Studies have shown that most alcoholics suffer from Hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia means low blood sugar, or when our bodies do not have enough sugar to use as fuel. Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar (glucose) is too low. Blood sugar below 70 mg/dL is considered low, and blood sugar at or below this level can harm us.
Studies Among Alcoholics
J. Poulos, D. Stafford, and K. Carron studied fifty outpatient alcoholics and fifty halfway-house alcoholics who were compared with a control group of one hundred nurses and teenagers. Of the one hundred alcoholics, ninety-six proved to be hypoglycemic; only fourteen of the nonalcoholic controls were hypoglycemic. A three-year study by Robert Meiers, M.D., in Santa Cruz, California, found that more than 95 percent of alcoholics studied suffered from low blood sugar.
Another study done by Kenneth Williams, M.D., an internist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a member of the national board of trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous: Williams found that a vast majority of his sober alcoholic patients are hypoglycemic; many have told him that their hypoglycemia had been diagnosed even before they started drinking.
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia
If you are hypoglycemic and alcoholic, your over sensitized pancreas tries to control your excessive intake of both alcohol sugars and refined sugars. Your body overproduces insulin, which then removes too much sugar from your bloodstream. As a result, your blood sugar falls too far below normal levels. When it does, you may feel antisocial and any number of the following symptoms:
The symptoms of having low blood sugar include:
Double vision or blurry vision
Fast or pounding heartbeat
Feeling cranky or acting aggressive
Shaking or trembling
Tingling or numbness of the skin
Tiredness or weakness
People with untreated alcoholism tend to have poor nutrition and eating habits. Their alcoholism combined with poor diet can result in hypoglycemia and it’s accompanying symptoms. Strong cravings for alcohol are common when experiencing hypoglycemia. It’s not surprising since alcohol contains large amounts of refined sugar, and this is the first thing an active alcoholic will reach for when their cravings begin.
Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous had Hypoglycemia
Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous was very interested in the connection between alcoholism and hypoglycemia. He collected research papers showing the extent of abnormal blood sugar levels among alcoholics and sent three different reports on the subject to Alcoholics Anonymous physicians. Wilson’s interest was personal as well as professional. For many years Bill suffered from depression and other hypoglycemic symptoms. He also consumed huge amounts of sugar and caffeine. Finally, by eliminating sugar and caffeine and making other dietary changes, he stabilized his blood sugar and achieved a sense of well-being.
How Hypoglycemia Happens
To understand how these symptoms develop, you have to know something about glucose metabolism. Our bodies immediately convert foods high in refined sugar; white flour, or starch to blood sugar, or glucose (the terms are interchangeable). When too much sugar builds up in the bloodstream, the pancreas pumps out extra insulin to counteract the overload.
One of the best things a recovering alcoholic can do is to implement and follow a healthy diet. By doing so, cravings will subside and sobriety is that much easier and comfortable to maintain. Without good nutrition many sober alcoholics can experience depression, just as Bill Wilson did. Too much sugar and stimulants such as donuts, cookies and coffee — all available in AA meetings — can exasperate hypoglycemia.
Removing Refined Sugar
The best way to overcome hypoglycemia is to give up foods containing refined sugar. That means virtually all sweets including candy bars, soda, cookies, cake, and ice cream. You may not want them when you’re drinking, but most alcoholics begin to crave sweets as soon as they begin treatment. The similarities between sugar and alcohol: Both are carbohydrates with no nutritional value-all you get from them is calories. Both are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, and both can cause memory blackouts and intense cravings. When these feelings are present, the potential for relapse is high. Adopting a healthy diet low in refined sugar will help you feel better and enjoy a happy and contented sober life.