Regretfully, nutrition guidance is the least discussed topic in addiction recovery, though it can play an essential role in substantial recovery. It may help people feel better and thus play a role in reducing cravings. A person with the right dietary approach is less probable to reuse substances. Therefore, nutrition for addiction recovery is a paramount topic for those in recovery.
Scientific studies show that nutritional deficiencies among substance addicts are widespread. An only a small number of addicts seeking treatment have a healthy weight, and most of them are either overweight or at the risk of severe wasting. Most addicts do not consume enough of whole cereals, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. About three fourth of all addicts have deficiencies of micronutrients that is vitamins and minerals, which is much higher when compared to the healthy population.
Reasons for nutritional deficiencies in addicts
There are two ways in which dietary deficiencies in those addicted to substances may occur:
- Due to the direct effect of a drug on various body organs– it may cause poor functioning of the organs, like the failure of intestines to absorb the nutrient or metabolic issues due to liver disorder.
- Lifestyle changes – as a person addicted to a substance be it alcohol or street drugs, is less probable to pay attention to food habits, get involved in physical activities, and so on.
Keeping in mind the high prevalence of nutritional deficiencies, everyone recovering from addiction should get individual attention, must make dietary improvements. Diet can promote healing processes. Moreover, people making a recovery may have higher needs for certain nutrients than healthy people.
Nutritional issues may vary according to substance abuse
Most addictive substances have numerous effects on the body, affecting different organs and mind.
- Alcohol– is well known to damage liver, may harm kidneys. In some individuals, it may affect the pancreas, thus creating issues with blood glucose levels and digestion of fats. Alcohol may cause a severe liver disease called cirrhosis, may weaken heart, cause seizures, gastric problems, and malnutrition.
- Opiates– like codeine, morphine are known to cause constipation. However, during withdrawal, some people may develop diarrhea. In both cases, they will damage the intestine and affect nutrition level.
- Marijuana– is an appetite stimulant and is more probable to lead to obesity or overweight. However, this does not mean that a person will not have nutritional deficiencies like those of vitamins.
- Stimulants– like meth or cocaine make people active, but they suppress appetite over the long run. Most people addicted to these substances will be underweight and dehydrated as they stay awake for more extended periods. They are also more probable to suffer from electrolyte disbalance.
Eating for Addiction Recovery
Improving nutrition has an immediate effect on mood, thus helping recovery. People living with addiction may have difficulty finding pleasure in eating. Therefore, a person making a recovery should have strict meal times. The diet should be balanced and high in micronutrients. At the same time, it should be low in fats, especially saturated fats.
People in recovery need food that boosts the production of serotonin. This means consuming high-quality carbs like whole grains, legumes, root vegetables (potatoes, carrots). The protein content of the diet should also be high, hence include more lean meat, poultry, and fish.
Vitamins belong to group B like thiamine, B12, along with folic acid, play an essential role in nerve health. People addicted to alcohol are more prone to the deficiencies of these vitamins. Alcohol is also related to increased loss of minerals like zinc, magnesium, calcium, and so on.
Those making recovery from addiction needs to know that they have higher needs for certain nutrients. They need to understand that their dietary efforts must continue for at least one year or longer to make a complete recovery from various deficiencies. Role of food in detoxification of the body must not be underrated.
Those who have abused some substance for years will have a weaker immune system, they may get readily tired, may have dental and various gastrointestinal problems may suffer from skin conditions. Long term substance abuse causes changes in the brain that are not possible to diagnose with present methods, but signs of symptoms of such issues are present.
During the early stages of recovery, the person may have difficulty eating enough due to problems with appetite. Thus, it is a good idea to start making dietary changes gradually. It may not be a bad idea to eat multiple times, especially for those living with severe wasting. When recovering, keep an eye on body weight and other symptoms of nutritional deficiencies.
There is no hard and fast formula to follow when planning a diet for drug recovery; it should be a balanced diet, rich in micronutrients. One should take into consideration diseases of other organs like heart, liver, kidney, and so forth.
Proper addiction recovery diet should have:
- 50-55% of complex carbs in the form of grains, fruits, and vegetables
- Enough of dairy products to counter calcium deficiency
- A reasonable amount of protein (15 to 20% of total calorie intake). Take high-quality proteins like that from meat, poultry, fish, tofu, and so on.
- Fat should not be more than 30% of calorie intake, prefer vegetable oils over animal fats, so think about olive oil, flaxseed oil, fish oil, and so on.
When recovering from any addiction, learn more about healthy food choices and avoid processed or fast food items. Add variety to your diet. Dietary fiber is another crucial thing to consider. Do not skip any meals. Limit intake of sugar or sugary drinks, caffeinated drinks. Taking vitamins and supplements is a good idea to fortify your diet. But as always, taking advice from a professional like your doctor and a dietitian is essential to discover your specific needs.