Drugs and alcohol directly harm the body, but they also indirectly harm the body because of the way they affect the addict’s eating habits. People who struggle with chemical dependency tend to eat irregularly and make poor food choices when they do eat. Heavy substance abuse can also hamper the body’s ability to absorb and process nutrients from food.
When addicts enter recovery, the body and brain need time to recover from the damage done by substances. Eating a healthy diet helps support physiological recovery, along with getting enough exercise and adequate sleep. Recovering addicts who eat regular, healthy meals and snacks experience fewer drug and alcohol cravings, and are more likely to maintain long-term sobriety. Check out this blog for more information regarding addiction and recovery.
Most Recovering Addicts Suffer from Malnutrition
Malnutrition is a real concern for most recovering addicts, no matter their substance of choice. Some substances, like stimulants, suppress the appetite, often leading to extreme weight loss, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Heavy marijuana use can cause regular overeating, leading to weight gain. Opiates affect the gastrointestinal system, causing a lack of appetite and making it hard to keep food down in early recovery.
Alcoholics, especially, tend to eat poorly and irregularly. Alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, particularly B vitamins, making it one of the primary causes of malnutrition in the United States. Werner-Korsakoff syndrome, or “wet brain,” is a neurologic disease caused by long-term thiamine deficiency due to chronic, untreated alcoholism.
How Proper Nutrition Supports Recovery
Recovering addicts enjoy more successful outcomes when they practice good self-care, which includes getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, seeking counseling and social support, and minimizing nicotine and caffeine consumption as well as eating a healthy diet. Proper nutrition supports the body’s healing process, keeps energy levels up, strengthens immunity and restores major organs to health.
Principles of Nutrition for Addiction Recovery
To some extent, the principles of proper nutrition for recovering addicts are similar to the principles of proper nutrition for everyone. Recovering addicts should eat regularly — three meals a day, plus a morning and afternoon snack, are recommended. The diet should be low in fat and sugar, but rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Nutrition during addiction recovery does present some special challenges. Some addicts may be severely underweight; when such an addict stops using drugs and his or her appetite comes back, it can be hard to return the person to a normal daily caloric intake. A marijuana addict who has gained a lot of weight may also struggle to return to a healthy diet and a normal weight.
Because addicts tend to suffer from severe malnutrition, the nutrients in whole foods may not be enough to restore them to health. Vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended throughout early recovery. Many recovering addicts will need to keep taking these even after leaving rehab.
Recovering addicts have been out of touch with their bodies and feelings for a long time, and may not recognize feelings of hunger for what they truly are. They may think what they are feeling is a drug or alcohol craving. Recovering addicts need to be reminded their “cravings” may be, in fact, mere hunger. By understanding this, recovering addicts can learn to use nutrition to prevent relapse.