substitute addictions

Sugar Addiction In Recovery

After we get clean and sober, many of us discover that we are still addicted to sugar: in our coffee, in our snacks, in our desserts and elsewhere. Sugar addiction is common, in and out of recovery. Our bodies have a natural attraction to sweet things. We need sugars and other carbohydrates in our diets, and we are pre-programmed to like them because they are good for us (in the right quantities). They are easily burned by the body for energy. In fact, every cell in our bodies are fueled by glucose, a form of sugar.

READ THE LABEL! This one's not bad

READ THE LABEL!
This one's not bad

The problem with our modern lifestyle, however, is too much of one good thing and not enough of another. We get far too much of the wrong kind of sugar in our diet, and we don’t exercise enough to burn it up. Our metabolism, however, makes adjustments in order to insure that we have energy when we need it, so unburned sugars are converted to fat, which is sort of our bodies’ gas tank. Our lack of exercise insures that this fuel supply, too, remains mostly untouched, and so we gain weight.

As we put on weight, through too many calories and too little exercise, our bodies fall victim to a variety of health issues connected with excessive weight, including heart and arterial deterioration, pre-diabetes and diabetes, and several other metabolic diseases.

Our taste for sugar and the problems associated with it — along with poor eating habits in general — make maintaining a healthy lifestyle difficult. Food manufacturers and most cooks know that mediocre food can be made more palatable by adding sugars, and they do so in abundance. The great majority of the calories we get from sugars in our diet come from foods that, if questioned, we wouldn’t even identify as sweets! That’s because we become accustomed to sweet flavors, and don’t even notice them unless they are missing. Careful perusal of the labels on packaged foods will amaze!

Those of us addicted to sugar didn’t ask for it, any more than we asked to become addicted to alcoholor other drugs. For many of us, given too many sweets as kids, it became part of our lives when our brains were still developing. So if we have a “problem” with sweets, the first thing is to forgive ourselves and not beat ourselves up. Sugar is highly addictive to some of us, especially recovering alcoholics, and substitute addictions are common. Combined with any previous histories with sweets, it would be fairly amazing if we weren’t having some problems. Remember that you are on your side, you’re not the enemy!

For those with sugar addiction issues, we recommend finding a meeting of Food Addicts Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous. FAA tends to fit best for sugar addicts, as their approach to controlling intake is more specific than that of OA. Overeaters Anonymous is a great program. Don’t get the idea that we’re saying one is better than the other. It’s just that FAA’s focus fits best when we are considering foods as an addiction.

Second, we try immediately to address substituting something else for the sugar when we have cravings for alcohol, other drugs — or sugar. Peanut butter and whole grain crackers are good, as they have protein and fats that help assuage hunger and that will not cause blood sugar swings that affect appetite.

We need to watch how we eat in general, and avoid getting hungry. We eat small, well-balanced meals and between-meal snacks of whole grain breads, proteins, beans, nuts,

Good Sugar!

Good Sugar!

bananas and so forth. If we balance things properly, we can probably get by eating less than we are now, because we’ll avoid getting really famished, which brings on the urge to binge.

We need to avoid white flour whenever possible. There are great similarities between it and sugar as far as the body is concerned, and it will only prolong and increase cravings. We try to stick with fruits and high-protein snacks, and we check ingredients carefully for their sugar content.

It is most important that we see a doctor for a checkup and lab work. There are metabolic issues that can affect cravings for both sugar and alcohol. If there, they need to be addressed.

Baaaaad Sugar! BAD!

Baaaaad Sugar! BAD!

We also avoid dieting — like the plague. Weight control is about developing new eating habits for a lifetime. Diets are reverse binges. They teach us nothing about proper eating, and do nothing to develop the lifetime habits that are necessary if we are to maintain good nutrition and healthy weight. Because they are regimens of deprivation, it is extremely likely (if not inevitable) that we will return to our old eating habits, gain the weight back, and enter a dieting and eating cycle that can only defeat us and cause us to decide that our efforts are useless.

As with any other addiction, we are likely to fall off the wagon and into the sugar bowl occasionally in the beginning. We are going to be learning how to manage our eating in a whole new way. Relapse is a symptom of addiction, and it’s going to happen in this case because it’s impossible to eat perfectly regardless of how hard we try. If we “slip,” we can be thankful that it isn’t as deadly as drinking or drugging would be, and decide that we will do better. We don’t think of ourselves as weak, or strong. It’s about powerlessness. It’s also about reality. We can’t expect to be perfect. If we make mistakes, we immediately return to our program. We can’t abstain from food, so if we slip, we just decide to do better. We try to be good to ourselves.

Buddhists talk about “skillful” and “unskillful” behavior. In recovery, we want to become more skillful in our ways of living. When we’re learning, we’re apt to make occasional mistakes. That’s human, not weakness. Keep moving toward skillful. Forget perfection — that way lies more addiction.

Substitute Addictions

There are two kinds of addictions. Substance Addictions create pleasure through the use of products that are taken into the body. and include all mood-altering products, drugs (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc.), food-related disorders such as overeating, and so forth.

Process Addictions, in contrast, consist of behavior that leads to mood-altering events that provide pleasure, and to which we can also become addicted.

When we get right down to it, recovery from addiction is about learning to deal with the stresses of life in a healthy way, “living life on life's terms,” as they say in the 12-Step rooms. Early in recovery these stresses include the process of learning to do without our drugs of choice. They create a very real chance that we may look for and find other addictions to take their place.

Some of the activities that can become substitute addictions are listed below.

  • Video games – in addition to allowing us to escape from reality, the rewards are similar to those achieved in gambling
  • Internet (Internet Addiction Disorder) — escaping into cyberspace for long periods
  • Gambling — providing thrills and the up-and-down of intermittent reward
  • Sex and relationships — What's more mood-altering than those?  Relationships are the number-one cause of relapse.  Once we're involved, it's nearly impossible to concentrate on our recovery.
  • Work — to the extent that the preoccupation interfers with other parts of life
  • Exercise — not only distracting, but producing endorphins, powerful brain chemicals similar to morphine
  • Compulsive shopping and spending — characterized by a compulsion to buy and later dissatisfaction with purchases
  • Obsession with religion — allows the practitioner to flee from painful realities and put the responsibility for living their life off on a supernatural being instead of meeting their own obligations.

It is easy to see how a person who feels an empty place in his or her life could easily fall into the trap of filling it with one of these — or other — distractions, instead of working on the emotional, social and spiritual aspects of life that allow us to function normally in society.

The concept of moderation is foreign to all addicts. When we find ourselves engaging in any sort of activity to the point that it interferes with our program of recovery, our life in general, or that causes us problems, we need to look at it carefully. If we find ourselves reluctant to stop, being secretive about our activities, and keep on despite the negative effects on our everyday lives, we may well be involved in a substitute addiction.

At that point, we need to consider applying the tools of our recovery program in yet another direction, by talking about it with another recovering person or a therapist, and sharing with our support group.  If we find ourselves unwilling to talk about it, we know we are in trouble, and once the interference begins to create disruption and chaos — those old familiar feelings — we are at real risk of deciding to deal with them in the old, all-too-familiar ways.