Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:41 pm

Are you addicted to socially acceptable ‘legal’ stimulants?

Do you only think of illegal substances when drug addiction issues are raised? When talking addiction, most people automatically think of illegal drugs, poor life choices and recklessness. But what about socially accepted ‘guilty pleasures’ like coffee, tea, cigarettes, sugar, energy drinks and alcohol? Are you addicted to any of these ‘feel-good’ stimulants?

According to nutrition expert Patrick Holford, these ‘feel-good’ stimulants are just some of the currently acceptable drugs which provide the kick so many of us need in order to manage in today’s busy world.

Giving us an ‘edge’, just as amphetamines do, the cravings for these substances are as real as those experienced by cocaine addicts, according to studies in Physiology, Biophysics and Psychopharmacology at Georgetown University Medical Centre in Washington DC and the University of Minnesota.

“Modern living constantly triggers stress. Even the average adrenalin rush of a commuter stuck in a traffic jam provides enough ‘fuel’ or adrenalin to keep them running for a mile. That’s how much glucose (sugar) is released,” explains Holford.

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Searching for energy, we turn to stimulants available at home, in the office, and at 24-hour fast food outlets to try and counter the stress we live under – albeit temporarily. Once the adrenalin rush of the stimulant of choice passes, the cycle must be repeated as we go in search of our next ‘fix’.

“Low energy levels, a lack of concentration, confusion, poor sleep patterns, irritability, headaches, tight muscles and sweatiness are all signs of low sugar, withdrawal and the body over-reacting to high-sugar foods, caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants,” says Holford.

Understanding the way the body reacts to these mental rewards is key to getting rid of the addiction

“The key to the pleasant, even euphoric effects of mood-altering substances is how they mimic the action of chemicals in the brain and nervous system called neurotransmitters,” says Holford.

Neurotransmitters, our communication system and ‘information highway’, as well as mood, thought, motivation and memory mediators, are temporarily balanced by cravings and are created by both the body and the brain.

“When neurotransmitters are in optimum amounts, they reward us for functioning well and staying alive with the sense of feeling good and satisfied. Made up of essential amino acids, cravings begin when we are deficient in these specific building blocks,” explains Holford.

The problem with consuming these ‘vices’ regularly is that it starts a pattern of reliance that could become an addiction before you even realise it.

“When stimulants are used to curb cravings, they alter the balance of the neurotransmitters by sensitising the brain to drug-related stimuli and shutting down receptor sites on neurons, resulting in more cravings to get neuron communication running again, causing a vicious cycle of addiction,” says Holford.

Fortunately, breaking free from this ‘hijacking of the mind’ is possible

In addition to cutting down or giving up the cause, Holford recommends some simple changes that can help:

  • Drink at least one litre of water every day
  • Include nuts, seeds, legumes, soya milk, eggs, fish, cottage cheese and yoghurt in your diet
  • Eat low-glycaemic load (the GL is a measure of sugar and starch) foods like legumes, whole-grain carbohydrates, essential fats and some lean meats, and calculate your intake to 60 GLs per day
  • Repair the brain and detoxify the body with plenty of antioxidants found in green vegetables, garlic, apples and colourful blue, red, orange or yellow fruits and vegetables
  • Supplement your vitamin B, folic acid, zinc, antioxidant and magnesium intake with a good multivitamin
  • Avoid coffee and alcohol, especially in the evenings
  • Don’t eat a big meal before bed
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet (free from technological disturbance and artificial light)
  • Try listening to alpha wave-inducing music and practise relaxation exercises in bed for a good night’s sleep
  • Exercise, laugh and play with your children and pets regularly
  • Get involved in calming activities like meditation, yoga, tai chi, retreats and workshops
  • Have a homocysteine and IgG allergy test done, available at your nearest Ampath or Lancet Laboratories.

Not only do these tips assist with stimulant cravings and addiction, they also form part of Holford’s low-GL diet, which is a guide for overall health, well-being and weight loss. For more information about mood, addiction and the low-GL diet, visit

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.