Nutrition and addiction recovery are strongly correlated, and addressing any gaps in nutrition is vital to the recovery process. Alcohol and drug addiction can be extremely harmful to an individual’s health. For example, those suffering from substance use disorders are more likely to consume alcohol or drugs regularly and less likely to maintain other health practices, including eating balanced meals.
The consequences from repeated drug or alcohol use can be severe, including:
- Fluctuations in heart rate
- Inability to regulate body temperature
- Weight loss or gain
As a result of long-term substance use, additional health problems like liver failure, heart disease, and cancer are common. Recovery from a substance use disorder, however, requires ongoing management. Therefore, maintaining recovery can be made easier by following a healthy meal plan.
In active addiction, mental and physical health are rarely prioritized, including nutrition. Instead of focusing on eating enough and eating healthy foods, people with addiction often concentrate their substance of choice and when they can use it again.
Nutrient Absorption is Reduced by Substance Use
Nutrition plays a key role in addiction recovery because of how the body changes when subjected to substance use. Alcohol and opiates and other substances of misuse can damage the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and nutrients. The problem is largely caused by damage to the large intestine, which occurs because of the frequent use of drugs or alcohol.
Nutritional deficiencies and digestive issues can also be caused by drug and alcohol use. For example, those suffering from a substance use disorder often lack vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fats necessary for optimal health, resulting in mental and physical problems.
Due to inadequate nutrition and damage from drug use, cells that produce proteins needed for nutrient absorption cannot do their job. If the body does not receive enough vitamin B12, vital functions such as the production of DNA, red blood cells, and RNA are adversely affected. Other essential nutrients that the body cannot absorb due to addiction include:
- Vitamins A, C, D, E, and K
- Vitamin B2 and B6
Malnutrition is further exacerbated if someone is addicted to more than one substance. As a result, anxiety, depression, and insomnia may develop or be made worse. Addiction symptoms and co-occurring disorders can both be exacerbated by a poor diet.
Nutrition and Mental Health
Mental health is also affected by nutrition and addiction recovery. Nutrition plays a critical role in addiction recovery because of how it affects the human brain. Both the body and the brain can suffer from malnutrition. The compounds tryptophan and tyrosine are needed for mental clarity and emotional stability, can’t be processed by a malnourished body. An individual’s mood and behavior can be affected if these levels drop too much.
An essential aspect of recovery is regaining a sense of true mental health. People suffering from psychological distress may quickly turn back to drugs and alcohol to cope with their negative emotions. On the other hand, a healthy diet can help prevent relapse by nourishing the brain and the body.
Benefits of Good Nutrition for Addiction Recovery
Taking care of one’s nutritional needs in addition to traditional therapies can help one overcome addiction. In addition, eating healthy can help:
- Increase energy levels
- Improve overall mood
- Strengthen the immune system
- Help repair damaged organs and tissues
- Reduce the risk of relapse
Here are a few nutritional tips you can use to stay on track with your recovery and minimize your risk of relapse.
- Increase your consumption of complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates will provide you with steady, long-lasting energy without the spikes and crashes of simple carbohydrates.
- Regular exercise can improve your mood, improve your body image, boost your energy levels, ease cravings, and decrease the risk of relapse.
- Your physician may suggest vitamins A and C and zinc, as well as B complex vitamins, to address any deficiencies.
- Decrease caffeine consumption: Caffeine can lead to dehydration and suppress appetite.
- Drink plenty of water, both with meals and between meals.
- Be sure to monitor your sugar intake: Many people in recovery are drawn to sweets because they release dopamine, a neurotransmitter activated by some kinds of drugs.
- Avoid processed foods: They are often high in fat and lack nutritional value.
- Increase your intake of fiber and protein: Fiber helps you feel full, while protein can help build muscles that have been weakened by malnutrition.
- Maintain healthy blood sugar levels by eating regular, small meals. This will keep your blood sugar levels high and decrease the desire to snack between meals.