Whether you’re just beginning your journey into recovery or are well on your way, taking care of your physical health is an important part of ensuring your continued recovery. Nutrition is a huge part of this, as it plays into mental and physical wellbeing, energy levels, and even cravings. Depending on where you attend recovery and therapy, this may be stressed as part of recovery, or it may not be.
Nutrition will always be an important part of recovery. Good eating habits help create discipline and work to balance your mood and stabilize your energy, which will help you fight cravings. Over time, good nutrition will help you recover from nutrition-related health problems, which affect your mood, physical health, energy, and even your ability to digest food. Many addicts suffer from nutrition-deficiencies, relating to gastrointestinal damage and inflammation, poor food choices while drunk or high, and reduced impulse control resulting in poorer food choices over time. This eventually contributes to health and mood problems such as depression and anxiety which encourage further addiction and abuse, making good nutrition and eating habits crucial in recovery.
Substance Abuse Contributes to Nutrition Deficiency
An estimated 30-50% of all substance abusers suffer from some form of nutritional deficiency. Here, causes are linked to both physical and mental changes, which impact individual food choices as well as the body’s ability to digest and utilize food.
Mental Impacts – Substance abuse causes a range of different side-effects depending on the substance, resulting in changing eating habits, weight loss, or weight gain. For example, many stimulants repress the appetite, resulting in individuals simply eating less and reducing nutritional intake. Others increase the metabolism, causing the body to need more nutrition to maintain health. Some, like alcohol or cannabis, increase appetite, resulting in an increased intake of fatty and salty foods which offer less nutritional value per calorie. Because substance abuse also goes hand-in-hand with impulse control issues, some 30-50% of all substance abusers also suffer from eating disorders such as binge-eating, anorexia, and bulimia. Addiction also changes how people prioritize food and eating, with many focusing on their substance to the point of refusing to eat. For example, some alcoholics have been shown to starve in order to be able to afford alcohol or to have it within their daily caloric recommendations, resulting in massive nutritional deficiencies.
Physical Impacts of Substance Abuse – Substance abuse massively affects the body, causing inflammation throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Over time, this contributes to increased nausea and stomach pain, reducing an individual’s ability or desire to eat. It also directly affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrition, meaning that addicts get less value from the healthy food they do eat.
Abusing substances over a longer period of time will most likely result in nutritional deficiencies, which do impact health in myriad ways.
Does Nutritional Deficiency Affect Recovery?
When individuals move into recovery, they often do so when going cold turkey or after weaning themselves off a substance. Here, most users immediately begin to feel the effects of drug withdrawal including depression, anxiety, and low mood and energy. As these wear off, they’re often still there to some extent, simply because the individual in recovery has very poor health. Nutritional deficiencies contribute to depression, anxiety, fatigue, memory problems and much more, all of which will make recovery significantly harder.
Depression and Anxiety – Nutritional deficiencies are closely linked to depression and anxiety in several ways. For example, an estimated 70% of substance abusers suffer from vitamin D deficiencies, which causes depression and fatigue. Similarly, amino acid (protein) and B12, B6, and folate deficiencies mimic symptoms of both. This can cause individuals to feel stress, anxiety, and depression long after they expect to feel better which can eventually contribute to a relapse.
Nutritional deficiencies cause fatigue, cause physical symptoms, and cause depression and anxiety. They often result in a lower mood, reduced overall wellbeing, and sometimes major physical health problems. This can be detrimental to an individual trying to put everything they have into recovery, simply because they might not be able to manage depression caused by substance abuse on top of depression caused by nutritional deficiency.
Solving Problems Relating to Nutritional Deficiency in Recovery
Many recovery clinics and centers are focused on creating a holistic care plan for individuals, which means testing for and recognizing nutritional deficiencies. Modern treatment often includes healthy meal plans, training and assistance on how to eat well, and follow-up support once you’ve left rehab. This support is designed to prevent symptoms that could reduce your likelihood of recovery or which could directly contribute to relapse. For example, while nutritional deficiency can mimic depression, pushing individuals to use again to feel better, it can also mimic cravings. Substance abusers who are accustomed to turning to drugs or alcohol to improve their mood often relatively switch to fats and sugars, which leads to binge behavior and then relapse. Working to combat these problems with preventive measures such as healthy eating is an important part of recovery.
Metabolic Syndrome – Alcohol and opioids frequently cause a complication known as metabolic syndrome, which involves permanent damage to the gastrointestinal tract from inflammation. Metabolic Syndrome causes obesity, hyperglycemia, high cholesterol, hypertension, and a range of other heart and health problems. Individuals who have it must manage it to reduce symptoms and improve their health, both for long-term health and for reducing the impact health problems have on recovery.
Preventing Further Liver Damage – Most substance abuse heavily stresses and damages the liver, especially over the long-term. Managing nutritional intake helps to reduce damage, preventing health problems which could contribute to a decrease in quality of life and therefore to relapse.
While managing nutrition and eating well will work to improve mood and prevent major physical health problems, it also benefits individuals in the short-term. Simply eating regular, healthy meals will work to balance your energy levels. This will, in turn, reduce cravings, reduce periods where you’re low on energy and craving food and therefore less able to resist drug or alcohol cravings, and put you in a better state of mind to make good decisions.
Medical Nutrition Therapy
Medical Nutrition Therapy is an increasingly common element in substance abuse and substance dependence recovery. Here, you are typically given blood tests to determine nutritional deficiencies, and then given a meal plan designed to correct those problems as quickly as possible. MNT also includes cooking, nutrition, and eating classes, designed to help individuals learn how to eat in ways to maintain their health and their mental happiness. These courses are sometimes a separate part of a recovery plan but may also be worked into an overall plan as part of general treatment.
No matter where you are in your journey to recovery, proper nutrition is essential to your ongoing health. Good nutrition will help you to stay clean or sober y balancing energy, reducing negative emotions, and improving your mood over time. Most substance abusers suffer from nutritional deficiency, and it does hurt their ability to recover because it does cause mental health problems which will exacerbate addiction.
Getting help, asking for assistance from a nutritionist or doctor, and going to therapy will help anyone to fully recover, but it will take time and proper care throughout. A rehabilitation clinic should also be able to offer assistance in the form of nutrition, some training, and medical guidance while you recover, so that you or your loved one can move on to be your healthiest self.