Wednesday 17 June 2015

Cross Addictions

Day 108, and HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TO KAGS who made 100 days yesterday! Kags has been with me since the beginning, and since she quit drinking has found a whole new life and a gorgeous new puppy. You rock, Kags.

I've become increasingly interested in the theory of 'cross addiction'. This is partly because I get loads of e-mails and comments from people who talk about becoming addicted to sugar, and partly because I know I'm developing new obsessions of my own.

Here's what Veronica Valli has to say in her book 'Why you drink and how to stop.'

Once you are addicted to one substance you can be addicted to all.....(alcohol addicts) recognise they have a drinking problem and manage to stop. But then the emotions and feelings they always had, that they used alcohol to escape from, are still there, and they are forced to find other chemicals or behaviours to deal with them.

Valli then cites a fascinating study of obese gastric band patients. It was found that they often suffer from 'addiction transference'. Because they usually don't deal with the underlying psychological issues which led to them overeating, once they can no longer gorge on food they frequently develop addictions to other substances - like alcohol.

So the sugar addicts become alcohol addicts, and we alcohol addicts become sugar addicts! It's like an addicts version of Freaky Friday.

Funnily enough, looking back, I realise that my alcohol consumption really took off in my early thirties, after I managed to quit my twenty-to-forty a day cigarette habit. In my twenties my hands and mouth were far too occupied with smoking to drink too much!

And now, when I get the familiar squirming knot of anxiety in my stomach (which, thank goodness, happens much less frequently now I'm sober) I still feel the need to shove something in my mouth (no rude jokes please).

I'm sure there's something deeply Freudian about this, linked to long buried memories of breastfeeding for comfort. In any case, we have spent decades conditioning ourselves to self medicate against any negative emotion with a hand to mouth action.

And that's why it feels so natural to reach for something like chocolate. Plus sugar, like alcohol, stimulates the 'pleasure receptors' in the brain.

I've tried super hard to avoid 'using' sugar too much, but I've developed other addictions instead.

If I'm stressed about something I head straight for the fridge and, depending on the time of day, go for either a Diet Coke or an AF beer (or water if I'm feeling guilty about overdoing it with those). I drink WAY more fluids than any normal person needs, so am constantly running to the loo.

Actually, I'm starting to worry about my reliance on AF beer. I've begun checking how much I have in the fridge, and even running out to the shops for an emergency stockpile. I consciously limit myself to no more than 3 small bottles a day. It's all behaviour I find horribly familiar...

My other addiction is this blog. I keep meaning to cut down the number of times I post to 2 or 3 a week, like most 'normal' bloggers, but if I don't write my morning post I get all angsty. I was out all day on Monday, leaving home at 7am, so I woke up at 5am to write my post before I left!

I also check my blog stats obsessively, which really irritates the husband and kids. I get super excited when I get readers in a new country - like Oman, Antigua or Ukraine. I love counting page views - 63,000 since I started three months ago. Is that a lot? No idea.

In August we're doing our annual jaunt to Cornwall for a buckets-spades-surfing-and-no-wifi holiday. In the past I've loved this as it keeps #2 away from Minecraft for a good long stretch, but now I'm already starting to panic about how I'm going to manage without the blog.

Lucy Rocca (founder of Soberistas) often talks about how she took up running obsessively once she stopped drinking, which is a really great way to channel your addiction, and to relieve stress. Plus, running releases endorphins, so gives us that high we crave.

I know I should try something like that rather than sitting hunched over the laptop wondering why my wine belly isn't disappearing any faster.

I'm assuming, and hoping, that as I get more used to dealing with all the raw emotions that I've drowned out (literally) for years, my need to 'self medicate' with something else will ease off.

My advice to anyone starting on this journey is to be aware of cross addictions.

Don't beat yourself up too much if you need a crutch like sugar initially, but try to channel your obsessions towards something like exercise rather than just chocolate!

