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Treating Alcohol Withdrawal With A Carb-Heavy Diet

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

It's not uncommon to feel grumpy and irritable for as long as two years following alcohol recovery. Many people crave sweet carbohydrates especially in the first few months, so much so that AA meetings offer donuts and other sweets to members before meetings. These cravings are completely normal and even helpful, but is there a right way to treat alcohol withdrawal with a carb-heavy diet?

Recovering from alcoholism can be tricky and while this is a great achievement that offers many rewards, the physical and emotional balance is often hard to achieve. Post-Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms (or PAWS) offers a mixed bag of insomnia, anxiety, depression, and agitation.

How Carbohydrates Affect The Body

Carbohydrates (carbs) are broken down into simple sugars when introduced into the body. These sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream, raising your sugar level. The pancreas senses this change and secretes insulin to move sugar from the blood into cells. This process provides energy to the body and is found to elevate mood. Research suggests that there are benefits to carb consumption, such as:

  • Promoting production of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin. Studies have shown that people limiting carb intake to 20-40 grams/day (about 2 pieces of bread) experienced more depression and agitation than people assigned to high carb and low-fat diet over the span of a year. (Archives of Internal Medicine)
  • Many carbs offer dietary fiber, a complex substance that is indigestible. Increased fiber intake can promote weight loss, weight maintenance, and digestion.
  • Carb-rich foods like oatmeal, quinoa, and beans can aid the heart in removing LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
  • Eating “slow-release” carbs like whole grains, oatmeal, and bran cereal can help maintain blood sugar and effectively stave off hunger.

Researchers suggest limiting sugary carbs like sodas and candy as part of a balanced diet. Unfortunately, cravings in alcohol recovery tend to lean toward the sweet side of carbohydrates, expanding waistlines and damaging teeth. Thankfully, there are simple ways to avoid the effects of carb cravings that can benefit those in recovery.

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What Do You Need?

Alcohol offers no nutritional value to the body and when it was a daily part of your life, you may have consumed as much as 50% of your daily calories through alcohol consumption. When alcohol is removed from the body completely, it is customary to attempt to increase serotonin through sweet carb consumption.

In order to restore and nourish your body during recovery, it’s important to know what your body needs to stay healthy. According to

  • Fats, oils, and sweets should be consumed sparingly. Sugar consumption should be limited to six teaspoons on average for a diet consisting of 1,600 calories.
  • A balanced diet consists of 2-3 servings of dairy, 2-3 servings of protein, 3-5 servings of vegetables, and 2-4 servings of fruit.
  • In addition, 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta are recommended.
  • When considering carb intake, it helps to look at the fat and calorie content of individual servings. For instance, one baked potato contains 120 calories and trace amounts of fat. A serving of french fries (14 fries) contains 11 grams of fat and a whopping 225 calories.
  • Water recommendations vary based on age, sex, and health status. During recovery, it is especially beneficial to stay hydrated in order to flush toxins and maintain health. Adults typically need about half a gallon of water every day to stay healthy.

A high-carb diet can be best managed with foods containing high dietary fiber. Oatmeal, whole grain pasta, heavy bread, and bran cereal offer great sources of dietary fiber while offering the benefits of high energy and mood enhancement. While it may be tempting to consume refined sugars, considering the caloric and nutritional values of carbs can best serve your health in recovery.

Treating Alcoholism With A Carb-Heavy Diet

It’s important to consider mood, health, and living circumstances in recovery. An uncomfortable withdrawal and recovery process can increase the likelihood of relapse, making it more difficult for sobriety to stick in the long run.

Using the benefits of carbs to your advantage can assist in a more comfortable and lasting recovery. Many worry about gaining weight in recovery as a result of higher carb consumption. With a little help, people in recovery can establish healthy habits while treating the unfortunately common mood shift that comes with it.

JAMA Internal Medicine – Improving Health and Health Care -

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC
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