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.

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