When I stopped drinking, I suddenly developed a craving for ice-cream, chocolate and cake. Weird, because I’d never really been into sweet things before. And, it turns out I’m not the only one. It’s a well-reported phenomena that some people find themselves reaching for the sugar when they get sober.

There are various suggestions for why this can happen:

  • alcohol and sugar both boost our levels of dopamine (the “reward” chemical in the brain) which triggers feelings of pleasure. So, when we stop drinking, we might crave sugar to trigger the dopamine release we were getting from alcohol;
  • alcohol is converted to sugar in the blood so when we don’t have that any more we can desire sugar in other forms;
  • psychologically, if we’ve been using alcohol as a treat or reward, we need to find other treats and rewards to replace it – sugar often becomes an alcohol replacement after meals, in the evening after a hard day’s work or at weekends when we want something to look forward to;
  • some scientists argue that sugar in itself is addictive because of the dopamine effect – the more we eat it, the more we want it;
  • sugar can also help alleviate boredom. If alcohol used to do this job for you then it makes sense that sugar could fill its place.

The good news part one: not everyone gets these cravings – most people find that they lose weight and get healthier virtually as soon as they stop drinking.

The good news part two: even if you do get these cravings, they don’t last forever. For most of us, this is a temporary phase that lasts from a few months to a year.

What to do about it

First of all, don’t worry. Just knowing that this can be a normal part of the transition into an alcohol-free lifestyle can help you relax about it.

The important thing is that when you first stop drinking, you go easy on yourself. You deal with one thing at a time.

There’s no point becoming overwhelmed by the all the different aspects of you and your life you want to change–that’s one sure-fire way to end up stressed, feeling like a failure and back on the booze. Instead, allow yourself whatever you need to feel better. Eat the ice-cream/chocolate/cake if it gives you something to look forward to. You can deal with your diet and fitness once you’re living life happily and confidently sober.

When I stopped drinking, I put a lot of energy and concentration into finding different habits, treats and activities. Sometimes that meant a whole bag of peanut M&M’s and a TV box-set. Sometimes it meant a herbal tea and a candle-lit bath. Sometimes it meant a fierce and sweaty workout. I wasn’t looking to get a healthy balance right from the start, just to find alcohol replacements. Just to stay sober and do what it took.

As time goes by and you gain in confidence in your new sober habits, you can start to put your energy into getting a healthier nutritional balance if you need to. (A word of caution here: avoid faddy diets that are short-term. Finding a balanced and healthy approach to eating and staying fit that works for you can take a long time – it’s taken me years but how I eat now is completely sustainable and allows me occasional sweet treats.) When you no longer need to put quite so much energy and concentration into staying sober, you can start to put it into other habits or things you want to change.

If you do find yourself reaching for the sugar initially, your clothes might get tighter and you might feel like you haven’t got things quite right yet and that’s okay – give yourself a break. Remember, one step at a time. It’s only temporary. Having a short love affair with sugar is still healthier for you than if you had carried on drinking. When you’ve dealt with the drinking, you can deal with nutrition and eating healthily.

Whenever you can make healthy choices about what you put into your body, do but don’t put yourself under pressure about it. Do what works for you. Some people even find that getting sober kickstarts them straightaway into a much healthier lifestyle and they end up fitter and healthier than they’ve ever been.

Of course, when you’re sleeping better, feeling better, waking up clear-headed and full of energy, it becomes much easier to stick to fitness and exercise commitments. When I was drinking, hangovers often got in the way of my workouts. I would cancel and reorganise a lot! Being sober has given me the freedom to choose what I put my energy into and has given me the resilience and strength of mind to stick to my goals.

The other benefit of setting yourself fitness goals is that it provides a useful distraction from thinking about drinking. Having this kind of healthy distraction not only helps you to stay on your sober tracks but it also burns more calories and helps you earn those treats and rewards!

So if you’re worried about your waistline when you stop drinking, if sugar suddenly seems like your new best friend, just remember:

  1. don’t worry–it’s a phase–it won’t last–you’re still healthier than you would have been if you’d carried on drinking
  2. deal with one thing at a time–getting sober first, then other changes you want to make–you can’t do everything overnight
  3. make healthy choices as often as you can without putting yourself under pressure
  4. give yourself a break–do what you have to to make life easy
  5. get physically active –set yourself fitness goals and focus on those
  6. when you’re ready–and you’ll know when that is–experiment with diet and find a balanced and sustainable way of eating that can work for you long-term (don’t go for the quick-fixes!)

