Alcoholics and addicts require detoxification, counseling and/or therapy, as well as medical intervention in order to successfully undergo withdrawal and stay sober. But they also need proper diet and nutrition, one essential factor that has often been overlooked. Today, more and more treatment facilities and medical experts are giving importance to the role of healthy eating in the recovery from substance abuse.
“When you are eating healthily,
your organs, muscles, and tissues have
a better chance of healing.”
How Alcohol and Drug Addiction Affect Nutrition
When alcoholics and addicts show up at rehabilitation centers, they are quizzed about their drinking and drug use. But aside from that, staff will also ask them a number of questions pertaining to their consumption of food. These usually include how many meals one usually eats, what type of food one consumes, how much vegetables and fruits are included in their daily intake, and if one has lost or gained any weight without them trying to in the last three months.
Treatment centers tackle proper diet and nutrition in their addiction recovery programs because substance abuse causes a variety of health problems.
This condition is caused by a lack of nourishment and is a main side effect of an unhealthy diet. Alcohol and drugs keep the body from properly absorbing and breaking down nutrients—an essential substance for having energy, building and maintaining healthy organs, and fighting off infections and diseases.
Alcoholics tend to get a feeling of fullness when consuming beer, liquor, or wine because they contain empty calories. As a result, the desire for food is suppressed, and days can go by where one has only very few and small meals or none at all. The over-consumption of alcohol also damages the liver, pancreas, and stomach lining, causing digestive problems and nutritional imbalances among other health issues.
Some addictive drugs also affect one’s appetite and causes unhealthy eating habits. For example, stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, send signals to the brain that turn down the desire to eat. This is why users who go on ‘binges’ can go without food for several days.
According to recovery.org, other mental and behavioral health issues often co-occur with substance abuse, and these include eating disorders. Take for instance marijuana users who tend to do binge eating. This is because the drug gives you cravings, particularly for junk food. So you end up overconsuming unhealthy, processed meals, and increasing your risk of obesity and related health problems.
Another disorder is bulimia nervosa, which is characterized by eating large amounts of food then purging. When you purge, you regularly use enemas, diuretics, laxatives, or self-induced vomiting in order to compensate for the binge eating. This condition may cause harmful effects on the body, causing anemia, constipation, diarrhea, heart failure, low blood pressure, muscle fatigue, and stomach cramping.
Anorexia nervosa is another disorder that can go with alcohol or drug abuse. It is characterized by a preoccupation with weight and calorie intake. This usually leads to malnutrition and severe weight loss that can be life threatening.
Because the body of alcoholics and addicts are not able to properly absorb and break down nutrients, they are more prone to developing several diseases and ailments.
Thiamine deficiency is a condition commonly found among heavy drinkers. Alcohol deprives the body of thiamine, an important vitamin used by tissues, including those in the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver. Low levels increase the risk of congenital illnesses and dementia. It also makes you more susceptible to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is associated with confusion, in-coordination, memory loss, and vision problems (www.drugrehab.com).
Alcoholism also puts you at a larger risk of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and too much body fat.
The various types of addictive drugs also cause different kinds of health issues. For example, opioids slow digestion and metabolism. Stimulants can cause permanent memory problems. And marijuana leads to obesity or being overweight.
Why Diet and Nutrition Help with Recovery
Because most users have depleted levels of vitamins, minerals, essential fats and amino acids, they are more susceptible to mental and physical problems. In addition, withdrawal usually causes diarrhea and vomiting, so you lose a lot of nutrition and fluids. Aside from that, some medical experts believe that it can be more difficult for recovering alcohol and drug dependents to focus on therapy and counseling when their bodies are still battling malnutrition and other health conditions. In order for the body to successfully recover and fight addiction, it needs to have real and nourishing food.
Many rehabilitation centers include nutritional counseling as part of their treatment programs. You get to meet with a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you create a customized plan. There are also some facilities that provide training or assistance in preparing healthy meals on your own.
A Diet Helpful for Recovery
In order to experience noticeable improvements, you need a diet that provides macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. These include substances that promote growth and wellness, such as carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water.
Where can you get these nutrients? Here are healthy sources:
- Carbohydrates – whole fruit, potatoes, beans, nuts, vegetables, whole grain breads or cereals
- Fats – seeds and nuts
- Fiber – apples, carrots, tomatoes, beans, nuts, oatmeal, wheat bread, brown rice
- Proteins – beans and nuts
- Vitamins and Minerals – fruits, vegetables, peas, beans, peanuts, seeds, whole grain breads or cereals
- Hydration – water, soup, cucumbers, watermelon, strawberries
There are many ways to mix and prepare tasty and nutritious meals using healthy ingredients, so try which ones work best for you. But always take into consideration the advice from your nutritionist and dietitian as you may have some special dietary needs.
Proper Nutrition and Diet Isn’t Just for Recovery but Also for Maintenance
When you are eating healthily, your organs, muscles, and tissues have a better chance of healing. You are also able to rebuild a body that is stronger and healthier. And as you increase your physical health, you are also able to improve your mental and emotional wellness. You need to maintain these three in order to sustain and manage your sobriety. Therefore, proper nutrition and diet should be a part of your lifestyle change as whole, instead of just being a part of your recovery process.
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