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Why Alcoholics Drink?

By Jurriaan Plesman BA (Psych), Post grad Dip Clin Nutr

It is essential, that the treatment of alcoholism or for that matter any addiction or mental illness, must be accompanied by the hypoglycemic diet.

The idea that there is relation between diet and alcoholism has been around for a long time, but has also been dismissed as being much of a nonsense, especially by those who believe that alcoholism is primarily a MENTAL disease, rather than a PHYSICAL disease.

Thus I want to explain in purely biochemical terms why hypoglycemics may prefer alcohol as their source of energy. I have to simplify the system to some extent.

I believe that depression is usually the forerunner of addiction. See Hemat

All biochemical energy is concentrated in a chemical substance called ATP (Adenosine triphosphate). Consider this a biologically charged battery used in all tissues of the body and the brain. When the energy has been delivered ATP becomes ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate). The recharging of that battery is through nutrition. That energy is essential for the body to produce feel good neurotransmitters.

The ultimate source of energy comes in the form of glucose in food. In normal glucose metabolism (glycolysis), the glucose is converted by ten biochemical reactions into pyruvate. Pyruvate is then converted to Acetyl-CoA and enters the Citric Acid Cycle (also known as Krebs Cycle) to produce ATP with byproducts of carbon dioxide CO2 and water (H2O).

Isn’t it marvellous how plants use our waste products to synthesize glucose again in their leaves using energy from the sun?

The conversion of pyruvate to Acetyl-CoA releases perhaps 80 per cent of all energy derived from glucose, hence this is an important junction in the production of energy (ATP). This is then used as an energy source by our muscles and brain cells. At this junction oxygen is used in the process called aerobic respiration. In any biochemical reaction some ATP is used to energize the enzymatic reactions. At the junction of pyruvate to Acetyl-CoA more ATP is gained then used. An active cell requires more than two million molecules of ATP per second to drive its biochemical machinery. (Hale, 66) see also Notes.

A major source of energy starvation of the brain is insulin resistance( hypoglycemia). In this condition receptors for insulin fail to deliver proper amounts of glucose – the forerunner of all energy – into cells from which the energy is produced in mitochondria. Thus hypoglycemia occurs at the entrance point of the glucose biochemical pathway.

A short cut in the production of energy (ATP) is by way of using of alcohol, or ethanol.

Outside non-human organisms, such as Brewer’s Yeast, can ferment ethanol from pyruvate. Thus up to the point of pyruvate all organisms have a similar glucose metabolism. By using alcohol produced from pyruvate by other organisms, we can bypass about ten steps used in normal glycolysis from glucose. So the body saves a lot of energy (ATP) by using ethanol. In addition ethanol does not need oxygen for conversion to energy (Anaerobic respiration). This is the most ancient form of energy production dating back to evolutionary times when organisms lived in an atmosphere lacking oxygen. The trouble with using alcohol as an instant source of biological energy is, that it can cause a hypoglycemic dip. Sidney Cohen page 92 and (Lehninger, 762), thus aggravating the anxiety and mood disorder. See also Hangover at Wikipedia.

Ethanol (alcohol) is converted to acetaldehyde in the liver via the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, a zinc dependent enzyme. This explains why many alcoholics are found to be zinc deficient. Some heavy drinkers who do not get intoxicated  are thought to have a special alcohol dehydrogenase, that is up to 40 percent more efficient at converting alcohol into acetaldehyde than the standard alcohol dehydrogenase. Genitra Petralli, p 128 This could be dangerous information for those who fool themselves in denying their alcoholism.

Acetaldehyde is then converted to acetate (via the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase). The next step is the conversion of acetate (via enzyme acyl-CoA synthetase) to acetyl-CoA, when it joins the citric acid cycle to produce ATP.  See llustration

In short, it should be clear that in alcoholism (as in most forms of addiction) the conversion of glucose into biological energy – adenosine-triphosphate (ATP) – appears to be blocked in glycolysis before entering the Krebs cycle. This would deprive the body of essential energy in the synthesis of feel good neurotransmitters.