Now I’m several years into living my life sober, I still have a healthy appreciation for different types of food, including the sweet stuff! I have a coffee and cake date set up for next week with a new friend I’ve made and I’m already looking forward to it!

But my appreciation of things that taste good and are probably quite bad for me is balanced with a healthy lifestyle and plenty of physical activity. The way it works for me is that I put energy into fueling and exercising my body in a healthy way during the week and allow myself a bit of freedom at weekends. I don’t restrict myself if I’m eating out, on holiday or meeting up with other people. It’s roughly that 80%/20% rule. But different things work for different people and it’s important you find the way that works for you and only when the time is right and you’ve learnt to live your life confidently and happily sober.

If you want some support to help you live life happily sober, sign up for free bedtime reading at the bottom of this page. You'll receive motivating emails that link you to useful blogs and vlogs that help keep you on track.


31 Responses

Tara
Tara

June 27, 2020

Thank you so much for this! I read blogs all the time but yours hit the nail on the head. I signed up for your bedtime email. God bless you! #soberismynewhealthy

Lizzy
Lizzy

June 18, 2020

I have been drinking too much lately, especially in lockdown, decided to do a 28 day challenge, I have never had a sweet tooth( or so I thought, obviously wine was fulfilling it), only 3 days in and really craving sweet food

Jo
Jo

May 22, 2020

Hi Lucy, have sent you an email :)

Lucy
Lucy

May 22, 2020

I only stopped drinking 5 days ago, so would love to get the bed time e mails please. One day at a time! I definitely am eating more sugar, which I didn’t before and I am worried about weight gain!

Jo
Jo

May 06, 2020

Well done Marie – 77 days is an awesome achievement! If you want some support, some tips and encouragement for staying sober and creating healthier, non-sugary habits, you can check-in to our Support Forum on a daily basis. I’m in there every day and membership is free right now because I want to support people who are struggling with Covid 19 restrictions. Click on the home page, and at the top, you’ll see a “We’re here for you” banner with a “Get Started” button on it – click the button, sign up and you’re in! Go to the Resources button at the top of the page, where there is a drop-down menu and click on Support Forum – that’s where I share lots of advice, tips and strategies that can help you stay strong and create the life you want.

Marie
Marie

May 06, 2020

I’m on day 77 sober and few great but my sugar craving is my downfall. I was hoping to loose weight after stopping the alcohol. But I feel without the sweets especially in the evenings I may be tempted to have the odd drink .. HELP x

Jo
Jo

April 30, 2020

Hi Raina, thanks for your question and WELL DONE! You’ve done absolutely brilliantly to give up alcohol under your own steam. You’ve obviously read the article so you know that the sugar cravings are totally normal for some of us. Being diabetic, I guess this is about you managing them in a safe and healthy way for yourself. It is possible to surf the waves when they come – it’s all about taking control – just like you’ve done with the alcohol.The key to managing it is to put energy into planning and preparation – there’s a lot more that I want to put in this answer and I also think other people will benefit from a fuller discussion. I’m going to post your question and my full answer in the Ask Jo section (click on the Resources tab at the top of the page). It might take me a couple of days but keep watching this space and I’ll write something a bit more detailed for you.

Raina
Raina

April 30, 2020

Hi, I have been a heavy drinker for almost 20 years, borderline alcoholic I would say, and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last year, a little over a month ago I just went cold turkey and haven’t touched alcohol since then, only problem is since a few days ago I have been craving sweets, which since I am diabetic, are taboo for me. I do indulge because as someone mentioned above, its like a wave which one can’t avoid being sucked under, is there any alternative to sugar which I can eat instead or do I just need to mentally force myself to lay off like I did with alcohol? Thank you for your time!

Jo
Jo

April 28, 2020

Heya Sara, this sounds like you’re making great progress, drinking later and drinking less is a great start. It can affect sleep when we first change our drinking habits because your body needs to adjust to the fact it’s no longer having to process so much alcohol. It kind of needs to re-set itself and get into a more natural balance. Keep going and it will get better. Stay in touch and let me know if you want some support, Jo
Sara
Sara

April 28, 2020

I only had one wine yesterday. It was rough, even though I took my medicine at bedtime, I was awake till 4:30 AM. I made it almost 8 o’clock now without a drink. I think a glass of wine is going to win over again. Hopefully I’ll stop at one.

