It’s important for every person to develop healthy eating habits, but it’s crucial for people who are recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Even short-term addiction can take a huge toll on the body as it is forced to work overtime to eliminate toxic substances and defend itself against the damage they do. Achieving nutritional balance is essential in repairing the harm addiction does to the body. Alcohol and other drugs might offer short-term pleasure, but chronic substance abuse can inflict tremendous amounts of damage on the body. In general, substance use can exact a toll on health in a couple of ways. Indirectly, substances result in detrimental lifestyle changes including eating a diet of low-quality foods and irregular/sporadic eating. Certain substances can also impact physical health directly by injuring major organs and disrupting other crucial systems throughout the body. In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about using nutrition to your benefit as you heal from addiction and healthy eating for addiction recovery.
The Toll of Substance Abuse on the Body
Substance abuse has a major impact on long-term health and nutrition. Many people may know the harsher effects of drugs and alcohol on the body, such as liver disease from alcoholism. However, substance abuse extends well beyond this and can create a variety of impairments in physiological functions of the body, including the ability to absorb essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.Substance use disorders can make you especially vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies, for a number of behavioral and biological reasons—but healthy eating for addiction recovery can help correct your nutrient deficiencies and greatly improve your odds of successfully achieving recovery and maintaining it long term
Alcohol and Nutrition
People who abuse alcohol typically do not pay attention to nutrition. Even those who were formerly healthy tend to let their good eating habits go as they become more consumed with the need to find and drink alcohol. This creates a two-fold nutritional problem because even if someone does manage to eat healthfully and get all their nutrients, alcohol prevents them from being fully absorbed.
Alcohol abuse also causes severe harm to two critical digestive organs: the pancreas and liver. The pancreas makes enzymes necessary for digesting fats, proteins and carbs. It also produces hormones essential for balancing blood sugar. The liver breaks down toxins, including alcohol, and if it stops working correctly due to heavy drinking, the alcohol will circulate in the blood for longer and cause more damage to the digestive system.
Opioids — Including heroin, morphine and prescription painkillers, opioids can cause gastrointestinal difficulties, including constipation. The side effects of these would be the same as those noted above in the alcohol category.
Stimulants — Such as cocaine, crack and methamphetamine suppress a person’s appetite, which may cause a significant amount of weight loss and malnutrition. They may also refrain from drinking fluids, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Marijuana — Due to the nature of this drug, a person may be inclined to eat greater amounts of food as the result of an increased appetite, which can lead to weight gain. Oftentimes, the foods that these individuals eat are fat, sugar and calorie laden.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Addiction
Addictive substances and behaviors can make healthy eating for addiction recovery more difficult in a number of ways. They can also prevent you from getting enough nutrients despite a normally healthy diet. When you don’t get enough of a particular essential nutrient in your body, you develop a nutrient deficiency. Addictive substances can interfere with healthy eating and cause nutrient deficiencies in the following ways.
- Reducing your appetite
- Increasing cravings for unhealthy foods
- Depleting nutrients in your body
- Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar can be caused by a lack of sustenance or proper diet.
- Organ damage: Most drugs cause direct damage to the organs responsible for nutrient breakdown and processing.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: Alcohol and other drugs contribute to chronic issues in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that prevent it from effectively taking up nutrients in food.
Healthy Eating for Addiction Recovery Begins with Essential Vitamins
The human body needs 13 different essential vitamins to stay healthy. They are categorized by fat solubility or water solubility. Fat-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
The water-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin B-1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B-3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin B-7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B-9 (folate or folic acid)
- Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin)
- Vitamin C
Consuming a full suite of vitamins is essential because it:
- Supports the immune system
- Develops strong bones and teeth
- Facilitates calcium absorption
- Keeps skin and hair healthy
- Facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolization
- Aides function of the brain and nervous system
Healthy Eating for Addiction Recovery
If you’re in recovery, following a balanced diet can help repair the past damage caused by substance abuse. Proper nutrition will also help alleviate symptoms of withdrawal (such as headaches and stomach upset), reduce cravings, and boost your energy levels.
Here are some tips to follow when handling healthy eating for addiction recovery.
1. Drink Lots of Water
In detox and the early stages of recovery, dehydration is a common concern. It’s recommended that you drink 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce of water for each pound of body weight. For example, a 150-pound woman should try to drink 75 to 150 ounces of water per day.
If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try making infused water by adding fresh fruit and herbs to a pitcher of water and chilling it for several hours. Watermelon and mint, citrus and cucumber, or strawberry and basil are a few popular combinations you can try.
2. Limit Consumption of Fast Foods, Sugary Sweets, and Caffeine
During recovery, one common mistake that people make is replacing their abused substance with fast food or sugary sweets. These foods create temporary feelings of satisfaction, but can result in weight gain along with making you feel bloated and sluggish. It’s best to reserve these items for special occasions only.
You may also want to avoid beverages containing caffeine during your recovery. Caffeine provides a temporary energy boost, but can result in mood fluctuations that make it harder to resist cravings for alcohol or drugs.
3. Healthy Eating for Addiction Recovery – Choose Whole Grains
Whole grains are those that contain the bran, germ, and endosperm instead of losing nutrients while being refined. Whole grains are packed with insoluble fiber, which keeps you from being constipated and helps control your appetite. They’re also high in antioxidants and packed with essential nutrients.
Whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and air-popped popcorn are the most common types of whole grains. However, more adventurous eaters may want to branch out and try options like quinoa, bulgur, millet, and buckwheat.
4. Get Your Body Moving
Many people in recovery are intimidated by exercise. Some have never been athletic and others have gotten so far out of shape, they are afraid to begin exercising again. Not to worry. Whatever your fitness level may be, you can get your body moving with no need for expensive equipment or snazzy workout clothes. All you have to do is move around. It really is that simple. Healthy eating for addiction recovery begins with what you put into your body and ends with what you do with those nutrients.
Because people in recovery from addiction tend to think in extremes, many think they need to go out and join a gym, run five miles, or start working out excessively to exercise. This is not the case. Just start out slow. Get your body moving. Go for a walk. Ride your bike. Go hiking at a local park. Dance around the house. Find a low-impact exercise on YouTube and work up a sweat from the comfort of your own home. Just get moving! Do your best to engage in at least 20 minutes of exercise three times a week.
Take it One Day at a Time
You don’t have to try and make big changes all at once. Just like recovery, implementing healthy practices happens one day at a time. Take it slow and work on thing at a time. Before you know it, you will have made significant changes in your life.
Going forward, we encourage you to take care of your body through regular exercise and healthy eating habits to promote lasting happiness and healing. Remember, it’s the only one you’ll ever get! If you need help with addiction recovery Harmony Ridge Recovery Center is here for you every step of the way! Contact us today to learn more!