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Sobriety and Weight Gain: What We Can Learn From Jenna Jameson's Experience

by 
author image Cathleen Krueger
Hoku Krueger is a freelance writer who specializes in mental health, wellness and pop culture.
Sobriety and Weight Gain: What We Can Learn From Jenna Jameson's Experience
Jenna Jameson opened up about her anxieties surrounding losing weight while sober. Photo Credit: Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images Entertainment/GettyImages

Jenna Jameson is opening up about how her sobriety affected her recent weight-loss journey, shedding light on a common obstacle faced by those battling addiction.

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“I was worried I couldn’t lose the weight sober. I’m being real with you,” the former adult film actor captioned a pair of before-and-after photos posted to her Instagram account. “When I was in my addiction it was easy to stay thin. Sobriety and being overweight was new to me.”

A post shared by Jenna Jameson (@jennacantlose) on

“I kept telling myself if I could beat addiction and stay sober, I can easily lose the weight … and I did. The healthy way,” she continued her caption. “And as of today I can say my mental game is strong. I feel I can do anything, I conquered abuse, addiction, PTSD and depression.”

Jameson isn’t alone in her concern: Weight management is a common issue among people who are becoming sober, says David Sack, M.D., chief medical officer at Elements Behavioral Health.

According to Dr. Sack, opioids reduce gastric motility, meaning they slow down activity in the stomach and intestines, leading to constipation. This often suppresses appetite in people who abuse opioids, causing weight loss.

Another factor that can contribute to weight loss in those who misuse opioids is that drugs impact “all kinds of things [in the brain] related to basic survival,” Dr. Sack explains. “They override sleeping and waking, and they override a lot of the regulation of eating and appetite in the hypothalamus,” or a part of the brain that deals with emotion and basic functions, including hunger.

So why do people sometimes gain excess weight upon going sober? When people stop using opioids, they enter a state called allostasis, “which means that the receptors and the neurotransmitters and the neuropeptides have not returned to their normal state (homeostasis) that they might have been in before [the person] started using the drugs,” Dr. Sack says.

In other words, drug misuse causes chemical imbalances in the brain, and it takes time for the brain to return to its normal functioning once drug use stops. As a result, former drug users often experience an increase in appetite upon quitting.

To make things worse, former opioid users sometimes rebound and become addicted to sugar. Why? Our brain’s endogenous (or internal) opioid system deals with pain and reward. Exogenous, or external, opioids like heroin or oxycodone hijack that system, blocking pain and flooding the brain with the “happiness” hormone dopamine.

Research shows that, like opioids, sugar impacts the endogenous opioid system, producing opiate-like effects. “One thing that may be happening when people come off of opiates is that they try to substitute the opiate high with the sugar high,” Dr. Sack says. “So there’s a shift in food preference toward carbohydrates and sweets,” which — you guessed it — can lead to weight gain.

But none of these factors should stop anyone from quitting drugs. The changes that happen in your brain right after you quit eventually normalize, according to Dr. Sack, so it won’t be an uphill battle forever. Though patients progress at different rates, the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that recovering addicts receive treatment for a minimum of 90 days.

Dr. Sack recommends that his patients exercise during their recovery in order to boost their mood and motivation. Exercising can also help with weight management, making it a useful tool for anyone who’s concerned about putting on pounds.

Earlier this year, Jameson spoke out about her struggles with prescription opioid addiction on social media. And despite her worries, she has so far lost 57 pounds using the keto diet.

Jameson not only overcame her own anxieties and lost a significant amount of weight, she also provided an important message for those who are recovering from drug dependence: If you have the strength to beat addiction, you can lose weight and keep it off. She also proves that it’s more than OK to talk about mental health and addiction. Keep doing you, girl!

What Do YOU Think?

Has anyone you know ever experienced weight gain after quitting smoking, drinking or using drugs? What are ways that people who are becoming sober can keep from gaining weight? Share in the comments section.

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