Jo
Jo

April 13, 2020

Hi Pamela, great to hear from you – thanks for your post and congratulations on your 6 month’s sober! Awesome achievement! Keep up the great work – it keeps on getting better. Hope you’re reassured not to worry too much about the sugar. Take care, Jo

Pamela
Pamela

April 13, 2020

Thank you so much for this article! I stopped drinking just over six months ago. I never cared much for sweets before, and I’m the daughter of a baker! Now, getting through the day without some sort of sweet treat seems almost impossible. Kind of how I felt about alcohol for a long time. Thanks, again

Jo
Jo

April 08, 2020

Hi Otto,

Well done on getting through your first few days – this is a great achievement! You’re on my email list now so you should get regular emails from me. I hope you find them useful – stay in touch and let me know how you get on.

Otto
Otto

April 08, 2020

Hi I would like the bed time reading. As I have just give up drink a few days ago thank you Otto

Jo
Jo

March 28, 2020

Thanks for your post, Andrea. It helps to share our experiences – it’s so much easier when you know it’s not just you. And, well done for your huge achievement – hope you’re giving yourself a big pat on the back for what you’ve achieved!

Andrea
Andrea

March 28, 2020

I stopped drinking Alcohol on 1 Jan 2020 after being a heavy drinker for over 20 years without medical support and have had withdrawal symptoms. These include consuming large amounts of chocolate and also nightmares. I found this article very useful and it’s good to know I am not the only one – Dorne

Jo
Jo

March 15, 2020

Well done, Martin! You’ve done great – nearly 3 months is a fantastic achievement. Don’t worry too much about eating sweet things – it’s early days yet and it’s okay to give yourself treats. Once your body has adjusted to no alcohol and you are confidently navigating the world sober, you can start to work on healthy nutrition. Take one thing at a time and go easy on yourself – you’re doing great!

martin prior
martin prior

March 15, 2020

i stopped drinking 31st dec 2019. But cant top eating sweet things.

Jo
Jo

March 07, 2020

Hi Melia, thanks for getting in touch and well done for reaching out. I notice you’ve signed up for the Free Bedtime Reading – you will receive weekly emails from me now that you’ve done that. If you want daily contact and support, you can sign up for a Support Membership (£9 p/month) – this gets you into a private online forum which I visit every day and can answer your questions and give advice and guidance. You can sign up here: https://gogetsober.com/pages/support-membership-sign-up

Stay in touch and let me know how you’re getting on.

Melia
Melia

March 07, 2020

I would like to receive a daily email

Jo
Jo

February 06, 2020

Hi Sinead, You’re still healthier overdoing the chocolate for a while than you would have been if you’d carried on drinking. It will be phase and, as time passes, your body and mind will settle into a healthier pattern. Go easy on yourself and do what you can to make healthy choices. Great work on your 3 weeks sober!!

Sinead
Sinead

February 06, 2020

Such a good read only 3weeks sober but I can’t stop eating chocolate. I really need to stop.

Jo
Jo

January 28, 2020

Thanks Raj and Deniz for your comments and good wishes. You’re both doing great! Go easy and take things one step at a time – you can do this easier when you look after you and go gentle on yourself. If you want some extra support and cheerleading, sign up for a Support Membership under the Memberships button at the top and join me and other sober warriors on our journey into happy and healthy sober living 🙂

Raj
Raj

January 28, 2020

Thank you! This article put things into perspective for me. I decided to quit alcohol on the 7th of January and have been going strong and hope to continue for the rest of my life. I have had a really hard time past few years drinking 3 to 4 hard drinks everyday was taking a toll on my relationships,mental and physical health. Giving up alcohol has been the best decision of my life although it’s too early I feel I have the conviction to let go of this bad habit.
I’ve been craving POP and desserts since I quit and its weird because I never have been someone who craved sugar much throughout my life.
I will try and hit the gym as often as I can which I actually enjoy (just need my lazy ass to the gym more often)
I hope and pray all of you succeed in quitting or accomplishing your goals pertaining to alcohol.

deniz
deniz

December 02, 2019

Thanks for sharing your genuine input. I am also two months sober with chocolate cravings. It comes as a rush and have to have it when it comes. It is like an anxiety attack. I know I shouldn’t eat sugar but I can neither help nor control myself. My mind says it is better than ‘alcohol’ and all the hangover and trouble it comes with it. God, I hope it goes away soon. Fingers crossed. I appreaciate your blog and reading others also going through similar after affects help me feel better and take it one day at a time. Thanks guys!

