4

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Physiology of Sugar, Booze and Caffeine?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 26, 2011 at 4:44 PM

I was hoping someone with a better understanding of science could help me out. I just want to understand a little better what's happening with my body.

First off, I believe I am a total carbohydrate addict. I've been known to eat sweets or potato chips until I vomit, quite literally. I also drink way too much alcohol. My eating sweets and my drinking alcohol feel pretty much the same; I am driven to eat or drink MORE. And when I get drunk, I eat HUGE amounts of candy. When I eat cookies or drink beer, I do not want just one - I want one more, always. I gave up drinking for a year to see if I could. It wasn't very difficult - but in retrospect, I think I just replaced alcohol with more candy.

It just occurred to me that I tend to drink coffee in a similar way. I want more coffee. Recently, I had been eating clean low carb paleo for about a week. Then, I drank coffee all day. Then I felt so would up that I needed a drink. Then I drank many many beers, and ate a huge amount of gummi bears and chips. This lasted a couple days.

So, I know what need to do, I'm going very low carb paleo, no booze, for about two months. I'm hoping I can finally kick my carb addiction. But my suspicion is that my desire to drink is caused by the same underlying mechanism. I suspect that when I get off carbs, I won't desire to drink in the same way.

So, can anyone explain basically the physiological connection between carb addiction and alcohol binge drinking. And also whether over-consumption of caffeine can be connected to this as well. I assume that there might be something similar having to do with blood sugar and insulin, but I couldn't figure it out on my own. Thanks.

59d367d77f4082717bade07508624db8

(1198)

on October 27, 2011
at 05:58 AM

Also, and I'm not in the business of determining if people are alcoholics, but a definition of an alcoholic at its most basic is a person who, once they drink, cannot stop, or have extreme difficulty doing so. "Alcoholic" doesn't have to be a type, or a subterannean clan of society one belongs to, it's an addiction to ethyl alcohol. My drinking seemed different too, as I was very functional. But those differences were just details in the end. My drinking was certainly MORE different than your average joe. We're still talking about a toxin, regardless of labels.

59d367d77f4082717bade07508624db8

(1198)

on October 27, 2011
at 05:46 AM

Also, and I'm not in the business of determining if people are alcoholics, but a definition of an alcoholic at its most basic is a person who, once they drink, cannot stop, or have extreme difficulty doing so. "Alcoholic" doesn't have to be a type, or a subterannean clan of society one belongs to, it's an addiction to ethyl alcohol. My drinking seemed different than other alcoholics up until I was in the ER. But those differences were just details in the end. My drinking was certainly MORE different than your average joe. We're still talking about a toxin that shouldn't be taken lightly.

59d367d77f4082717bade07508624db8

(1198)

on October 27, 2011
at 05:29 AM

I was VLC for about a month, like you. I just couldn't handle all the protein, even with plenty of fat. I just looked flushed and bloated all the time, digestion was terrible, and resented the joyless meals. I think you would be fine upping the fat and just keeping a sane amount of carbs. Having plenty of fat kept me satiated and prevented that post-meal moment from tipping over into binging. Cutting the sugar from candy/beer will give you the most bang for the buck, and stressing over vegetable carbs is just fine tuning.

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:36 PM

I've had the occasional cigarette here and there, just to look (and feel) cool - but I really don't like the buzz. I've never craved a cigarette. They make me almost instantly nauseated. Likewise, I've smoked pot here and there (probably less than 10 times in my life - I'm 30) I hated the high; it usually gave me an instant anxiety attack. It really is basically just sweets, alcohol, and sometimes coffee (usually when I cut back on the sweets and alcohol). I guess I get addicted to watching bad TV shows, but the alcohol is usually to blame for this.

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:29 PM

Looks interesting. Thanks!

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:28 PM

If you don't mind me asking, are you overweight? (I am, by about 40 pounds). How long have been low carb? How long did it take for the carb flu to pass? Like I mentioned above, I tried low carb, and felt pretty miserable - but I only stuck it out for four weeks, and I think I was pushing the exercise too hard.

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:25 PM

I should add: I'm a grad student, and drinking regularly interferes with my school work (I tend to do NO WORK if I'm even slightly hungover). This leads to guilt; I know I could be a better scholar. But other than that, my drinking doesn't cause problems. I've been in a committed relationship for many years now. Generally, I'm a happy drunk. And I get the necessary work done. It's just the knowledge that I'm not living up to anywhere near my potential, physically or mentally, that upsets me. I've known alcoholics, and my drinking seems different; it's just like my binging on candy.

