Eating healthy is recommended for everyone, more so for people recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Substance abuse is often accompanied by nutritional deficiencies, digestion issues, and mental impairment. What’s more, it leads to eating habits that may deny the body key nutrients and causes the accumulation of toxins in the body.
A balanced diet plays a vital role in addiction recovery. It helps your body get rid of the toxic substances, replenish the nutrients you lack, and supports the brain as it forms new neural pathways. Here’s more on the effect of substance abuse on nutrition and the healthy foods to include in a recovery diet.
The Effect of Substance Abuse on Nutrition
Food and nutrition often fall behind alcohol and drugs on the priority list of an addict. Instead of using their time, energy, and money to keep up with a healthy lifestyle, a victim of addiction dedicates more and more of their resources towards the destructive behavior.
Every substance has its unique set of specific impacts on health, even though we can establish a general pattern. Drug abusers often exhibit the following food-related issues:
- Loss of appetite/ failing to eat: most substances either suppress appetite or cause the addict to forget about eating, especially when under the influence.
- Poor eating habits: by prioritizing their drug of choice over other aspects of their lives, addicts may go for unhealthy foods – like fast foods and sugary snacks. Some may also find themselves overeating or binge eating when getting over a high.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: alcoholics are at high risk of developing chronic inflammation of the gut, leaky gut syndrome, fungal intestinal infection, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and pathogenic bacteria overgrowth. These issues further prevent the gut from taking up nutrients effectively.
- Organ damage: substance abuse may have several permanent effects on the body, including direct damage to the liver, pancreas, and stomach.
- Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels may kick in as a result of poor dieting.
Effect of Alcohol on nutrition
Alcoholics don’t pay much attention to healthy eating habits. Moreover, even if they did try to keep up with their nutritional needs, alcohol interferes with nutrient absorption.
It gets worse: as mentioned above, alcohol damages critical digestive organs, including the liver and pancreas. The liver is responsible for detoxification, while the pancreas produces key enzymes used in digesting proteins, carbs, fats, and hormones that help blood sugar levels. Abuse of alcohol is linked to deficiencies in:
- Thiamine (vitamin B1)
- Folic acid
- Vitamin B6
Effect of Opioids on Nutrition
The production of excessive dopamine resulting from abuse of opioids such as heroin, morphine, Vicodin, Percocet, and oxycontin can lead to appetite suppression. Users often eat fewer meals, put off eating to prolong the intoxication, and fail to maintain a balanced diet.
Another of the most common side effects of opioids abuse is chronic constipation (CC) due to the paralyzing effect of the drugs on the stomach. CC usually encourages abuse of laxatives, creating a whole new set of short-term and long-term gastrointestinal issues.
Effect of Stimulants on Nutrition
Besides keeping users energized and alert for too long, stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines are known to suppress appetite. They lead to vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalance, and dehydration. Symptoms of prolonged abuse of opiates include:
- Muscle wasting
- Impaired wound healing
- Low body temperature
- Poor immune function
- Disturbances in cardiac rhythm
- Hair loss
Effect of Marijuana on Nutrition
Cannabis increases the user’s appetite, which has seen its use rise among people with chronic diseases – like cancer. For people without conditions, however, the munchies make them eat too often, in greater quantities, and with little attention to healthy eating.
People abusing marijuana especially prefer junk food. They may become obese while lacking essential nutrients, all of which may lead to:
- Increased risk of infection
- Poor wound healing
- Inflammatory skin problems
- Cardiovascular issues
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Reproductive issues
Healthy Foods for Recovery
True recovery from any type of addiction involves resetting both the body and mind. Like methods applied to overcome gambling problems, therapists and addiction centers address underlying factors causing the addiction. Unfortunately, in most cases, maintaining a healthy diet often takes the backseat.
However, if nutrition is overlooked during recovery, the recovery process may be too slow or challenging for the addict to hold on long enough to kill the habit. Here are 5 foods to support recovery.
Poultry and Fish
For your protein source, consider poultry and fish. The body converts proteins into amino acids for use in cell repair. Poultry and fish are excellent sources of tyrosine, an amino acid that the body fails to process correctly due to drugs and alcohol abuse.
A recovering addict needs to get their tyrosine levels rising. It plays a vital role in the creation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Animal sources such as tuna, turkey, and chicken are rich in vitamin B6. Salmon makes for a great source of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Besides the calcium everyone knows is high in milk, you also get vitamins from whole milk, butter, and cheese. Yogurt provides vitamin B2 and is rich in live cultures that promote gut health.
The best fruits for recovering addicts include strawberries, blueberries, oranges, papayas. Oranges contain ascorbic acid and other vitamins. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants that help get rid of toxins and free radicals that accumulate in the body during periods of substance abuse.
Bananas will supply tryptophan, an amino acid that often lacks in addicts and helps form the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Dark green and leafy vegetables – like spinach, kale, and lettuce – contain a wide range of essential vitamins, including folic acid, vitamin B6, and carotene. Collard greens such as cabbage and broccoli are a good source of calcium.
Talk of rice, beans, lentils, peas, potatoes, carrots, bread, and pasta. Their high fiber content boosts digestion and energy. That said, consider whole grains when consuming wheat products.
Addiction and substance abuse take a great toll on the body’s nutrition. A balanced, healthy diet is key for a speedy recovery. It helps improve mood, restore digestive health, increase energy, build a stronger immune response, boost memory, and reduce the risk of diseases.