You’re trying to quit pain meds., but the chronic pain is relentless. And the pain makes you depressed. Perhaps you muddle through, doing the best you can. Since you didn’t give up and take a pill you treat yourself to some ice cream. The pain, cravings, depression, and fear of relapse come in cycles. How can you cope? Here’s one way sugar might be sabotaging your sobriety.
Sugar, Heroin, and Cocaine, Oh My
Researchers at NIDA and Princeton University found in brain scans that sugar, heroin and cocaine all light up the same areas of the brain. Gambling and alcohol also follow the same path. Scientists have found another common connection between sugar, heroin, and cocaine; many people come into treatment with low levels of dopamine. Dopamine is also known as the happiness molecule. When the brain notices dopamine levels are low, it wants more. Thus, strong cravings begin. The cravings can be directed at drugs, if the person is addicted, or at food. So, we give in. The brain is happy for a short while. Then dopamine gets low. The brain remembers what worked before, but this time, it will need even more. In Dopamine for Dinner, Dr. Laura LaPiana, PsyD, explains, “The number one transfer addiction is sugar and that complicates issues of the brain healing, depression, and mood.”
Sugar Causes Pain
We’ve all felt the emotional pain of jeans that no longer fit, or a killer sweater that’s become a casualty of the ice cream war. Sugar can also cause physical pain. How? Some foods cause our bodies to have an adverse reaction. When we eat those foods, our body attacks the food as if it were intruder. It attacks by sending extra blood to the injured area. The increased blood flow creates redness, warmth, swelling and pain. We also call this inflammation. Sugar is a highly inflammatory food.
Sugar harms in another way too. While your body is busy fighting off the effects of sugar, it doesn’t have the extra resources to fight other injuries and illnesses. As a result, some people experience chronic low-grade pain. The more you eat, the more your body reacts to attack the sugar. You have more pain.
Pain Triggers The Need For Pain Meds
In 2007, counselors and yoga teachers at Malibu Beach Recovery Center connected the dots between eating sugar and drug cravings. They found that “addicts of all sorts (illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and/or alcohol) can recover more easily by following a version of the Montignac diet.” Their “diet,” also known as the Malibu Beach Recovery Diet, is based on these principles:
- Protein increases the number of dopamine receptors in your brain.
- Omega 3 fatty acids help the dopamine receptors function better.
- Fresh fruit helps your body make its own serotonin, which also helps the function of dopamine.
- Processed sugars including corn syrup, molasses, and honey are avoided. Instead, use Stevia, agave syrup, and small amounts of Splenda.
Cutting sugar from your diet won’t eliminate all of your cravings for highly addictive substances, but it is one way you can take control of your sobriety.
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Pam is the author of Co-dependent In The Kitchen, and she's a contributing editor for Recovery Guidance. She's a recovery advocate who likes long walks on the beach and chocolate.