What they may not recognize is that good nutrition and proper meal planning is vital to the recovery process.
While a person is caught in the grip of drug or alcohol addiction, it’s easy to become careless about food intake. The person’s focus may be more strongly directed towards obtaining, using or recovering from substance use.
As a result, food intake may become a secondary focus. The person may only eat basic meals to stave off hunger or choose easy take-out foods that have low nutritional value.
The Connection Between Diet and Addiction
Studies indicate that as many as 88% of people struggling with chronic substance abuse disorders have poor appetite and diet quality overall.2 Studies have also discovered that some people struggling with substance abuse may eat fewer meals or simply omit eating meals for an entire day.
A person who has been abusing drugs or alcohol over a period can become malnourished or develop physical health problems due to a lack of adequate nutrients in the diet.
The Impact of Substances
There is also the issue that many mind-altering substances change the way the body absorbs nutrients derived from food. Even if the person is eating a relatively healthy diet, drugs and alcohol can reduce the body’s effectiveness in absorbing nutrients.
Drugs and alcohol reduce the body’s ability to properly absorb vitamins and minerals. This not only increases the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies but also increases the risk of developing other health problems. As the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals is reduced, the body and the brain are essentially being robbed of the nutrients they need to function optimally.
Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Recovering Addicts
Research indicates that up to 88% of people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction need guidance and advice when it comes to good nutritional choices.3 It’s also recognized that poor nutrition can worsen symptoms of some mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.
Research indicates that people recovering from addiction to stimulant drugs such as cocaine may have deficiencies in acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR).6 Symptoms of ALCAR deficiency can include brain abnormalities, abdominal pain, low blood sugar and heart muscle weakness.
It’s common for many people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction to also have a vitamin D deficiency. Studies have found a link between vitamin D deficiency and alcohol-use disorders.7 Low vitamin D levels have been linked with schizophrenia, psychotic symptoms, depression, suicidal tendencies and an increased risk of alcohol-use disorder.
Drugs and alcohol interfere with the body’s ability to properly absorb B-group vitamins, so it’s common for many recovering people to suffer from various vitamin B deficiencies. Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can include anemia, cognitive difficulties, memory loss, mood changes, confusion, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue.
Drugs and alcohol reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium properly, leading to an increased risk of calcium deficiency in recovering people. Symptoms of calcium deficiency can include irritation, muscle pain, abdominal cramps, depression, weak or brittle bones and nails, confusion, and memory loss.
Many people in recovery from addiction show symptoms of a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have found that a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can play a part in some psychiatric disorders, including aggressive behaviors, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, and depression.5
How Does Nutritional Planning Work for Addiction Recovery?
Nutrition therapy and nutrition education are an important part of any good addiction recovery program. The objective of nutrition therapy is to help heal and nourish the body that may have been damaged by long-term substance abuse. Good nutrition is also known to help stabilize mood, relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression, and reduce symptoms of stress. When the body is adequately nourished, it can also help to reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol. Perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of nutritional planning in recovery is that eating well encourages self-care, which promotes a healthy lifestyle overall. Some of the foods, nutrients and strategies that may be used in a nutrition plan for addiction recovery include:
Setting and sticking to regular mealtimes plays a strong role in learning about self-care. Not only is having a regular routine for meals a positive step towards creating a healthy new lifestyle during recovery, but it’s an opportunity to replenish the body’s nutrients.
A good nutritional plan should provide clear guidelines about the types of foods to include in each meal to ensure the recovering person is getting the nutrients required to maintain good health. In order to help address any nutritional deficiencies a person might be experiencing, good quality vitamin and mineral supplements may also be recommended. Keep in mind that supplements alone won’t address or balance nutrient deficiencies completely. Real, nutritious food is still the preferred option.
Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in fish, walnuts and other nuts and are essential for optimal health. Omega 3 can help regulate moods, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, relieve stress and improve brain health. There is also some research to support that omega-3 fatty acids could help to reduce cravings during recovery. As many people don’t like to eat fish or seafood, omega-3 fish oil supplements could be an alternative for some people.
Foods high in ALCAR include beef, chicken, fish, milk and cheese. A good nutritional plan should feature meals that include good quality protein and ALCAR-rich foods.
Anti-anxiety medications, including Valium, Xanax or Klonopin can decrease the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Include more dairy foods in the diet, such as milk, cheese or yogurt to promote bone strength.
People recovering from opiate addiction often experience withdrawal symptoms that include abdominal cramping, muscle pain or bone aches. Eating foods rich in magnesium can help reduce cramps and aches.
Skip the sodas or sports drinks and switch to water. It’s important to stay well hydrated to give a recovering body the opportunity to heal and replenish.
- Effectiveness of Educational Programs on Nutritional Behavior in Addicts Referring to Baharan Hospital, Zahedan (Eastern of IR Iran)
- Prevalence of malnutrition and nutritional risk factors in patients undergoing alcohol and drug treatment
- The importance of nutrition in aiding recovery from substance use disorders: A review
- Common Drug Classes, Drug-Nutrient Depletions and Drug-Nutrient Interactions
- Long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids decrease feelings of anger in substance abusers
- Repeated acetyl-l-carnitine administration increases phospho-Thr34 DARPP-32 levels and antagonizes cocaine-induced increase in Cdk5 and phospho-Thr75 DARPP-32 levels in rat striatum
- Vitamin D and alcohol: A review of the current literature