In sobriety we focus on doing whatever is necessary to stay clean, which often includes the use of cigarettes, caffeine, and sugary foods. When thinking about reducing harm, it is easy to see why we would encourage people to use these things as tool to establish sobriety, they are legal, easily accessible, and far less dangerous than alcohol and drugs. Caffeine and sugar stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain (the same places that are stimulated with substance abuse), and can be a bridge to help one transition into sobriety. Sober fellowship meetings often have a pot of coffee and some sweet treats available for members, while other members carrying large cup of coffee or soda with them. For many people caffeine and sugar replace one addiction with another.
Research suggests that weight gain is common in recovery, and for some, changes in weight can create just enough unmanageable stress to cause a relapse. Getting clean is a difficult process, weight gain and body dissatisfaction can make an already complex experience feel overwhelming. Yet encouraging the use of caffeine, and sugar are standard operating procedure in the field of recovery.
Instead of encouraging replacing one addictive substance for another we should look at recovery as an opportunity to make a healthy lifestyle change free from the abuse addictive substances. That is not to say that an occasional cup of coffee (which is a stimulant) or sweet treat is a bad thing…it would be a sad existence without indulging in a rich cup of coffee or luxurious piece of chocolate cake, but those things should not be part of daily menu.
Recovery is about taking a balanced approach to life and being present in our decision making. In order to do that, people must be provided the information necessary to make healthy lifestyle decisions, and know where and how to get the support and help they need.
A standard component of recovery coaching services offered at The Wellness Cooperative involves providing education to our clients about the risks associated with excessive use of caffeine, and sugar. We offer basic education about finding healthy alternatives to cope with daily stressors. For those individuals who need or want more hands-on assistance in building a healthy relationship to food and other mood altering substances, we provide referrals to nutritionist and health coaches.