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Why Do I Crave Sugar When I Stop Drinking?

If you’ve ever attempted to cut back or eliminate alcohol, you know what happens with sugar.

While you might be surprised to find that your cravings for alcohol minimize fairly quickly, you didn’t prepare for what was to come: extreme cravings for sugar.

As a doctor of nutrition who works with those looking to get sober and sober-curious, it is one of the biggest challenges that my clients experience. They find their sugar cravings to be insatiable — almost possessive of their choices when it comes to eating.

I, too, experienced this in my own sober journey. In fact, I often tell the story about how I hadn’t had ice cream on a cone for about 10 years until I got sober. Somehow, holding an ice cream cone became my new obsession, which I indulged in frequently during the summer of 2021 in my first few months of sobriety.

 

So why does this happen?

There are a few reasons why we begin to crave sugar, and sometimes carbs, during an alcohol reduction or cessation period.

First, and what many people associate cravings with, is dopamine. When we drink alcohol, it sends a surge of dopamine to our brain, which creates feelings of pleasure and reward. When we eliminate alcohol, dopamine levels can drop. This causes us to seek other substances that can boost that same pleasure and reward system— like sugar.

But something that is discussed less often is the role that our blood sugar plays in alcohol use and sugar cravings. In fact, those of us who use / have used alcohol on a regular basis have a tendency to experience hypoglycemia, or periods of low blood sugar.

When blood sugar drops below baseline, we can experience cravings for sugar, carbs and alcohol, but also be plagued by symptoms like fatigue, mood imbalances, irritability, and the infamous “hangry” response.

The important thing to know is that this is a completely normal reaction that your body has to the change in chemistry — you’re not alone in this!

 

So, what should I do?

While experiencing these cravings can be overwhelming, the good news is this — you can use simple food and nutrition swaps to help minimize cravings and stay motivated in your alcohol-free journey.

 

Here are my expert nutrition recommendations to kick sugar and alcohol cravings:

  1. Incorporate protein at every meal:

    Protein helps to balance blood sugar and helps to reduce the risk of dropping into a state of low blood sugar where cravings can strike. Aim for 10-15g protein per snack, and a minimum of 20g of protein per meal. Great protein sources include lean meats (like chicken and turkey), fish, eggs, beans and dairy.

  2. Eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours:

    Having more consistent meals and snacks also help to stabilize blood sugar and ward off cravings for sugar and alcohol. I especially recommend having an afternoon snack between the hours of 3-5pm, which is normally a highly triggering time for alcohol and snacking.

  3. Avoid Intermittent Fasting:

    While Intermittent Fasting (IF) has benefits for some, those who experience possible hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) can have a more difficult time with managing food intake and cravings. Especially if you’re new to your alcohol-free journey, I recommend more regular meals, including having a protein-rich breakfast within one hour of waking up.

  4. Try an L-glutamine supplement:

    L-glutamine supplements, found in my Craving Crusher supplement, can be extremely useful when it comes to stopping a sugar craving in its tracks. Take a small dose (500mg) of l-glutamine powder under the tongue as needed to keep sugar (and alcohol) cravings at bay.

 

Can I indulge in some sugar?

While there are many schools of thought on this, my perspective is that its OK to indulge in some sweets, especially if it helps you through an alcohol craving!

However, I recommend implementing the tips above, like incorporating protein around the time of a sweet, or having a sweet directly after a meal to minimize the blood sugar response!

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