One of the things I love about food and brain chemistry – psychoactive nutrition – is getting to help people with problems different from the “normal,” like losing weight. Not that losing weight isn’t a great goal, but change can be fascinating.
When I first discovered the connection between food and neurochemistry, I volunteered to teach it to women in a residential recovery program. I did that for over 2 years and loved it. The only reason I stopped was to concentrate on getting my doctorate.
And here it is many, many years later, and I’m about to start it all over again.
My training program covers how foods affect specific brain chemicals. It covers how those chemicals make us feel and behave – around food or anything else. And of course we cover how the participants can put the plan into action and stay in recovery longer, partly because they’re feeling better.
It works. If they feel great while in recovery – and if they can prevent the dreaded cravings for alcohol or drugs – the temptation to relapse is greatly reduced.
Please understand: I don’t claim my program is a cure-all when it comes to addiction recovery. But, for anyone who’s serious about wanting to stay clean and sober, it can be an effective tool that will help with recovery in a big way.
What’s Sugar Got To Do With It?
Part of the food plan involves getting rid of sugar. That seems contrary to what you may have heard about or seen at 12-Step meetings, such as AA or NA.
12-Step meetings typically offer back-of-room treats that are loaded with sugar: brownies, cookies, muffins, whatever. The 12-step organizations view sugary foods as a preferable alternative to using, as the lesser of 2 evils.
But sugar can backfire for a recovering addict by triggering cravings. The cravings might be not only for more sugar but – more ominously – for alcohol or drugs. That happens through a process known as priming.
Priming involves the release of dopamine in the reward pathway of the brain – and the consumption of sugar could be as bad for some addicts in recovery as having a little bit to drink. It triggers the desire for more – absolutely not what the recovering addict needs or wants.
There’s more to the recovery plan than just telling someone to “stay away from sugar.” Many, maybe most, addicts in early stages of recovery are simply not ready for that.
Use of alcohol or drugs has modified their brain chemistry, and that has to be addressed first. Brain chem has to be stabilized. Glucose has to be stabilized. Healthful foods have to be added. All of that before an addict is ready to think about getting rid of sugar.
It’s a process, all of it important.