Addiction is a horrible disease that affects roughly 21 million Americans. It’s an issue that causes serious harm to your body, your family life, and your mental health.
Luckily, there are plenty of recovery options out there for addicts. And, a big part of recovery from addiction is nutrition.
Before we dive into talking about addiction and nutrition, let’s take a second to talk about why nutrition matters in general. Nutrition is important for fueling the body and the brain and allowing them to function normally.
The reason for this is that when you eat food, your body breaks those foods down into glucose. Then, the body releases glucose into the bloodstream and either uses it for energy or stores it for use at a later date.
We need a wide range of foods and nutrients in order to stay healthy. Carbohydrates are important for giving us quick bursts of energy, for example, while proteins and healthy fats provide us with energy that we can use later down the road.
Part of staying healthy both in our minds and our bodies is having a balanced diet. That way, we can keep our bodies functioning properly so that we can tackle any diseases that come our way.
Now that we know why nutrition matters in general, let’s talk about the connection between nutrition and addiction. As with most things in addiction, nutrition often gets neglected when people are addicted to a substance or habit.
The reason for this is that addicts don’t care about their nutrition or about living a healthy lifestyle. Instead, they focus all their time, money, energy, and other resources to fuel their destructive habits.
When this happens, the body slowly starts to undergo changes. Since the addict isn’t providing the body with the right kinds and amounts of nutrients, the body’s ability to function begins to decline.
The longer an addict continues his or her bad habits, the worse the effects will be on the body. Over the years, this can lead to serious health concerns resulting from poor nutrition.
There are a few common food-related behaviors that you can keep an eye out for if you’re dealing with an addict.
People who abuse alcohol or drugs often don’t have much of an appetite. These substances affect their appetite and lead them to forget to eat while they’re under the influence of these substances.
When users are addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, or another vice, they tend to spend all their money on their addiction. The result is that there’s not a whole lot of surplus to use on food.
Because of that, they begin to spend their money on eating fast, affordable foods. Those foods tend to contain tons of fats and sugars and very little nutritional value.
Sometimes, people who come down from a high find themselves with an insatiable appetite. That can lead addicts to overeat long after they’ve eaten enough to satisfy them.
Addiction and poor eating habits, as we’ve now seen, often go together. This can cause tons of important body and brain functions to stop working correctly.
What then happens, addicts start becoming malnourished. That malnourishment leads to many different health concerns, including:
There are an estimated 16 million opioid addicts around the world. That means that there are millions of people who fall into this bucket and use opioids and neglect their nutrition.
One of the most common side effects that accompanies addiction to opioids is chronic constipation. The reason why opioid drugs such as heroin lead to chronic constipation are that they can paralyze the stomach.
When the stomach can’t work properly, the users are unable to flush out food and toxins through the body’s waste system. This can lead to constipation and a buildup of food in the intestines.
To make matters worse, many opioid addicts use laxatives to help them get relief from this problem. When they use too many laxatives, however, they can experience a whole new slew of problems, such as:
Alcohol addiction is another type of issue that can lead to nutritional problems. In addition, people who consume too much alcohol can experience especially damaging side effects from not having a healthy diet.
For one thing, chronic alcohol use stops the body’s ability to absorb nutrients in food and to break down those nutrients. That’s because alcohol damages the stomach’s lining and leads to a deficiency in your digestive enzymes.
On top of that, alcohol can damage the pancreas. The pancreas is the part of the body that digests carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and hormones used to balance blood sugar levels.
Since the organ can’t properly function if it doesn’t receive the right nutrients, alcoholics often irreversibly damage their pancreas. This condition manifests in a condition called alcohol-induced pancreatitis, which is a deadly condition if it’s not treated soon enough.
On top of these issues, chronic alcohol use accompanied by a poor diet can lead to multiple vitamin deficiencies. Those deficiencies can then cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which occurs when alcoholics don’t consume enough thiamine.