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:18 PM

Thanks for your reply. Your experience sounds very similar to mine. I am definitely energized by alcohol; I stay up all night drinking and eating junk food. How long did you try low carb? I tried it for about 4 weeks and felt awful - but I think it wasn't long enough (plus too much exercise and coffee). I'm hoping that I can just overcome my addiction to carbs through a long stretch of VLC, and then reintroduce them when I'm lean and healthy (only as many as is optimal for exercise and whathaveyou). I'm hoping that at this point, I won't be driven to binge, on either carbs or alcohol.

4e184df9c1ed38f61febc5d6cf031921

(5005)

on October 26, 2011
at 07:32 PM

I can give up candy, booze etc.But - I can't give up my addiction to young men (18 / 30!!!) I'd far rather need a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine - so much easier to acquire!

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on October 26, 2011
at 07:04 PM

That reminds me of what Julia Ross said in the Diet Cure - about the candy addiction after quitting alcohol.

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10 Answers

10
59d367d77f4082717bade07508624db8

on October 26, 2011
at 06:46 PM

There are some studies showing that a majority of alcoholics have reactive hypoglycemia. I believe both issues exacerbate each other, as in, hypoglycemia can predispose one to alcohol addiction, and active addiction to these repetitive boluses of sugar will obviously make the blood-glucose issues worse. If you go to any AA meeting, there is a volunteer whose sole responsibility is "sweets," bringing candy/cookies for everyone to munch on throughout the meeting. And there's of course the ubiquitous coffee.

In my experience, this is why alcoholics are commonly energized by alcohol, and can't stop after just one drink. Combine a wonderfully efficient way to raise starved blood-glucose with a growing tolerance to the depressive effects of ethanol, and you have someone who drinks all night rather than get sleepy after a few beers like your average person.

I am recovering from an alcohol addiction at 26 years old. When sober, I would gorge on food. I tried to keep it to home-cooked whole foods, but could never make it very long without binging on some form of sugar, usually at night, which I saw as an obvious substitution for the alcohol. My pattern was this: tons of coffee during the day to remedy the tanking energy, bingeing on food at night, repeated every day until an eventual relapse on alcohol. My insistence that something was still very wrong with the way I ate was met with indifference by doctors, until I took an oral glucose tolerance test and my blood sugar plummeted. Paleo has helped tremendously with this, though low-carb paleo made me miserable. I think upping the fat and getting rid of wheat and sugar were the keys for me. I tolerate starch fine.

HOWEVER, you should remember that alcohol is indeed a drug that can really fuck with your brain, plugging directly into reward circuits (endorphin, dopamine etc) and hindering their ability to function normally on their own. Once that connection was established in my mind, that alcohol "works," it was very hard to shake it, and my brain will try every trick in the book (euphoric recollection, minimizing perceived consequences...) to lead me back to it. If your binging is surrounded by stress, depression, emotional issues...this is something to look into.

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:18 PM

Thanks for your reply. Your experience sounds very similar to mine. I am definitely energized by alcohol; I stay up all night drinking and eating junk food. How long did you try low carb? I tried it for about 4 weeks and felt awful - but I think it wasn't long enough (plus too much exercise and coffee). I'm hoping that I can just overcome my addiction to carbs through a long stretch of VLC, and then reintroduce them when I'm lean and healthy (only as many as is optimal for exercise and whathaveyou). I'm hoping that at this point, I won't be driven to binge, on either carbs or alcohol.

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:25 PM

I should add: I'm a grad student, and drinking regularly interferes with my school work (I tend to do NO WORK if I'm even slightly hungover). This leads to guilt; I know I could be a better scholar. But other than that, my drinking doesn't cause problems. I've been in a committed relationship for many years now. Generally, I'm a happy drunk. And I get the necessary work done. It's just the knowledge that I'm not living up to anywhere near my potential, physically or mentally, that upsets me. I've known alcoholics, and my drinking seems different; it's just like my binging on candy.

