Nutrition and Addiction Recovery: 8 Things You Need to Know

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Substance addiction takes an immense toll on the human body, and recovery from alcohol and drug abuse can be a slow, painstaking process. During this journey, nutrition is one of the things requiring the greatest attention. 

Addiction has a devastating effect on nutrition. Substance abuse typically comes with reduced food intake per meal, skipped meals, unbalanced diet, faster nutrient loss through diarrhea and vomiting, and damage to the gut. 

The food you eat is therefore central to helping the body rebuild and restore your health. Here a number of things you need to know about addiction recovery and your diet.

1. Leverage Support Structures

Behavioral and dietary interventions will not deliver the desired result if they are not coupled with the right support structures and social groups. These can help provide guidance on where or how you can access nutritious, healthy meals. There is a wide range of community-based organizations available to provide valuable advice on meals, as well as healthcare service providers and addiction treatment agencies. Such nutritional education is crucial in addiction recovery. 

If you are married or in a long-term relationship, consider searching for couples rehab near me. Many rehab centers have nutritional counselors who can create a personalized plan depending on each patient’s need. By understanding the intensity and duration of a patient’s substance use, they can identify gaps and direct the person to the foods that will restore their health and physical well-being. They provide a platform for the kind of support and holistic care you need to meet your nutritional needs.

2. Addiction-Fueled Malnutrition Has Short and Long-Term Impacts

There are multiple potential consequences of the malnutrition that occurs from substance addiction. In the short-term, your immune system is weakened and causes you to tire quickly. Other short-term health issues include constipation, diarrhea, dental problems, skin conditions and changes in your sense of taste. 

Over the long-term, addiction increases the risk of liver disease, heart disease, brain damage, nerve damage, pancreas problems and certain cancers. It is thus important that appropriate medical tests are done during recovery to check for the presence or early signs of these illnesses.

3. Impairs Neurotransmission

The brain’s function is not just affected by substance abuse directly. There are consequences from the patient’s poor diet, too. Alcohol and drugs disrupt the release and absorption of key neurotransmitters. Since the very production of these neurotransmitters is dependent on getting sufficient nutrient supply, addiction-related malnutrition will impair balanced healthy neurotransmission. 

Substance abuse affects the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood, sleep, appetite and pain. It hampers endorphins as well that are associated with stress relief, pain management and pain signaling. Poor diet impacts norepinephrine and dopamine too, which are neurotransmitters that influence focus, motivation and energy.

4. The First Year is Key

When you begin your path to recovery from substance addiction, the first year is key as far as nutrition is concerned. Your body has taken a beating over the years and therefore your nutritional needs are high. Even if you were eating a diverse, balanced diet while battling substance abuse, there were still fewer nutrients that eventually made it to your tissues. 

For instance, chronic alcoholism increases the loss of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. Deficiencies in folic acid, thiamine and other B-complex vitamins is common. There are usually inadequate stores of vitamin C and other B vitamins as well.

5. Introduce Meals Slowly

While the first year of recovery and detoxification is the most important for nutritional replenishment, introduce meals gradually during these early stages. Your body is not accustomed to digesting large meals. 

Start with small, but frequent meals. Many people begin to gain weight. That should not be a problem, especially if you are within a healthy body mass index (BMI). Nevertheless, if you are concerned about weight gain or feel your eating is getting out of hand, consult a nutritionist.

6. Complex Carbohydrates Help With Serotonin

When your brain is not producing the right quantities of the chemicals and hormones you need, you become more anxious, irritable, stressed, tired, paranoid, depressed and sleepless. This is not a good state to be in for anyone, but is especially difficult for someone who is recovering from addiction.

Therefore, it is vital that you eat a diet that balances your brain’s serotonin levels. The serotonin hormone relaxes your brain. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates such as peas, beans, lentils, carrots, potatoes, breads and pastas. Combining these carbohydrates with proteins should keep your serotonin levels where they need to be. 

7. Food Shouldn’t Be a Coping Mechanism

As you try to get back to healthy eating, be careful not to replace substance addiction with a food addiction or an eating disorder. Food should not be ised as a coping mechanism. Caffeine and sugar are popular substitutes since they generate highs and lows that mirror those of substance abuse. 

While moving from cocaine addiction to caffeine use is an improvement, it does not bode well for your path toward a healthier lifestyle. Foods rich in caffeine and sugar are low-nutrient meals that hamper your capacity to consume healthy food. Worse, they affect your cravings and mood. 

8. Stick to the Plan

Just like letting go of the addiction will not be easy, adopting a new diet will be difficult at the beginning. There will be times when you will have the urge to fall back into your old habits. To prevent backsliding, devote your time, energy and attention to the dietary plan. 

Instead of ignoring the looming struggle, be honest about the challenges you face in making the transition. For example, healthy meals may be more expensive, take longer to prepare and may not be popular with the people in your household. Mapping out these problems makes it easier for you to make changes that will minimize their ability to hinder your new nutritional plan.

Make Nutrition a Priority

When a person is in the stranglehold of substance addiction, they are usually so consumed by the alcohol and drugs that they neglect proper nutrition. They do not have the attention, time or resources required to think about eating healthy. Without the nutrients that healthy food provides, their brain and body cannot function as well as it should. This makes recovery less promising and more demanding. 

As you chart you chart a path out of addiction, you have a better shot at success when you place as much emphasis on the food you take in as you do the separation from drugs and alcohol.

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