Addiction Recovery Nutritional Support
Addiction to alcohol, nicotine, opiates, or other substances often takes its toll on the body in many ways. Some of the negative consequences of addiction to health include malnutrition and weakened immune systems, which increase one’s risk of developing disease. Therefore, aside from focusing on withdrawing from one’s addiction to chemical substances, one must also pay attention to improving one’s nutrition on the road to full recovery of health.
Effects of Addiction on Nutrition
Depending on what type of substance was being abused, recovering addicts may have different manifestations of malnutrition and poor health.
- Alcoholics often suffer from vitamin B-complex deficiencies (especially thiamine, pyridoxine, and folic acid), as well as many other nutrients such as vitamins C and K. Alcohol abuse may damage the liver, where most nutrients are metabolized, and the pancreas, which helps regulate sugar and fat absorption. Therefore, symptoms of anemia, neurologic problems, fluid and electrolyte imbalances and malnutrition are common among alcoholics. Other complications of alcoholism include diabetes, liver damage, high blood pressure, slow wound healing, bleeding tendencies, and seizures. Women may develop osteoporosis due to loss of calcium.
- Drug addicts, especially those who are hooked on opiates, may show deficiencies in vitamins D and B, iron, and calcium, while cocaine users have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Stimulants such as cocaine, crack and methamphetamine reduce appetite and lead to weight loss and malnutrition. On the other hand, marijuana can increase one’s appetite, leading to weight gain.
- Many victims of substance abuse also experience problems in digestion and absorption, such as vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, which can lead to malnutrition and electrolyte imbalance.
- Dehydration is a common problem among substance abusers.
Nutritional Support for Recovering Addicts
Addicts who are determined to withdraw from their old habits and improve their health need nutritional support, since many could relapse due to poor eating habits. Some would mistake their hunger for drug cravings, and so it is important to emphasize the importance of eating meals regularly. Experts offer some guidelines on putting back a healthy diet on track during recovery, and these include:
- Eat three meals and three snacks daily.
- Prepare well-balanced meals using the USDA Food Guide Pyramid.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein-rich foods like beans.
- Limit your intake of sugary foods. Carbohydrates must come from fiber-rich foods such as whole grain pasta, artichokes, black beans, and peas.
- Limit your intake of red meat, which are high in fat, and obtain protein from poultry, fish, and beans.
- Avoid caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks. Take decaf instead.
- Carbohydrate-fat-and protein content of your diet must ideally be at a proportion of 45-30-25 in percentage, and consisting of about 2000 calories per day.
- Choose healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, and flaxseed oil.
- Avoid eating processed foods, artificial ingredients, and added sugar and fat.
- Quit smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
- Take nutritional supplements to support your diet and health – vitamins and mineral, fiber, antioxidants are recommended.
Diet Supplements for Recovery from Addiction
The road to recovery is never easy for many people who have been hooked on alcohol or drugs, and taking back their health is one of the many challenges they must face daily. The body and brain may have difficulty coordinating their signals, and what the body might feel as hunger may be mistaken by the brain as a craving for a chemical substance. It may also be difficult to build back a good appetite for healthy foods, or to keep away from unhealthy foods. Therefore, recovering addicts may benefit from taking nutritional supplements such as multivitamins and minerals to treat any deficiencies, boost metabolism and improve health. Important vitamins and minerals include vitamins A, B-complex, C, and K, calcium, zinc, and iron. Over-the-counter fiber supplements may also help improve digestion.
Some experts also recommend taking amino acid supplements to help restore deficiencies in the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that stimulate cravings that lead to relapse. These amino acids must be taken with multi-vitamins and minerals, which act as co-factors in the production of neurotransmitters. These amino acids include:
- D-Phenylalanine or DL-phenylalanine, which helps restore normal levels of enkephalins and endorphins. A lack of these neurotransmitters may increase cravings for alcohol, heroin, marijuana, starches, chocolate, sweets, and tobacco.
- Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), which promotes relaxation and calmness. Lack of GABA can result in feeling nervous and stressed out, and may increase cravings for valium, marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, and sweets.
- L-Tryptophan or 5HTP, which increases serotonin levels and helps improve mood and reduces depression, cravings and insomnia.
- L-Phenylalanine or L-tyrosine, which increases norepinephrine and dopamine levels, and helps improve mental focus, increase energy and reduce craving and depression.
- L-Glutamine, which helps increase GABA levels in the brain, and reduces stress and cravings, especially for sweets and alcohol.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
Addiction Treatment Magazine. Giving Nutrition A Place At The Table In Addiction Recovery.
Medline Plus. Diet and substance use recovery.
Alcoholics Victorious. The “Recovery Diet.”
Addiction Recovery Guide. Nutrition.
Promises. The Importance of Nutrition in Addiction Recovery.