59d367d77f4082717bade07508624db8

(1198)

on October 27, 2011
at 05:58 AM

Also, and I'm not in the business of determining if people are alcoholics, but a definition of an alcoholic at its most basic is a person who, once they drink, cannot stop, or have extreme difficulty doing so. "Alcoholic" doesn't have to be a type, or a subterannean clan of society one belongs to, it's an addiction to ethyl alcohol. My drinking seemed different too, as I was very functional. But those differences were just details in the end. My drinking was certainly MORE different than your average joe. We're still talking about a toxin, regardless of labels.

59d367d77f4082717bade07508624db8

(1198)

on October 27, 2011
at 05:29 AM

I was VLC for about a month, like you. I just couldn't handle all the protein, even with plenty of fat. I just looked flushed and bloated all the time, digestion was terrible, and resented the joyless meals. I think you would be fine upping the fat and just keeping a sane amount of carbs. Having plenty of fat kept me satiated and prevented that post-meal moment from tipping over into binging. Cutting the sugar from candy/beer will give you the most bang for the buck, and stressing over vegetable carbs is just fine tuning.

59d367d77f4082717bade07508624db8

(1198)

on October 27, 2011
at 05:46 AM

Also, and I'm not in the business of determining if people are alcoholics, but a definition of an alcoholic at its most basic is a person who, once they drink, cannot stop, or have extreme difficulty doing so. "Alcoholic" doesn't have to be a type, or a subterannean clan of society one belongs to, it's an addiction to ethyl alcohol. My drinking seemed different than other alcoholics up until I was in the ER. But those differences were just details in the end. My drinking was certainly MORE different than your average joe. We're still talking about a toxin that shouldn't be taken lightly.

3
5ef574d7893bc816ec52e04139e9bc09

(6097)

on October 26, 2011
at 07:10 PM

I think most addictions/cravings can be sourced back to your body's pleasure setpoint. My guess is that people who claim to have addictive personalities really just have a shortage of dopamine receptors.

Any time you indulge in something that gives you a burst of pleasure (drugs or sugar) your dopamine receptors downregulate, making it harder for you to feel that same pleasure again. I think of dopamine resistance as the farther reaching analogue to insulin/leptin resistance that we hear about in this community so often.

Stephan's posts on food reward are pretty cool too.

2
9759643ce5d97ab8fa649ae954656c4c

on October 26, 2011
at 09:16 PM

I have a hypoglycemic reaction immediately upon ingesting alcohol. It makes me ravenous while simultaneously lowering my food standards. The sugar and carb cravings become absolutely unbearable. I don't react this way to caffeine unless there's sweetener involved (artificial sweeteners and stevia can trigger me). The smallest amount of sweetener, alcohol, or starch will trigger a blood sugar roller coaster that can result in binging and making bad food choices for days. The only solution I've found is to keep carbs below 50, avoid all sugars (including fruit), starches, and alcohol. For me, these things are "gateway" foods. I cannot eat them in moderation so I don't eat them at all.

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:28 PM

If you don't mind me asking, are you overweight? (I am, by about 40 pounds). How long have been low carb? How long did it take for the carb flu to pass? Like I mentioned above, I tried low carb, and felt pretty miserable - but I only stuck it out for four weeks, and I think I was pushing the exercise too hard.

2
Bad3a78e228c67a7513c28f17c36b3cf

(1387)

on October 26, 2011
at 08:00 PM

There is some very interesting thoughts about the relationship of alcohol, sugar, and possible brain infections in the post at the Perfect Health Diet http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?p=4127

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:29 PM

Looks interesting. Thanks!

1
6d2ad4f76e1bdf07c423fba9c2701da5

(10)

on December 15, 2012
at 01:25 PM

read caffeine blues, by Stephen Cherniske. Caffeine creates an insulin spike, then a crash, and so your body seeks more sugar, so the carb cravings set in. Also, it's a morbid hunger, an irritation of the gut lining, a knawing feeling that cannot be satisfied by ANYTHING! Try going a few days without caffeine (like on the weekend when you're not doing anything.. don't plan anything social, as that will cause temptation) then notice that, yes you'll be tired (that's why staying at home and being able to nap is a good idea) but you won't be craving the food as much. You'll be dehydrated when you wake, drink 2 glasses of water upon waking, and then wait for 10mins before assessing whether you are actually hungry or not... most likely you'll be stuffed from a binge the night before.. so likely not! And you'll find you just won't have the same appetite... I have the same problem (minus the alcohol). When I don't drink caffeine, I don't binge, plain and simple. But it's getting through the initial withdrawals of caffeine (being drowsy, and your mind playing tricks on you, convincing you that you NEED it, and coming up with all the justifications under the sun!)

