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How Good Nutrition Affects Recovery

In active addiction, healthy diet and nutrition habits are often neglected. Because prolonged and heavy drug and alcohol use can drain the body of essential vitamins and energy, many people in early recovery are also recovering from poor nutrition and enter detox malnourished and dehydrated. One study found that 88 percent of heavy drug and alcohol users undergoing inpatient treatment had poor appetites and were in need of nutritional support; half had a vitamin or mineral deficiency and nearly one-quarter were malnourished.

Malnutrition, whether from overeating, under eating, or eating the wrong foods, can lead to anxiety, depression, fatigue, or stress, which may encourage the use of drugs or alcohol. Additionally, those in early recovery who are not accustomed to eating regularly often confuse hunger for drug/alcohol cravings, so not eating or drinking can become triggers for substance abuse. Eating can also become a substitute addiction if someone is emotional- or binge-eating to cope with withdrawal symptoms or in attempt to manage a co-occurring disorder like depression or anxiety.

Thus, creating and implementing healthy eating habits is essential to both physical and mental health and can prevent one poor habit from feeding into another, and inpatient treatment is a good place to get into these habits.

How do different substances affect nutrition?

Alcohol. Alcohol use, according to the National Library of Medicine, is one major cause of nutritional deficiency in the U.S. Vitamin B deficiency is particularly common among alcoholics, as are liver and pancreas problems, which can create imbalances of fluids, electrolytes, protein, and calories.

Stimulants. Drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine are “uppers” that increase metabolic, brain, and nerve activity. These drugs typically stifle appetite, and people who are addicted to stimulants are often malnourished or dehydrated.

Opiates. Opiates like heroin, oxycodone, and other drugs derived from opium, as well as opioids such as fentanyl and other synthetics, lead to electrolyte imbalance and nutritional deficiency. Constipation is a common side effect of opiate use, and diarrhea and nausea and vomiting are typical of withdrawal.

Benzodiazepines. Drugs like Xanax and Valium suppress the central nervous system. These prescription sedatives can increase or decrease appetite and induce weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.

How do I eat healthy in recovery?

  • Avoid foods high in sugar, as sugary foods can parallel the brain’s response to drugs. One study found that sugar and opioids affect the brain in similar ways.
  • Stay hydrated with water and limit intake of caffeinated, sweetened beverages.
  • Eat regularly throughout the day to keep hunger and cravings at bay.
  • Avoid junk foods, fast foods, and highly processed foods in favor of wholesome, lean foods.

Establishing healthy eating habits and relationships with food is important throughout recovery, particularly in aftercare, when a structured inpatient treatment setting no longer provides easy access to nutritious meals and limited access to unhealthy options.

A balanced diet is just one healthy component of a sober life, and it can take time to learn how to incorporate it into your daily routine. Obstacles such as limited finances can make low-cost, unhealthy foods the most viable and appealing option, but discussing your dietary needs, and the resources available to you, with a nutritionist can help you to create the foundation you need to build new habits upon.

A holistic approach to recovery

Our staff at Royal Life Centers at Puget Sound understands the importance of good nutrition in recovery, which is why our detox and residential inpatient treatment facility provides guests three wholesome meals per day and 24/7 access to a variety of snacks and beverages. If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder and is ready to begin recovery, please reach out to us at (877)-RECOVER for help and to learn about your treatment options.

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