Sweet Tooth: Sugar Cravings in Early Alcohol Recovery

Sugar Cravings

I never thought I had much of a sweet tooth. So when I stopped drinking, I was surprised at the amount of cookies, candy, and ice cream I was plowing through each day, particularly at night. I couldn’t seem to get enough sugar, which was odd  considering I typically passed on dessert. 

Many people who quit drinking, myself included, encounter unexpected and intense sugar cravings in the early days of recovery. This phenomenon is more common than you might think, and understanding why it happens may help you manage your sugar consumption — if you want to. 

Your increased desire for sugar may be due to a plethora of reasons. First and foremost, drinking alcohol affects the brain’s reward system, particularly the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a key role in pleasure and reward. When you stop drinking, your body seeks other sources to stimulate dopamine production, and sugar becomes an attractive substitute. So in the absence of alcohol, your brain calls out for sugar to scratch its itch for dopamine.

Also, alcohol can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. So when you stop drinking, your body may crave sugar to stabilize these levels. Chronic alcohol use can also lead to poor nutrition and deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals. Sugar cravings aside, we hear a lot about increased appetite in early recovery. A ravenous appetite and sugar cravings might be your body’s way of seeking quick energy due to nutritional deficits.

Lastly, drinking alcohol is often associated with certain routines and rituals. I noticed that my sugar cravings really ramped up in the evening — which was when I did most of my drinking. So replacing my evening drinks with sugary treats served as a psychological and physical substitute, and the sugar provided me with some comfort and familiarity as I weaned off alcohol. 

Please know that sugar cravings in early recovery are not unusual or something to be concerned about. If eating sweets is preventing you from drinking, then by all means indulge. Sugar really helped carry me through the hard, early days of recovery and eventually, the sugar pangs started to subside. Sugar cravings are just one part of the overall process of healing and recovery from alcohol use disorder. 

So eat the cake, have the cookies, or rip through a bag of Haribo. At the end of the day, it’s still healthier than drinking and early on in recovery, we do whatever we have to do to stay sober. If that includes binging on sugar, then by all means, binge on sugar. Just make sure that’s OK with your doctor.


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