When trying to stop drinking, regardless of our degree of dependence on alcohol, many of us experience cravings at a ‘witching hour’, often between 4 and 8 pm. I used to think this was just because it was a habit to have a drink after a long day. We ‘deserved’ a drink and so had one, starting at the witching hour. When we stop drinking or cut down, it’s at the witching hour that the cravings are strongest. I think this is partly because of the habit, but having done a bit of research, I think there are also biochemical reasons for the witching hour.
In a nutshell, the witching hour is most likely a sign of low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) rather than some psychological weakness or failing. So, fix the hypoglycemia and the cravings will go away. They do anyway after some time alcohol free, which could be because the hypoglycemia been fixed or because the liver has returned to normal, or both.
It is also quite possible that the hypoglycemia comes first and that people with hypoglycemia are more likely to become dependent on alcohol than other people. The fact is that as many as 95% of alcoholics and binge drinkers are hypoglycemic. It may also be that the reason it’s so hard to stay stopped or moderate is because the hypoglycemia is still there.
So, what to do about it? Well, a diet for hypoglycaemia means avoiding sugar, simple carbohydrates such as white flour, breads, cakes, soft drinks, sweet fruits, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and eating a higher protein diet with complex carbohydrates to produce glucose slowly rather than in sudden short-lived bursts. Many recommend having smaller meals more often or snacks between meals. Supplements of zinc and vitamin B12 should also help as these are reduced by alcohol. If you get cravings in the witching hour, drink water and eat something–anything– or perhaps take a glucose tablet or eat something sweet such as a piece of fruit. Drinking alcohol if you have hypoglycemia is the worst thing you can do.
Here’s a quiz to see if you’re hypoglycemic: http://hypoglycemia.org/quiz/
Here’s info on a hypoglycemic diet: http://hypoglycemia.org/hypoglycemia-diet/
Now for a bit of biochemistry: When the liver breaks down alcohol it first converts it to acetaldehyde and then to acetate, which leaves the liver and breaks down in skeletal muscles and elsewhere to carbon dioxide and water. During the breakdown to acetaldehyde and then acetate hydrogen is removed from the alcohol, and is transferred to a molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which becomes NADH. This is important because NAD is also needed in the liver to make glucose from amino acids and other chemicals when a ready source of glucose from food isn’t available — perhaps such as when we’re hungry at the witching hour before dinner, and if the NAD is tied up as NADH it isn’t available for this job. Having a higher ratio of NADH to NAD also increases the level of lactic acid in the blood and decreases the level of glucose further, which makes the problem even worse.
The reason why many heavy drinkers are deficient in zinc is that the enzyme that breaks alcohol down to acetaldehyde (alcohol dehydrogenase) needs to use zinc in order to work.
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