- Clint McKoy / Unsplash
- I hated doing Dry January last year, so, naturally, I tried it again.
- Last year it gave me insomnia, but this time I was more aware of the sugar I was craving.
- Research has shown there are biological links between alcohol and sugar consumption, with many alcohol-dependent people having a preference for sweet things.
- Studies have also shown sugar may actually be addictive.
- The idea that I could be making my body dependent on things that are bad for me put my drinking habits into perspective.
- I finished the month with the goal of at least thinking about how much I drink from now on.
Last year, I tried Dry January for the first time, and it wreaked havoc on my sleeping pattern. I vowed never to try it again.
Except I did, and gave up booze again for a month at the start of 2018.
I don’t really know what I was thinking considering how miserable it made me last time, but after a particularly heavy December, I went back on my word.
And I certainly wasn’t alone. According to UK government data, 3.1 million people tried to give up alcohol this year, with many going into the new year with the plan of drinking less to salvage their livers and wallets.
Since Dry Jan’s conception in 2013, results have looked fairly promising, with research showing about 71% of participants tend to complete the whole month, and about 57% drink less overall six months later – so it seemed worth another shot.
After my second attempt, I found a few things were still true from last year: 1. I certainly drink too much; 2. Very few bars in London know how to serve a lime and soda properly; and 3. I didn’t manage to save any money. Also, my enthusiasm ran out by the 27th of the month.
Again, I found my sleep wasn’t great. Health experts I spoke to last year told me this could be a sign of withdrawal. Apparently, if your body is used to being put into a relaxed state by alcohol, it may struggle to get to that state for a while without being medicated.
However, the new thing I noticed this time around was that I started to crave sugar.
I already have a sweet tooth, but I found it even more difficult to satisfy over January. I’d find myself buying extra chocolates or biscuits over lunch to snack on through the afternoons – something I do anyway – but it would rarely be enough.
At first I thought it was just because my body was used to the high sugar content of alcoholic drinks, and was thus seeking it from different places. For reference, a small glass of wine can have 2-3% of your daily intake of sugar in it, but if you’re drinking spirits with sugary mixers this can jump to 60% in a single cocktail.
However, addiction research has shown there could be deeper biological link than that.
There is some evidence for sugar being addictive. Consuming sugary foods leads to our brains releasing dopamine – the reward hormone that makes us feel good. Researchers have concluded this could be enough of a reason to become addicted to sugar, because we chase that happy feeling and know we can replicate it easily with the sweet things.
Alcohol tends to have the same effect, making our brains release dopamine in the short term. But alcohol is also a depressant, and this happy feeling only lasts for so long. For regular drinkers, it can take more and more alcohol over time to reach the stage of the dopamine release, which is one explanation for why people continue to drink too much.
One study, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, looked into the connection between sugar and alcohol, namely that many alcohol-dependent people have a preference for sweet things, particularly foods with high sugar content.
According to the study, the neuro-biological pathways of drugs – like alcohol – and sugar addiction involve similar areas of the brain. Other research supports this, such as one study which found that women with a history of food dependence or addiction showed high levels of brain activity in regions associated with drug and alcohol cravings when they were shown pictures of a chocolate milkshake.
Another hallmark of addiction is withdrawal. People who are dependent on sugar can experience withdrawal-like symptoms when they try to give it up. These include anxiety, shaking, and obsessively thinking about sugary foods.
If you cut out sugar, you may not experience the same withdrawal symptoms as if you cut out drugs or alcohol, but the cravings you’ll get are a sign that your brain chemistry has adapted to your lifestyle, which is slightly concerning.
The idea that I could be making my body dependent on things that are bad for me put my drinking habits into perspective.
Last year, after a couple of weeks, I was back to my old ways without thinking much about my sober experience.
This year, though, I’ve been much more aware of how much I’m drinking, and what I’m drinking, simply because I don’t want to slip back into my habit of weekend binges just for the sake of it. The hangovers haven’t been worth it since I turned 26.
I’m not an addict, and I know I drink less than many of my peers. But if I want to be more aware of my own health, perhaps looking around my social circles to dictate what’s “normal” isn’t as good an idea as listening to what my body is saying.