Jo
Jo

October 28, 2019

Hi Cassy, thanks for your post – and well done on ditching the alcohol! 10 days is a great achievement and, as the month progresses, you might notice more and more interesting things about life sober that can surprise you. You’re right, exercise is a great way to get that dopamine hit. It might take some experimenting but you’ll eventually find a balance between healthy physical activities and occasional sugary treats that works for you. 10 days is very early on so don’t give yourself too much of a hard time – you’re doing great!

Cassy
Cassy

October 28, 2019

Thanks for the article. My husband and I decided on a whim to go sober for a month. We used to have at least one drink per day, much more on the weekends, and I thought things were getting out of hand. We both saw our fitness level decrease, and our consumption had slowly increased in the past year. We both saw the need to cut it out dramatically. It’s been 10 days and I’ve noticed major, inexplicable sugar cravings, and I realized it might be related to sobriety! It’s great seeing that I’m not completely crazy and that I’m not alone (husband is still more or less indifferent to sugar, although I’ve seen him eat a couple of cookies after dinner which is really out of character for him). It also makes me wonder how actually addicted to alcohol I was (am?). I definitely used it as a coping mechanism but I didn’t think it would translate into a physical craving for dopamine/sugar. Now the cool thing is that exercise also releases dopamine so I hope that by attending the gym more regularly I will get my daily dose! Good luck to all of you fellow newly-sober people!

Jo
Jo

October 05, 2019

Hi Amy! Well done on your 71 days! I hope you’re giving yourself credit and lots of pats on the back for this achievement – you’re doing great. The sugar thing is temporary and how long it lasts will depend on your lifestyle and the choices you’re making. I still enjoy sugar years after getting sober but I don’t worry about it anymore because I lead a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and healthy foods.

It took some time before I reached this healthy balance though. For the first few months I just allowed myself whatever treats I wanted because it was still better for me than drinking and it made my life easier. Once I was confident with staying sober and it had started to become automatic I began to focus on nutrition. I’ve spoken to people who say the sugar cravings disappeared after a few months and others who say it took a good year. For me, it was probably about six months.

Don’t put yourself under too much pressure – you’re doing a great job learning how to live sober – you’ll experiment for a while with different ways of managing your eating habits and eventually you’ll reach way of doing it that works for you. Where you can, indulge a sweet craving with home-made stuff (at least you know what’s in it and it will have less chemical crap than shop-bought). I’m baking a pear and chocolate tart today which will be my treat for the weekend but it will be fresh and wholesome ingredients even if it does give me a sugar-kick!

Stay in touch and let me know how it goes, Jo

Amy
Amy

October 05, 2019

I am so thankful for this article, thank you so much!! I am MADLY craving sugar. I’ve never struggled with this before. I am sober 71 days today. How long does this last?? I also thought I would lose a ton of weight instantly when I quit!! Thank you again!! Amy

Jo
Jo

April 05, 2019

Hey Tom, Well done on your great achievement! 11 months is fantastic! I’m glad you’re starting to stabilise now… it will keep getting better. No-one told me about the sugar/weight gain thing – I just thought I’d lose loads of weight – lol. The fact that you’re slowly shifting to healthier foods is a good sign – slowly and sustainably is better than “quick fixes”. Keep going and keep in touch! Jo x

Tom
Tom

April 05, 2019

Great post! My surgery cravings where/are horrible. I was never much of a sugar guy before I quit drinking. At 10-11 months AF, my body’s chemistry finally started to stabilize. Wish I would have read this months ago. I also gained a lot of weight. But I can emotionally feel a shift creeping in. It does get better. Slowly shifting to fruit, low fat yogurt etc instead of pop tarts and chocolate. What a journey getting sober has been. Well worth it!

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