Thank you for this excellent question. Many individuals experience an increased craving for sugar when they try to stop drinking alcohol. A quick summary of the relationship is this. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that is involved in alcoholism, depression and anxiety among many other functions in the body. It has been demonstrated that individuals with alcoholism have lower levels of serotonin in the brain. Consuming either alcohol or carbohydrates (sugar and sweets) increases serotonin. Mona Moorhouse did a study (though small, it was elegantly done) during which her group studied individuals with alcoholism that had carbohydrate cravings compared to individuals with alcoholism without carb craving compared to individuals without alcoholism. She measured the effect of diet on mood, alcohol craving, stress and serotonin. The results are very interesting. In a nutshell:
- Both groups of individuals with alcoholism craved alcohol more than the non-addicted group when under stress
- Individuals with alcoholism and carb-craving were especially sensitive to the effects of carbohydrates on mood and had lower serotonin levels when on low-carb diet
So in plain language, what is most likely going on is that when you stop drinking, your serotonin levels plummet (do you find yourself anxious and depressed also?), and your brain knows that if you eat more carbs it will get more serotonin and you will feel better. So, it makes you crave carbs so you will eat them.
When individuals stop drinking, they should be very aware of their eating habits so they don’t replace their drinking with addictive eating leading to weight gain, risk for diabetes etc. etc. Options include eating foods high in Serotonin, or natural supplements such as St. John’s Wort, or a serotonin-based antidepressant. All under the care of a physician of course.