I do feel like I'm on a constant merry-go-round of addiction followed by restriction, but at least blogging and AF drinks are healthier than alcohol and nicotine, so I'm plodding in the right direction ;-)

Hugs to you all,

SM x


  1. Hi SM, I'm having the same issue with AF beer! I actually felt the old twinge of shame today putting out my recycling as the box was full to the brim like before I was AF but with Becks Blue bottles! I think the recent sunny weather is too blame a bit but I am having to try and cut down. Managed to avoid the chocolate trap after reading the Jason Vale 'kicking chocolate' book after reading recs on your blog. Congrats to you Kags too for joining the 100 club. I'm halfway there :) x

    1. We're always kicking something it seems! My recycling's clunking embarrassingly too! SM

  2. *Holding my hand up in shame* too with AF wine. But actually, I don't care. Its working for me at the moment. Same as blogging. I've been AF for 39 days, I drank alcohol for 20 years, and its the same for most of us, so I say, stick with what keeps us off the booze. xx

  3. Couldn't you try some herbal teas. They are very relaxing. I might be wrong but I can't imagine too much AF beer is healthy? Has to be full of crap. I wish i liked hot chocolate, i think the odd one would be comforting in the evening!
    I think it is normal to be blog obsessed. Its social anyways in lots of way which is hugely beneficial to your overall health. I don't even have a blog and love checking in on my favourite blogs, yours, angie, ainsobriety, tipsy etc. You will miss your blog in august but its only 2 weeks, might be good for you too.
    You should try yoga. I think you would love it.

    1. Happy 100 days, Kags!!

    2. Hi Kats - you're right, I keep meaning to take up yoga again!

  4. There is a lot of talk about cross addiction, but I think people need to step back and ask the,selves - is what you are doing hurting you? Are you acting compulsively? Hiding? Shameful? If not, we need to be easier on ourselves.

    Sugar is enjoyable. It tastes good. It is not the devil. I used to think it was. I went years on an absolute low carb sugar free diet. I became a rigid, anxious rule seeking and angry person. And then I drank more.

    So enjoy the release and the chance to have some treats. You might even gain a few pounds. Let it go....sometimes learning to accept ourselves as is includes luxuriating in some peanut butter cups. Guilt free.

    If it is compulsive or creating anxiety, find help.

    Life goes on. We need to enjoy it.

    1. I love peanut butter cups. I never ate them because I "saved" my calories for wine.

    2. I used to save my calories for wine too! I used to joke that if you put a decadent dessert and a glass of wine in front of me, I would choose the wine every time. And then I'd probably have another glass, and then eat the dessert too. LOL

    3. Thanks, Anne - that makes me feel much better! Sod denial!

  5. Ah thank you sm you and your 63,000 ( that sounds like an awful lot to me) are the only people who can appreciate this huge milestone !! We always head to Cornwall in August too for much the same as you !! If you see a family with a new puppy and a mummy minus the wine belly then wave it may just be me. ;-) x

    1. where do you go in cornwall, kags? Anywhere near polzeath?

  6. I'm intrigued by the sugar-alcohol cross addiction idea. I think that's how I started drinking again after quitting for 4 years: went on the SCD diet (it's for people with issues like Chrohns, IBS, Colitis) and it's no sugar, no grains, no starches, no soy, no dairy (unless it's fermented). Pretty much all you can eat are meat, nuts and veggies. Anyhoo one of the things you could have was alcohol as long as it is clear (low sugar). So I started making sugar free cocktails with vodka to make up for not being able to eat anything sweet. In hind sight, not a great idea:)

  7. Hi SM,
    I suspect I have become addicted to chocolate!! I've always loved chocolate but now I think 'I'm not drinking all that sugar so a bit of sugar won't hurt! I must keep an eye on that!
    Congrats on day 108.
    A x

  8. I have never been a chocolate lover, actually felt a bit left out when women waxed lyrical about it, but since I stopped drinking I am chowing down on chocolate bullets every night. I figure it's better than being drunk. I think I'll try to get addicted to keeping the house clean..............

  9. Hi SM

    I have just bout Jason's book after reading your blogs. could i ask if you had stopped drinking before you read this?
    I haven't stopped completely yet and struggling to find something else to drink as I dont want to start picking on food. I have managed to put on nearly 2 stone in weight from to much wine and not enough exercise and i am despate to get it off and get back to being me and not what they all look at 'the wino mum' any advice would be great
    well done 108 fantastic and great blog x

    1. Welcome footie Mum! I only quit after reading Jason (I was only intending to 'cut down' before I started the book!) in fact, he says CARRY ON until you finish the book (unless you've stopped already). Good luck! Let us know how you get on...

  10. I managed 4 tunnocks tea cakes one after the other a few nights ago..... I'm thinking I best cut back. I did however shame myself into running for 60 mins afterwards x

  11. I am a living example of cross addiction. I had weight loss surgery almost 2 years ago. I lost 80 pounds and then became a raging alcoholic! I stopped drinking 18 days ago and I am craving sweets. I have decided it is better to have a bit of chocolate than to always be drunk.