The old adage “feed a cold, starve a fever” is only half correct: medical science says that whatever the exact symptoms, regular intake of proper nutrition will aid recovery from any illness. With a fever, the “starving” approach is a particularly bad idea, since high temperature is already driving increased loss of water and calories. Unfortunately, most people with fevers also have nausea and high fatigue, neither of which is particularly noted for increasing healthy appetite. So most doctors advise feverish patients to focus on drinking water, but also more nutritious fluids, regularly and in small-to-moderate doses.
When your fever or nausea—or the aftereffects of recovery—come from heroin detox, keeping up a healthy intake of nutrients is doubly important because:
- Obsession with getting regular doses of heroin has probably crowded out healthy eating habits, which need to be relearned.
- If you’ve been addicted for any length of time, you’ve probably lost an unhealthy amount of weight because a heroin-dependent body would rather ingest opiates than eat. Or, it’s possible you’ve gained an unhealthy amount of weight by relying on high-calorie, quick-energy, low-nutrition foods to keep you functional in the face of chronic heroin-induced drowsiness.
- Starting a daily routine of healthy eating, as soon as possible, will reduce your risk of addiction relapse by teaching your brain to properly recognize hunger sensations rather than interpreting them as cravings for more opiates.
- A healthy body contributes to a clear head and a good mood, which provide additional strength to reduce relapse temptations.
Of course, professional heroin detox centers make sure their patients stay properly hydrated and nourished throughout physical withdrawal and the follow-up inpatient period. (Make sure to get treatment at a well-established heroin rehab center; attempting to quit cold can have numerous unpleasant consequences.) But you’ll be better prepared to make the most of treatment and recovery if you personally know the basics of what to eat during heroin detox:
1. Stay well hydrated.
Most people in the physical-withdrawal stage of heroin treatment experience some level of vomiting and diarrhea, which depletes body fluids. No matter how queasy your stomach gets, keep up regular water intake at least, or you could become dangerously dehydrated. (If you’re having serious difficulty keeping anything down, tell your heroin detox supervisor—sometimes intravenous hydration/feeding is necessary.) Two to three quarts every 24 hours is sufficient in most cases—you may need more if your vomiting/diarrhea gets particularly severe, if you start to pass dark urine, or if your eyes and throat feel dry.
Once you’re well enough to get about, continue drinking at least two quarts of water daily—staying hydrated will help keep your head clear for maintaining sobriety.
2. Be gentle with your digestive system.
In addition to the nausea-and-vomiting effects of initial withdrawal, heroin addiction itself weakens the digestive system, often causing problems that linger after detox. So even after you feel better physically, avoid putting unnecessary stress on your stomach and gut. Take most of your immediately-post-withdrawal meals as soups, purees, and juices—then move up to easy-to-digest solid foods such as low-fiber bread, bananas, eggs, peeled potatoes, and chicken. Let spicy and rich foods wait a few weeks.
Another way to guard your digestive system against overload is to eat small amounts of food throughout the day, rather than large meals in one sitting. This will also help keep your body’s nutrient-distribution system running at an even pace, avoiding the blood-sugar crashes that can come with digesting food in waves.
(Note: When researching heroin detox centers, get details on their menus and food availability hours. Not every center makes healthy eating a priority.)
3. Consider including “probiotic” foods in your diet.
Probiotic foods, usually acidic, contain healthy bacteria that can help revitalize weakened digestive and immune systems. The most commonly eaten foods in this category are yogurt, sauerkraut, and gherkin pickles. If these aren’t to your taste, ask your heroin treatment supervisor (or a nutritionist) if you might benefit from taking probiotic supplements.
4. Eat lots of proteins and produce.
These are the building blocks of a healthy diet. Proteins, especially, contain amino acids that can help restore normal function to your brain’s pleasure transmitters (which will have gotten “lazy” under the artificially induced pleasure of regular heroin intake). Especially in the early weeks of recovery, opt for simply prepared options and avoid dishes that are fried, fatty, overcooked, or soaked in rich sauces.
5. Go easy on sugar and caffeine.
The last thing you need is to increase your mental-emotional stress by ingesting anything that generates a soar-and-crash effect—or that may turn into an addiction substitute by providing too much instant gratification. Drink decaf coffee, herbal tea, or a warm cup of milk or juice. If you want something sweet, have a piece of fresh fruit or an applesauce-sweetened muffin.
Even if you need to add pounds, stuffing yourself with “empty” calories isn’t the way to go about it—you won’t gain strength even if you gain weight, and you could ruin your appetite for healthier foods. Go for hearty, nutrient-rich options such as avocados and nuts.
6. Don’t leave heroin rehab without a long-term plan for keeping up regular healthy eating.
If your detox center’s staff includes nutritionists or dietitians, meet with them to create a daily-diet plan that fits your tastes and needs. Otherwise, ask for a referral to someone who can provide detailed professional advice on what you should eat and how—and, if you need to gain or lose pounds, what eating adjustments you should make upon reaching your normal weight range.
It’s important, in recovery from any addiction, not simply to stop unhealthy habits but to replace them with healthy ones. Years after the temptation to return to heroin ceases to be a problem, you’ll still be reaping physical and emotional benefits from continuing to eat healthily!
Inland Detox, top drug and alcohol treatment center in southern California, is located in the scenic Temecula Valley. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to heroin or another substance, please call (888) 739-8296 for more information.