Since alcohol metabolism occurs mainly in the liver, it will be no surprise to learn that the liver is the major organ in the body that will bear the stress of alcoholism or for that matter addiction in general.

One immediate remedy would be taking glycerine (also known as Glycerol), that enters the glycolytic pathway as phosphoglyceraldehyde, thus bypassing glucose (and insulin resistance) and as illustrated here. Kudzu vineis a herbal remedy reported to stop the craving for alcohol. This should help in preventing craving for drugs of addiction.

As an aside, some scientists have found that alcoholics metabolize acetaldehyde differently from non-alcoholic people, in that it is converted to excess amounts of dopamine responsible for feeling of a high. This is seen at the major source of addiction. Look up THIQ in our search engine.

I hope you have not fallen asleep by the time you reach this point, but it should be clear why hypoglycemic people may choose alcohol as their preferred source of energy. When insulin resistance limits access to proper levels of glucose as a major precursor to energy (ATP) inside body cells (including brain cell), we can bypass that by using a non-glucose source of energy from other organisms that have synthesized it on our behalf from pyruvate.

This also explains that alcoholism does not cause hypoglycemia as is sometimes believed, but is the result of a pre-existing hypoglycemic condition.

If we want to treat alcoholism we MUST take steps for the body to be able to produce its energy (ATP) from normal glucose sources in our diet. This can be done by sensitizing receptors for insulin, taking such things as vitamin B1, B3(niacin), chromium picolinate, zinc and by reducing the onslaught of excess sugar (as a source of glucose) that damage insulin receptors, by increasing high quality proteins that are converted more slowly to glucose and to enzymes and beneficial neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

These sources are all found in a natural hypoglycemic diet.

You can wake up now.


Index to Specific Topics and Research

References to Mood Disorders and Nutrition

Hypoglycemia and Alcoholism by Health Recovery Center

More References  for Mood Disorders and Hypoglycemia

Albert L Lehninger (1982), PRINCIPLES OF BIOCHEMISTRY, Worth Publishers

The Reflection of Hypoglycemia and Alcoholism on Personality: Nutrition as a Mode of Treatment by Elsa Colby-Morley JOM 1982


An active muscle cell requires about two million ATP molecules per second to drive its biochemical machinery. It has been estimated that more than 75 kilograms of ATP are turned over (i.e. made and broken down) during a marathon. The body has only a small store of ATP (approximately 100 grams in an average person). This would be used up in about 1 second if it were not continuously regenerated by respiration. Hale WG, Margham JP, Saunders VA (1995), COLLINS DICTIONARY OF BIOLOGY, HarperCollins Publishers, Page 66 and at  Source

Please discuss this article with your health care worker, doctor or nutritional doctor or therapist.

Research Evidence:

Index to Specific Topics

Aborigines: Why the high rate of diabetes and addiction? Notes by Jur Plesman


Alcoholics in recovery

Alcoholism and Violence


Drug addiction

Drug Addiction Recovery (Volcow study)


Read also:

Alcoholism (Addiction) is a Treatable Disease.

Treatment of Drug Addiction

Depression is a Nutritional Disorder

Connection between Depression, Addiction and Hypoglycemia

Depression: A Disease of Energy Production

2 Responses

  1. JenniferH says:

    I would like to ask you about your opinion on L-Glutamine and its use for balancing blood sugars and providing energy to the brain?

    I have been on the hypoglycemia diet for a few days, taking high doses of L-Glutamine and all cravings for alcohol have virtually disappeared, so has my general malaise and anxiety. I have had Essential Tremor for 20 years and for the first time my hands are STILL – which seems nothing less than magic to me.

    I had a sugar addiction as a kid, moved strait to alcohol and have always tested low blood sugars.

    I really believe the L-Glutamine has been helping with the cravings for sugar, as I am not craving refined sugar either. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated.


    • Jurriaan Plesman says:

      It shows that for you at least these supplements helped. Because of our biochemical individuality, these may not help another person with similar problems. We are all different. Read for instance:
      So far you seem to be doing alright, so keep on doing what you are doing.
      If you search our web site for “glutamine”, you will find more information

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