Written by Karen Pontious
Drugs and alcohol can cause long-term damage to your body and you feel the effects both mentally and physically.
The link between substance abuse and poor nutrition is vicious cycle that can negatively impact your goals in recovery. During the initial stages of recovery your body is in the detoxification stage where it is most vulnerable.
To get your body back to its optimal health you must prioritize your nutrition. A healthy diet will support your mind and body so you can be at your best during your recovery.
Why is nutrition important for recovery?
Nutrition is commonly overlooked when people are starting their recovery. The main battle they are faced with is dealing with the physical and mental challenges that comes from withdrawal. But it’s not just withdrawal that’s giving you symptoms such as depression, low energy and headaches, it also can be your eating habits.
The idea of changing so many habits at once is intimidating. To be successful in your recovery you need to have the energy and motivation to do so and having healthy eating habits helps you in your recovery process. If you’re not getting the necessary nutrients your brain won’t be able to function properly, making you feel physically and mentally sluggish.
How does addiction affect our health and nutrition?
There is a common link between substance use and malnutrition. One factor is that when a person is consumed by addiction, healthy eating takes a backseat. Another factor is that substance addiction negatively impacts our organs, changing our hormones and how we receive nutrients.
Different drug types affect our bodies uniquely and can have various impacts. Let’s look at how alcohol, opioids, stimulants and marijuana impact our bodies and our health differently.
- Alcohol, like other depressants, affects your nervous system and slows down your brain function. Long-term alcohol abuse damages the liver and pancreas, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. People who misuse alcohol over a long period of time tend to lack the B-vitamin complex and folic acid which can result in anemia.
- Opioids damage the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea, which over time can lead to nutrition depletion.
- Stimulants like cocaine suppresses the appetite, causing insufficient consumption of calories and nutrients which can result in weight loss and/or dehydration.
- Marijuana use is known for causing cravings for foods high in sugar and oil aka “the munchies.” Long-term use can result in weight gain because of these unhealthy eating habits.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where unhealthy processed foods and fast foods that lack nutrients are far too accessible. It can be hard even for people who don’t suffer from addiction to avoid malnutrition. Nonetheless, having a balanced diet and healthy eating habit is truly a vital part of addiction recovery.
How does nutrition affect recovery?
What you eat affects your brain function. What we put into our bodies impacts our brain chemicals and when we give our bodies the nutrients that it needs, we see a variety of positive effects:
- Better mood
- More energy
- Increased physical health
- Stronger immune system
- Less likely to relapse
How to maintain healthy eating habits during recovery
Tips getting the best out of your diet
- Keep your house stocked with healthy foods
- Meal prep ahead of time
- Speak to a dietitian for personalized advice
- Get regular exercise
- DRINK WATER! Try to drink between 8–10 glass daily
- Avoid consuming too much sugar and caffeine
What to eat during recovery
- Complex carbohydrates: starchy vegetables, whole grains, fruits
- Healthy fats: avocado, vegetable-based oils, nuts
- Protein: lean meats, wild game, seafood, lentils, almonds (along with other plant-based sources of proteins)
- Vitamins: B6, B12, C, D, Folate, Choline
- Minerals: magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron
Addiction recovery diet: eat right for your recovery
Food is medicine and having healthy eating habits is crucial for a successful recovery. When you’re just starting your recovery, your nutritional needs are higher than usual so when you’re feeling run down remember that by controlling what you eat your body will heal faster.
Proper nutrition will help you balance the chemicals in your body giving you the energy you need to support you through your recovery.
Karen Pontious is a professional communicator working on her dream to be a freelance writer and editor. She is currently completing a summer placement with Avalon Recovery Society.
Her passion is intercultural relations and communication. She writes about relationships, immigration stories, gender norms, and mental health.