The Scary Side of Sugar: The Trick of Treats


Halloween is a celebration of sugar. Cloaked in creative costumes, we savor sweets in several settings, whether parading from house to house with kiddos or partying with friends. Somehow these evenings often end with a massive sugar stash or a major sugar crash. They are often inseparable.

But for those in recovery, is there a hidden danger in this excessive consumption of sugar? Is it wise for addicts in recovery to limit their consumption of sweets or is sugar intake irrelevant? I have wondered this for some time myself.

In an article by Christina Veselak, LMFT, called Relapse and Sugar Dysregulation, these questions are addressed head on. Veselak explains that “consuming a high sugar diet” is a “primary relapse trigger for all recovering addicts”. As it turns out, eating simple carbohydrates (like candy) has a rapid effect on blood sugar that can be detrimental to those in recovery. The article describes why this is true, noting how blood sugar spikes lead to “unpredictable mood and behavior swings” that “strongly induce relapse”. Conversely, “cravings, relapse, and addictive use” are induced as blood sugar drops. Dr Kelly McGonigal (12:50) echoes this perspective, sharing about how these blood sugar peaks and valleys negatively impact the brain as well. In her book The Willpower Instinct, she describes how excessive sugar obliterates self-control. For these reasons, it appears evident that sugar is a strong trigger for addictive behavior. To read about how these processes occur in the brain and body, check out this article for further details.

Another harmful character trait of sugar is that it is highly addictive (see video below). For addicts, cross-addiction with sugar is a valid possibility. In times of stress or suffering, choosing not to turn to a “drug of choice” but instead to sugar can create a new dependency. This is not successful recovery but instead trading one addiction for another.

Choosing Not to Crash

In light this information, what can be done? Dr McGonigal recommends avoiding blood sugar crashes by eating foods that give you lasting energy (click here for specific food recommendations). Similarly, in The Psysiology of Willpower: Linking Blood Glucose to Self-Control, Michael Gailliot explains that “restoring glucose to a sufficient level typically improves self-control”.

With this information as a guide, it is recommended that moderation and mindfulness be exercised on this popular holiday and in everyday life. It is my hope that this information will not limit your enjoyment of the festivities but instead add to a more meaningful experience with minimal triggers. May you savor this season, experiencing an abundance of  joy and authentic connection.

For additional useful tips for managing recovery over the holidays, check out “Holiday Recipes for Relapse & Recovery”. Other relevant resources: The Nutrition/Addiction Connection and Yes You Can Have Ice Cream. For those experiencing food/sugar addiction, check out our treatment program for those seeking recovery in this area, called LifeStyle Transformation.

If you benefited from this article, please “follow” us and share this with others. Thank you!

-Written by Forest Benedict, MA, SATP-C, LifeSTAR of the Central Valley

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About fbenedict

Forest Benedict is the author of Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and certified Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider (SATP). Forest loves the work he does as the Clinical Director of LifeSTAR of the Central Valley and the Program Manager/Teacher in the SATP program at Mid-America Nazarene University. He writes numerous articles on the LifeSTAR of the Central Valley blog (https://lifestarcentralvalley.wordpress.com/) and also on his personal blog (http://forestbenedict.com/). He created the Life After Lust VLOG on Youtube, sharing insights about recovery from sexual addiction. Forest also writes and speaks publicly about protecting children from pornography.
This entry was posted in Addiction, Change, Recovery, Science, Self-care, Sexual Addiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Scary Side of Sugar: The Trick of Treats

  1. djnovajade says:

    Great post! Sugar is an addiction and it is great that you’ve highlighted it here.

    Best to you and yours!

    Sincerely,
    Tera*
    Intuitive Health Coach,
    Award-Winning DJ
    (The Life REmix Expert)
    http://djnovajade.wordpress.com

  2. Diane says:

    Sugar is in so many products. I broke up with sugar about a month ago and still it shows up in tomato sauce plus all those candies out on the table to grab at any moment of unconsciousness makes this time of year a challenge. Thank you for the article. I will listen to that video again.

  3. Pingback: Christians and Candy | Write Forest Write

  4. Dave says:

    Talking from my experience with individuals with addiction, sugar is not harmful but takes away the craving for the drug of choice! Many of the addicted persons would keep a recovery kit with a candy or lollipop/ sucker and as soon as they suck the candy and get the taste, the craving for the drug diminishes slowly and get distracted so they would be able to use some other tools to manage the craving.Having said that, cross addiction is very insignificant and I never saw any one addicted to sugar by this technique of managing cravings.My theory is that the as soon as the taste buds fire the signals to the dopaminergic reward system,the original signals for the drug of choice get masked for some seconds enabling cortical or pre frontal activation and there by reasoning to stop taking the drug of choice.Whoever in the de addiction treatment, having had some tools to manage the craving get a chance to utilize them and hence not falling in the crack of lapse or relapse. Please post your comments.

    • fbenedict says:

      Dave,
      Thank you for sharing your experience and insight. In this article I was not attempting to prove that sugar in general is harmful but that excessive sugar can be triggering. I do not think your example of an addict carrying around a few pieces of candy would count as excessive use. The article that some of this was based on talked about how recovery circles use the approach you shared (http://transformingaddiction.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Relapse-and-Blood-Sugar-Dysregulation.pdf), commenting that “switching addictions may support abstinence from the
      primary substance, but does not lead to true recovery. People who become “sugarholics” are still addicts.” I know we may disagree on whether that is real cross-addiction. I have seen sex addicts switch to food/sugar and I do not see that as real recovery. From an attachment perspective, that is still reaching for a substance (sugar) for comfort rather than real connection (to a Higher Power, others, or self). Thanks again for commenting. I am not an addiction nutritionist but I have found the resources in this article helpful in gaining a basic understanding of this issue.

  5. Pingback: The Neuroscience of Self-Care: Stephen Kuhn Interviews Forest Benedict, SATP-C | LifeSTAR Central Valley Blog

  6. Pingback: Sugar as a trigger | Addiction Specialist Training News

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