Coming off of drugs and transitioning into a sober lifestyle can be difficult. Many of the brain and body’s hormonal, neurological and chemical processes are just starting to regain balance from all of the damage incurred by the drug use. This can leave drug users experiencing a variety of uncomfortable feelings, symptoms, and behaviors that do not just go away because the drug use has ceased. It is also important to note that drug use usually starts because of a pre-existing problem, whether emotional or physical, that needs relief. So when a user is coming off of drugs, not only are they experiencing the tumultuous effects from drug withdrawal but also all the past reasons for continued use start to resurface simultaneously. In order to help cope with some of these things, past addicts usually turn to new types of addiction, one of the more common ones being sugar. Sugar has some similar qualities to drugs, giving the user temporary and superficial relief and can be chemically addictive itself.
Evidence from some preclinical and clinical studies has shown that chronic opioid use is associated with increased sugar levels. One study examined Methadone-maintained patients, both prior to treatment and 4 years into opiate addiction treatment. The study found that these patients demonstrated increased consumption of sugary foods, fewer fruits, fewer complex carbohydrates, and fewer vegetables and fats from fish or meats. Sugar can be an attractive coping tool for addicts since most sugar-filled food items are enjoyable to eat and easily accessed. Sugar is a staple of “comfort food” sugars can affect consumers’ moods, energy levels, and sleep patterns. Most notably, sugar triggers the release of a chemical in the brain known as dopamine, whose main function is to regulate the body’s sense of pleasure. Drugs like heroin, cocaine, tobacco, alcohol and many others trigger this same chemical to be released when used. In this way, sugar causes a chemical effect that is similar to the effects previously experienced as a result of drug use. It could be argued that sugar is a lot better for people to use and become addicted to than drugs.
While sugar lacks many of the negative consequences that accompany drug use, sugar can cause its own set of dysfunction and consequences if not used in moderation. Studies have shown that high-sugar diets have been associated with heightened risks for many diseases including diabetes and heart disease, with heart disease being the number one cause of death worldwide. Since addiction happens in part because of behavioral reactions and the use of any chemical substance, sugar does generate the potential to be used in an abusive way very quickly. It is not uncommon to see weight gain, sugar cravings or past behavioral attributes around sugar take place in recovery, especially in the early stages of recovery. Learning and enforcing healthy eating habits can be helpful if you feel that you or a loved one may be experiencing a transfer of addiction from drug use to sugar. Seeking medical or professional help to aid in this may be beneficial. Healthy eating habits can be established by creating a healthy diet plan and daily exercise and consulting a doctor about adequate nutrition.