A recent study confirms what many recovering addicts already know to be true. The drug recovery process often causes people to gain significant amounts of weight.
According to the University of Florida study published in July 2014, “Cessation of drug use often coincides with increased food consumption and weight gain in recovering addicts.”
Many experts believe that this is largely because rehab programs don’t pay much attention to nutrition.
“The main focus [of drug recovery programs] was just, ‘get them off their substance,’ and the rest will take care of itself,” explained eating disorder and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross.
Some recovery programs even encourage recovering addicts to eat sugary, and/or fatty foods, touting sugar as a “harmless” replacement for drugs and alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 Step Bible goes so far as to suggest that recovering addicts keep sweets on hand to help them deal with cravings.
Although such a practice can certainly help recovering addicts ease their drug cravings, it may cause them to transfer their addiction to their choice of candy.
“Once off the drugs, the brain craves the uber rewards of the hyperpalatables — Mint Milanos, Oreos, any sugar. An apple’s reward doesn’t cut it,” explains Dr. Pamela Peeke, the author of The Hunger Fix. “Off the cocaine, onto the cupcakes.”
There’s been numerous studies on sugar’s neural effects. One 2013 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sugar can actually stimulate cravings.
This helps explain why another study, published and highly publicized in 2013, found that Oreo cookies can be as addicting as cocaine and morphine.
Thankfully, rehab centers are becoming aware of this trend. Some clinics are even employing staff nutritionists and dietitians.
“We’re not asking them to live on arugula,” said Elements Behavioral Health’s senior science adviser, Dr. Peeke. “We come upon creative, delicious entrees and snacks that will compete with the junk they’ve been doing all along, to reclaim that reward center. We’re switching them from bad fixes to healthy fixes.”