Donuts. Coffee. Sweeteners. Sugar. Cookies. Cakes. This is the usual lineup of foodstuff that adorns the folding tables at anonymous recovery meetings. The sugary snacks serve as a polite welcome to newcomers and a familiar comfort to regulars. But, how much good are these tasty treats doing for addicts?
The Science of “Transfer Addiction”
Research suggests that the brain’s reward center places similar emphasis on food and drugs. And, a 2013 study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sugar is what’s behind the cravings.
You might also remember another 2013 student-faculty study out of Connecticut College that discovered that Oreo cookies produced as much “pleasure” in the brain’s reward center as cocaine and morphine in lab rats.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford is the author of “What Addicts Know,” a book about the valuable lessons recovery provides for addicts and non-addicts alike. He’s been sober for 27 years, and says it’s easy to see how sugar can creep in to the process. “When you’re used to shooting heroin or drinking a bottle of vodka, sugar seems really benign. It’s hard to take it seriously.” Pleasant as they may be, and “benign” as they may seem, sweets have the potential to become an addiction in and of themselves.
Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of “The Hunger Fix,” and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, described the idea of transfer addiction to The New York Times. “Once off the drugs, the brain craves the uber rewards of the ‘hyperpalatables’ – Mint Milanos, Oreos, any sugar. An apple’s reward doesn’t cut it,” said Dr. Peeke. “So you end up with transfer addiction; off the cocaine, onto the cupcakes.”
The Impact of Poor Nutrition
Malnutrition and poor eating habits during recovery not only contribute to weight gain and declining health, but also to self-esteem issues. Dr. Marianne Chai, medical director at a recovery center called the New York Center for Living, explained to The New York Times that this kind of issue can often have disastrous results in recovery.
“Some relapse because they’re so disgusted with the amount of weight they’ve put on,” said Dr. Chai. “The mind-set is, ‘I want immediate results.’ They don’t want to invest the four to six months of strict diet and exercise. So they live on caffeine and stimulants or sometimes cocaine to lose weight.”
A Healthier Alternative
Sobriety is the obvious goal in any recovery program, but nutritional choices are a critical piece to overall well-being. As Dr. Peeke puts it: “We’re not asking them to live on arugula… We’re switching them from bad fixes to healthy fixes.”
Eliminating “bad fixes” is just the start of a brand life. If you’re ready to take control of your life, or looking for help for a loved one who is, get in touch with The Watershed today: 1-800-861-1768.Tags: exercise, healthy life style