Is sugar addiction less “real” than alcohol addiction?

I recently received an e-mail from an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) related app entitled Why are Sugar Addiction and Alcohol Addiction similar. I was really pleased as alcoholics, in general, are quite resistant to accepting the idea that sugar addiction is real. For one thing, it’s recommended in many places in the AA literature that newly sober alcoholics eat sugar to calm down their alcohol cravings. Many meetings have sugary treats next to the coffee for just that reason.

The e-mail went through some of the brain chemistry that is similar in both addictions. But then said “sugar does not alter the brain exactly like alcohol and drugs,” but that it can cause chaos. By the end of the article, it implied that yes, one does need sugar to get through the alcohol cravings but that it is important not to become dependant on sugar. “AA recognizes that having some candy or an energy drink is a better option than relapsing into one’s addiction.” So, in the end, even though the title gave me hope, it was just another article saying sugar is not nearly the killer alcohol is and that one should control it and not become dependant.

I am a recovering alcoholic. I’m a recovering food addict. I would never say that one is more ‘real’ than the other. But it is much harder to get totally abstinent from sugar intake (I’m including carbs and anything that turns to sugar quickly in the body), fructose and dextrose intake than it is to get sober from alcohol. As I sit in AA meetings, I look around me and the percentage of overweight and obese people in meetings is roughly the same as in the US in general. In other words, it’s high. Are alcoholics so resistant to admitting that food addiction is real because they don’t really want to look at themselves and tackle another addiction? I don’t know the answer, I only have opinions.

I do know that I am often asked the question “What do you do when you want to celebrate your birthday or get married or it’s Valentine’s Day?” I think the underlying question is, ‘Is it possible to have fun and celebrate without food, especially sugar?’ I find that question very, very interesting. In my life, eating a birthday cake was never fun. The sight of it would trigger my compulsion and, of course, I would eat a piece and then, when I thought no one was looking, I’d eat the whole thing. I never found that fun. By my thirties, the sight of that kind of sugar caused me to stop breathing and want to disappear. Until I discovered the twelve-step programs, I thought I was the only person in the world who was terrified of a piece of cake yet couldn’t not eat it. I thought I was possessed. I remember seeing a “Star Trek” movie when I was in my thirties. The bad guys put some kind of horrible insect or animal into a good guys ear. Once inside, it killed the person by eating all his insides. To me that was real. I was sure that something evil had entered my being, possessed me and I couldn’t stop bingeing, couldn’t say No to anything that had sugar, grains or refined carbohydrates in it.

That was me for years and years and years. As a friend of mine told me after she got abstinent from sugar, grains and carbos, “I was just lying on the couch waiting to die.” I wrote Saving Save A Memoir of Food Addiction because it has been many, many years since I was held hostage by my food addiction. I strongly feel that if I can do it, anyone can do it. I found a twelve-step program called GreySheeters Anonymous that works for me because it is so much like Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a No Matter What program. We don’t eat those poisons no matter what. It isn’t the answer for everyone but for people like me who thrive with structure, need boundaries because I broke every one that was ever imposed on me. My hope is that my story will resonate with others. One woman who read my book and then went to a meeting with me, said “I didn’t know people talked out loud about things like this. I thought I was the only one.” There is hope for people like me. There is a solution. Don’t ever give up.

Food Junkies Podcast

Readers of this blog know that I’m a big supporter of the work of Dr. Vera Tarman, author of the book Food Junkies: Recovery from Food Addiction. She runs a Food Addictions Institute called Addictions Unplugged. Her book is on my resources list on this site. I was recently invited to speak on a podcast that she and two other women, Clarissa Kennedy and Molly Painschab, started at the end of 2020. The Podcast is called Food Junkies and can be found wherever you listen to your podcasts. I have been listening to the podcast – there are now 6 of them – and wanted to tell all of you about this informative and wide-ranging broadcast about many different ways to look at and approach food addiction. Many of us have gotten our information by doing years of research of bingeing, vomiting and a multitude of other ways of abusing food. A number of the episodes are focused on how the science of food addiction is catching up with our human experience.

Dr Tarman, Clarissa and Molly, also moderate a FaceBook page called Sugar Free for Life Support Group: I’m Sweet Enough. Is that a great name? I’m Sweet Enough!! Something all of us food addicts have to face in order to truly recover: there is enough, I am enough, you are enough.

Since I wrote my book Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction, I’ve been lucky enough to learn how much is going on in the field of food addiction. They will tell you it is not nearly enough. And they are right. Food Addiction needs to get into the Mental Health bible, the DSM-V, and these three women are on the leading edge of making that happen. To me, however, who retired as a psychotherapist 12 years ago, it’s astounding how much is going on.

Some of you won’t be interested in the science that is backing up what we already know: Food addiction is real; it’s a killer disease, and it is akin to living in hell. But many of you will be interested and the podcast is a great place to start. Besides myself, who has no scientific background, you will hear researchers, nutritionists, Yoga teachers, and addictions specialists. What is really impressive is the patience and open-mindedness of Dr. Tarman who does the majority of the interviewing. I could feel myself get huffy when someone was explaining something that truly felt like old news to me. Give the podcast a listen. Let them know what you think. This is a field that needs to know there is a lot of support and encouragement to know as much as possible.

I do not know the date my episode will be available but stay tuned……

Stay safe and stay healthy. We are still in a pandemic that is very bad. Use this quiet time to reflect on your physical and mental health. You may never get this kind of opportunity again.

Sara

Follow Vera:

Website: https://www.addictionsunplugged.com IG: dr_vera_tarman FB: Sugar-Free for Life Support Group: I’m Sweet Enough Twitter: @addunplug Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drveratarman/

Follow Clarissa: Website: https://foodaddictionhelp.ca Email: crissy_kennedy@hotmail.com IG: @reinventyourblisspoint

Follow Molly: Website: unsugaredyou.com Email: molly@mpainschab.com IG: @mollypainschab

“The content on our show does not supplement or supersede the direction of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, substance use disorder or mental health concern.” Molly and Clarissa