The Role Nutrition Plays in Your Addiction Recovery

Drugs and alcohol take a toll on the mind but also the body. One of the first things to fall by the wayside for someone addicted to substances is nutrition. Substance abuse leads to poor food choices, malnutrition, and nutrient deficiencies. This is why addressing nutrition in treatment and recovery is so important. A healthful diet can correct deficiencies and reverse some of the damage done by drugs and alcohol. Good nutrition improves health and mood and reduces the risk of relapses in recovery.

Addiction is harmful in so many ways, but one aspect of substance abuse that is often overlooked is nutrition. Misuse of drugs and alcohol harms your physical health, changes how your body absorbs nutrients, and often leads to poor diet choices.

Making nutrition, a healthful diet, and physical health priorities in recovery will help your body recover. This in turn will make you feel better and make it easier to avoid relapsing. Choosing a healthier lifestyle in these basic ways will also empower you and help you realize that you are capable of real and lasting changes.

How Substance Abuse Impacts Your Diet and Nutrition

Substance abuse of any kind overwhelmingly has a negative impact on your diet and therefore on your nutrition and physical health. You can actually become malnourished or develop a nutrient deficiency while using drugs or alcohol. There are two main ways substances impact your nutrition:

  • When you abuse substances you tend to make other lifestyle choices that lead to poor nutrition, such as eating junk food or just not eating enough.
  • Drugs and alcohol can directly harm the body and physical health and change how you absorb or use nutrients.

Any type of substance abuse, to any degree, can cause you to make poor food choices. For instance, you may drink a lot and choose to eat less so that you won’t gain weight. Or, you may choose to spend money on drugs instead of healthful foods and rely on cheap fast food instead. There are also specific ways that certain substances affect your health and diet:

  • Alcohol. Misuse of alcohol is a major source of malnutrition. You can develop a serious vitamin B deficiency, for instance. Alcohol also damages organs, like the liver and pancreas, responsible for processing some nutrients.
  • Opioids. This class of drugs has a big effect on the gastrointestinal system, which can cause problems with nutrient absorption.
  • Stimulants. Stimulants decrease appetite, which can lead to weight loss and resulting poor nutrition. They can also cause dehydration.
  • Marijuana. This substance has an opposite effect compared to most substances. It can cause you to overeat and become overweight.

Improving Nutrition Aids Recovery

Everyone benefits from good nutrition. Eating well optimizes physical health regardless of substance abuse, but for the individual trying to recover from addiction, the impact is especially important. If you have developed some bad eating habits or even serious nutritional deficiencies while misusing substances, correcting them will make you feel better physically. When you feel better and have the nutrients you brain and body needs, you will be less likely to reach for drugs or alcohol.

A good diet and proper nutrition goes farther than physical health, though. Diet also has an impact on mood. Poor nutrition before you get into treatment can lead to changes in neurotransmitters in the brain. This can leave you feeling depressed and anxious. It may take some time to re-stabilize, but by eating better you can improve your mood. This in turn will help you avoid relapsing, because discomfort and low mood can be a trigger for cravings.

Nutrition and Health in Treatment

A good treatment program for addiction will include more than just therapy. It will address all of your needs as you strive for recovery, including nutrition. You should have access to medical nutrition therapy and nutrition education to directly address your current nutritional needs and to teach you how to eat well going forward.

The goals of addressing nutrition in treatment are to correct existing deficiencies and malnutrition, address any medical issues, improve mood, reduce cravings, and promote an ongoing healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet.

Education in treatment is especially important. You may not understand how drugs or alcohol have impacted your body and health—how choosing substances has forced you to make poor choices about nutrition. A complete treatment program should include work with a dietician or other nutrition expert to make sure you understand how to eat well and to use food to aid your recovery.

This importance of nutrition education is proven in studies. One research group found that patients in treatment for addiction had better outcomes when taught about nutrition. Their medical and psychological outcomes improved, as did family dynamics.

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Maintaining Good Nutrition After Treatment

Once you leave treatment, you will become responsible for your own wellness and recovery. For a better chance of success and to reduce the risk of relapse, put a focus on nutrition and overall wellness. Take what you have learned in treatment and put it into practice back at home for good health and a positive recovery. Of course, it is easy for nutrition to fall by the wayside when you’re focusing on the challenge of triggers and urges to use again. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:

  • Find a friend or family member to hold you accountable to eating well. Go grocery shopping and make meals together.
  • Plan what you will eat for each week in advance. Use that plan to shop for the foods you need. This will help you avoid impulse purchases.
  • Always have healthful foods on hand in the house and keep junk food out. This will prevent you reaching for something unhealthy when you’re hungry, stressed, or experiencing an urge to use again.
  • Focus on whole foods to keep nutrition simple. Buy and eat things like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, meat, and fish. Avoid processed foods to maximize nutrients.
  • Avoid fad diets, especially low-carb diets. Right now you need all the nutrients, so don’t restrict healthy foods. It is especially important to eat enough carbohydrates—whole grains, root vegetables, fruits, and beans—because these increase serotonin in the brain. This is important for improving your mood.
  • Get plenty of exercise for better health, to boost your mood, and to help maintain a healthy weight. Enlist a buddy for accountability and to make exercise a positive social event.

Nutrition is so important for good health in general. But if you are in recovery from addiction, you have done damage to your body. What you eat is a crucial part of healing from that damage. Good nutrition will correct malnutrition and deficiencies, improve your physical health, boost your mood, and help you stay strong in the face of cravings and relapse urges.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.