Since alcohol stops the body’s ability to absorb thiamine properly, it’s not uncommon for alcoholics to run into this issue. The result is that they can suffer from permanent memory loss, trouble making new memories, and even psychosis.
Individuals who are addicted to cocaine or amphetamines can also experience their own types of nutritional issues. These drugs can keep users awake and high for days at a time, at the same time suppressing their appetite.
When users have a suppressed appetite, they typically develop vitamin deficiencies and become severely dehydrated. That puts these individuals at the greatest risk of becoming malnourished.
Individuals who struggle with addiction to these drugs sometimes start using them to help them lose weight. And, while in the short term this method can work, it can, in the long run, lead to terrible consequences due to prolonged malnutrition.
A few common symptoms of malnutrition that stimulant users experience include:
Over time, these symptoms can even lead to death. That makes the abuse of stimulants one of the worst in terms of their effects on nutrition.
Now that we’ve gone over a few of the different types of addiction that can affect your health and how they work, it’s time to talk about nutrition in addiction recovery. Nutrition is an important part of helping the body detox and recover from addiction.
When addicts begin to heal using nutrition, they start to heal from the inside out. This can lead to several health benefits, such as:
With so many different advantages of proper nutrition, it’s important to keep diet and nutrition at the center of recovery. This can help addicts develop a healthy mind, spirit, and body throughout their sobriety.
When addicts detox from drugs and alcohol, they often experience unpleasant side effects. These can include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, and constipation.
Many times, people give up on the detox process because of these unpleasant side effects. By having a balanced diet, however, they can improve their mood and health and start feeling better.
On top of that, many addicts forget what hunger feels like and begin mistaking the sensation for substance cravings. When they eat a healthy and balanced diet, they’re less likely to experience these cravings and relapse.
Plus, the detox process is the perfect time for addicts to start recovering key nutrients for their bodies. Nutritionists can help provide them with supplements and guidance to get their appetite back.
Doctors tend to use vitamins to help aid in the detoxification process and speed up the recovery process. They’ll typically prescribe nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin D, zinc, vitamin B, and iron.
Finally, detox can lead to constipation. Addicts in the detox process of recovery can eat foods with high fiber content to help them beat constipation and avoid some of the unpleasant side effects of detoxing.
When we experience cravings, our brains actually go through several changes in chemistry. Those changes are very similar to the cravings that individuals experience when they crave addictive substances.
These chemical changes can cause people who are recovering from addiction to struggle with food cravings during their treatment. They may swap out their substance abuse for overeating, leading to a whole new problem.
The good news is that there are several tips that individuals in recovery can use to help avoid these cravings and maintain good nutrition. For one, they can eat regular meals and snacks.
On top of that, they can avoid eating only when they’re starving. That way they’ll eat only until they’re full rather than eating until they’re completely stuffed.
Another way of incorporating nutrition into addiction recovery is to use moderation and to keep a food journal. That way, individuals can track what emotions cause them to crave certain foods and develop methods for handling those emotions in different outlets.
Sometimes, when people go through detox or recovery, they struggle with weight gain. Maintaining a proper diet and using good nutritional strategies can help addicts in recovery avoid these issues.
For one thing, with the right understanding of nutrition, they can learn to eat only when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. And, they can learn to participate in group activities that teach them about nutrition and take their minds off eating.
What’s more, with the right nutritional plan, addicts can learn to load up on fruits and vegetables. These high-fiber and low-calorie options can help them to avoid weight gain while still feeling full.
With these types of tips and practices in place, those in recovery from addiction can avoid gaining weight during detox and recovery. And, they can use nutrition as a way to overcome their addiction and be healthier than ever.
Understanding the importance of good nutrition is a critical part of the addiction recovery process. It’s one of the many steps that individuals need to take in order to overcome an addiction of any kind and to get their life back on track.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, we can help. Get in touch with our team to learn more about our addiction recovery and detox centers.