St. Patrick’s Day (beer), Easter (candy and mimosas), Independence Day (strawberry shortcake and beer), Halloween (candy, candy, candy), Thanksgiving (pumpkin pie and wine) and then we start over again. Birthdays, baptisms – you name it, sugar or a cocktail is a HIGHLIGHT.
Especially for women, early in life we are often conditioned to turn to foods, especially chocolate and other “comfort foods,” to manage everything from emotions to PMS. A woman’s monthly cycle is a justification for overindulgence, moodiness and absence from demanding tasks. The monthly period IS a time to slow down and reconnect with the body. Our periods do often highlight nutritional deficiencies such as iron (low energy) and zinc (chocolate cravings). Unfortunately in our culture woman are conditioned to think they must have a physical complaint in order to ask for down time or to say no. As we come of age, it often becomes more socially acceptable to turn to wine to relax rather than chocolate.
This behavior training of turning to a substance to manage mood is a setup for turning to alcohol and other substances for the same purpose. Feeling down? Want to celebrate? Relationship problems? Vacation? Job stress? Kids? My FIRST choice for managing any of these situations is to put something that “I FEEL like having” in my mouth. From age 5-25 it was all kinds of snack cakes, candy, fast food. From 25-45 it was alcohol. And now, having the gift of sobriety from alcohol, I am back to the battle with sugar and eating to manage my moods.
In another post, we will discuss EMOTIONAL SOBRIETY.
In the Beginning
Whether we are discussing alcohol or sugar, in the beginning, we probably only imbibed for a reason: the celebration, the breakup, the work event, the expectation (everyone is toasting, having wedding cake), etc. However, there may have been the experience of relief from feeling some kind of uncomfortable. Perhaps the “substance” WAS just a preference we had and could enjoy appropriately. No regret. No remorse. The alcohol or sugar may have indeed helped to lift our mood, get us over the hump, or added to the fun at the party.
In the Middle
Over time, our system becomes conditioned. We expect cake at a birthday party; we expect happy hour to involve drinks. Just thinking about it, just thinking the possibility of that relief is there starts the physical response. Somewhere along the line whether the sugar craving comes before or after the anxiety becomes unclear. Rather than taking the time to discern, we indulge out of HABIT. As the habit continues, the treat is no longer a treat. It is part of the day.
If the habit continues over the course of years, consequences start to creep in. Whether it is sugar or alcohol, the consequences are physical and emotional in nature; observable and undetectable. Of the observable variety, we may experience weight gain or get migraines. Of the undetectable variety, we may develop insulin resistance or diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, or infertility.
Emotionally, we are becoming disenchanted. It may cross our mind that we should cut back or stop because the relief has been placed by regret. What was once a treat is now a required course; it is automatic. We may develop depression or other mood symptoms – yes from sugar as well as alcohol.
In the End / At Bottom
As we approach the gift of desperation which allows us to surrender to sobriety, we typically find ourselves in a daily cycle of resolving to quit the sugar/the drink today; the justification of why it is ok to indulge today; the indulgence, then the regret and remorse. Self-esteem cycles downward. When we are not thinking about the dozen reasons we need to cut back or stop, we are thinking about when and what we are going to ingest. The obsession over planning the next brownie or drink is only surpassed by the obsession of planning all the steps leading up to the stopping. I will do a whole blog post on the machinations I underwent to try to control my drinking.
The more this cycle repeats itself, the more sure you can be that you are experiencing a physiological dependence and a powerful autonomic response. Your subconscious has been hijacked. With alcohol, the drunk may experience physical, relationship, job or legal consequences of a traumatic or serious nature. While this is unlikely to happen because of sugar addiction, we are learning more and more about the consequences of sugar abuse. I will write about this in more detail in another post.
Addiction by nature is progressive. Not everyone who loves chocolate becomes a sugar addict just like not everyone that loves martinis is an alcoholic. If quantities and cravings increase over time, heads up. If you are numbing feelings or avoiding discomfort by indulging, heads up. If you experience regret often, heads up. If you try to cut back or stop repeatedly without success, heads up. If you have no idea how much you are going to ingest once you start, heads up.
I am here to tell you that you are not alone. It is not a hopeless situation. You are not defective or weak or lacking willpower. You do not ever have to feel like a slave to sugar again. Please read my upcoming blog posts.