Past research on depression, recovery, and simple carbohydrate consumption (sugar) concluded that sugar consumption benefits the recovering alcohol-dependent individual (AD); however, these studies overlooked subgroups for whom sugar and related variables would be most relevant –ADs with primary depression, women, and those in stable recovery. In contrast, this study explored the role of these variables from early through stable recovery in these subgroups.
Sixty-one depressive ADs, predominantly Caucasian, female, with a family history of alcohol dependence, completed questionnaires (assessing depression, alcohol use history, typology, and alcohol and sweet craving), a 3-day food and beverage log, and open-ended questions about moods and situations in which alcohol and sweet foods are consumed. Multiple regression analyses determined which combination of variables (sugar intake, current depression, caffeine intake, sweet craving, gender and alcohol craving) predicted recovery time and to what extent sugar consumption predicted relapse.
The most salient result was that alcohol craving predicted shorter recovery time. Sugar consumption did not predict relapse, when controlling time in recovery. These results were tempered by responses to open-ended questions, which indicated that 75% percent of the sample reported sharp increases of sugar intake in early recovery. Responses also indicated that the same 3 affects – sadness, fear, and anger – presaged the consumption of alcohol and sugar. Other quantitative results were of interest: bivariate correlations revealed that relapses were positively correlated with sugar consumption and depression, and sweet craving was positively correlated with depression. Those with a history of serious somatic and psychiatric diagnoses before age 14 consumed more sugar and had more relapses, participants using antidepressant medication were more depressed and craved alcohol more, and those in early recovery were more depressed than those in stable recovery.
Alcohol craving is a relevant factor in recovery for depressive ADs and, along with negative affect, should be monitored and managed during treatment. Future research with a larger sample, comparing depressive ADs to other AD groups from early to stable recovery, should help clarify the interrelationships among the study's variables.
KEY WORDS: self-medication hypothesis, emotion, correspondent craving, alcohol typologies, Sweet Taste Questionnaire