If all else fails, get some NLP and hypnosis sessions, after all, you've been brain washed (by society) that you need it and you actually like the crap, so it's psychological as well as physiological.

Good luck :)

1
7bf306ada57db47547e9da39a415edf6

(11214)

on October 26, 2011
at 07:12 PM

Binge behavior seems to be carbohydrate motivated. The less carbs in the drink (and in your food), the easier it seems to be to keep one's intake reasonable. Reasonable, for me, is not waking up at 3am dehydrated. Highly unscientific research suggests that this amounts to 3 glasses (half-bottle) of wine, 4 to 6 ounces of something distilled- consumed somewhere between after-work and before bed. Sensitivity has increased since going paleo and losing all the weight.

You can imagine the range here- I gave up beer upon going paleo, but I remember those maltose filled brews generating a powerful thirst. Wine is easy to overdrink, and I think they've been upping the sugar content (as well as the alcohol content) for the concussed American palette. Various whiskeys, scotches, and rums vary in their sweetness. Vodka and gin seem safer. Yes I realize the average concerned mother would find my observations alarming- but they find saturated fat alarming as well...

Of course, one could be free to posit that it was, in fact, flavor rather than the carbohydrates, but you can mix sugary stuff with your vodka versus mixing non-sugary (yet tasty, like lemon or ginger) and see where that gets you.

Good plan. Beer has a lot of grain-based ickyness in it, which represents another vector of addiction. Get rid of any artificial sweeteners too- it wasn't until I got rid of Splenda in my coffee that I was finally able to see that pizza wasn't actually food but a deviously disguised flat round disc of poison. Come to think of it, I was drinking more coffee back then too. I still drink a lot of coffee, but it has come down by at least half.

1
Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on October 26, 2011
at 04:59 PM

This book explained it to me years ago when I was working with young men who were in a secondary treatment facility. I can't attest to the science, but it totally made sense at the time.

The young men were all addicted to candy, even though they weren't drinking anymore. You can skip to the end of the book for the nutritional stuff.

Sober...and Staying That Way: The Missing Link in the Cure for Alcoholism

4e184df9c1ed38f61febc5d6cf031921

(5005)

on October 26, 2011
at 07:32 PM

I can give up candy, booze etc.But - I can't give up my addiction to young men (18 / 30!!!) I'd far rather need a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine - so much easier to acquire!

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on October 26, 2011
at 07:04 PM

That reminds me of what Julia Ross said in the Diet Cure - about the candy addiction after quitting alcohol.

0
76c885d7d27e6c83542ea493ca866dcd

(2178)

on October 26, 2011
at 08:51 PM

Have you ever been a smoker? Any other habits or vices?

I wonder if it might not have so much to do with carbs, but with a tendency toward addiction in general?

6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:36 PM

I've had the occasional cigarette here and there, just to look (and feel) cool - but I really don't like the buzz. I've never craved a cigarette. They make me almost instantly nauseated. Likewise, I've smoked pot here and there (probably less than 10 times in my life - I'm 30) I hated the high; it usually gave me an instant anxiety attack. It really is basically just sweets, alcohol, and sometimes coffee (usually when I cut back on the sweets and alcohol). I guess I get addicted to watching bad TV shows, but the alcohol is usually to blame for this.

0
Cc69a51b427eaad36251cce9dcca4d3a

(1074)

on October 26, 2011
at 08:20 PM

this site has really knowledgeable people =D. I am happy to be here everyday. I usually follow LeanGains and there are some serious bro-science guys there. it's all about calories in, calories out. no respect to mother earth's nutrition

0
0a2dd50f2d3951bf3fb83fc4638c9512

(1960)

on October 26, 2011
at 05:25 PM

Great question, and I really look forward to the answers. There could be a number of things going on, just off the top of my head:

  • hypersensitivity to carbs
  • hypersensitivity to sugar
  • the cravings could actually be a symptom of an allergy to carbs or sugar
  • some level of an addictive personality, perhaps

I think you're taking steps in the right direction by reining in your diet, and eliminating the potential sources of your cravings. Remember -- sugar is addictive, and all carbs break down into sugar (as does alcohol), so you're really talking about very similar substances here that are giving you problems.

Good luck -- please share what you learn!

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