Why Nutrition Is Important During Addiction Recovery

Providing Nutritional Support

Silver Ridge Recovery provides nutritional support and meal planning advice for all people in drug rehab. Yet nutritional support is commonly overlooked as a part of the overall addiction recovery process.

Most people recovering from substance abuse disorders tend to focus primarily on medication, counseling and other therapies, often giving little thought to how nutrition can play a role in their recovery. However, abusing drugs or alcohol over a period of time can result in developing vitamin deficiencies, which lead to an increased risk of developing a variety of physical and mental health problems.

A nutrition plan is designed to help address nutritional deficiencies using good food choices and setting regular meal times. 

When it comes right down to it, the food you eat can have a direct impact on emotions, moods and mental health.

Nutritional Routines for Recovery

What’s more, setting regular meal times each day helps create new daily routines focused on self-care. Someone who has been caught in a cycle of substance abuse may become careless about food intake. Studies show that up to 88% of people with chronic substance abuse disorders are more likely to have low diet quality or poor appetite.

This means that those struggling with a substance use disorder tend to eat fewer meals, often skipping meals for an entire day. When they do eat, they tend to make poorer meal choices, opting for snack foods or fast foods with low nutritional value, which deprives the body of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly.

It’s also important to consider the way in which drugs and alcohol can reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food properly. Even if healthy nutritional choices are made, the body is unable to absorb the vitamins and minerals it needs, which increases the risk of deficiencies and health problems.

When a poor quality diet is combined with long-term drug or alcohol abuse, the result can become malnourishment or can develop into an array of worsening physical and mental health problems.

What is Drug-Induced Nutrient Deficiency?

Many types of drugs can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from the food you eat. Even if a person eats a healthy diet and takes multivitamin supplements, long-term abuse of drugs or alcohol can cause a drug-induced nutrient deficiency.

The actual types of nutrient deficiencies will vary for different people, depending on the type of substance being taken. It’s also important to take into account whether meals are being skipped.

Alcohol

Alcohol has long been recognized as one of the major causes of nutritional deficiencies in American adults. In fact, it’s common for people with an alcohol abuse disorder to suffer from a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. These include B-group vitamins (B1, B2, B6, and B12), vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and selenium.

General vitamin B deficiencies can cause a variety of physical and mental health issues, including irregular heartbeat, anemia, nervous system damage, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. More specific symptoms of vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency can include memory loss, confusion, hallucination, delirium.

Wet Brain

A more severe condition that can arise from a chronic vitamin B1 deficiency is ‘wet brain’ also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a type of brain disorder. Symptoms of wet brain include loss of muscle coordination, abnormal eye movements, memory loss, inability to form new memories, hallucinations, increased heart rate, and low blood pressure.

Aside from the more specific vitamin deficiencies, there are a number of other physical health complications that can develop due to poor nutrition while abusing alcohol over a period of time. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, cirrhosis (liver damage) and malnutrition.

Opiates

Opiates are drugs derived from the opium poppy and include prescription painkiller medications such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin), or illicit street drugs such as heroin.

Abusing opiate drugs can cause constipation during use. However, once a person stops taking the drug, common symptoms can include diarrhea and vomiting, which deplete the body’s nutrients, cause an electrolyte imbalance and can lead to dehydration.

Anti-anxiety drugs

Anti-anxiety drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), or clonazepam (Klonopin) are all part of a class of benzodiazepine drugs. These medications are usually used to treat anxiety or depression, although some people take them for recreational purposes.

Abusing anti-anxiety medications over a long period of time can result in a range of nutritional deficiencies. These include deficiencies in vitamin B1, B2, B6 and B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Stimulants

Stimulant medications are sometimes used to treat conditions such as ADHD and include Adderall or Ritalin. However, there are also illicit street stimulant drugs that have similar effects on the body and the brain, including cocaine, methamphetamines (crystal meth) or crack.

People who abuse stimulant drugs over a period of time may experience a reduction in appetite, which causes them to lose weight. Some people abusing stimulants may also tend to stay awake for several days on end without eating properly throughout that time. The result can lead to dehydration, imbalances in electrolytes and serious vitamin deficiencies.

How Does Nutritional Support Work?

The goal of nutritional support in an addiction rehab treatment program is to help provide nourishment to a person who may have developed nutritional deficiencies during long-term substance abuse. Eating nutritious food during recovery may seem irrelevant to some people, but good nutrition is known to help stabilize mood and reduce feelings of stress.

Nutritional support focuses strongly on planning meals that provide the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals the body needs to function at optimal levels. When a recovering person is replenishing the body's vitamin and mineral levels, it's possible to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and ease many other symptoms associated with recovery.

As a secondary benefit, nutrition and meal planning also serve to establish new daily routines that promote good health and self-care. For example, many people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction may have fallen into habits of skipping meals, sometimes for an entire day. At other times, they may make food choices that have low nutritional value, such as snack foods, fast foods or processed foods.

By comparison, during an intensive inpatient rehab treatment program, each day begins with a healthy breakfast to provide fuel for the day’s activities. After some morning activities or group meetings, a nutritious lunch is offered at a specific time. Following afternoon sessions and activities, a healthy dinner is served at a certain time.

Setting regular meal times may seem trivial on the surface. However, creating new daily routines and setting regular meal times both play important roles in the addiction recovery process.

Healthy Ways to Treat Nutritional Deficiencies

It’s common for some people to believe that taking a simple multivitamin each day should be enough to address any nutritional deficiencies they may experience. However, multivitamins may only offer limited benefits as compared to developing a meal plan that incorporates healthy, fresh ingredients on a regular basis.

Replenishing vitamin and mineral levels doesn’t mean trying to eat everything on the list of healthy foods all at once. Instead, it’s about planning your weekly meals so you include at least some of the ingredients you enjoy in your meals.

Vitamin C

Studies show that people with a vitamin C deficiency may experience increased pain responses during withdrawal from opioid drugs. By comparison, getting plenty of vitamin C in a healthy diet can relieve pain and reduce the risk of returning to opioid use. Foods rich in vitamin C include tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, bell peppers, chili peppers, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

Vitamin B1
Research suggests that alcohol cravings are likely to be worse in people with a vitamin B1 deficiency. Choosing ingredients that are rich in vitamin B1 can help reduce the severity of cravings and ease other symptoms such as muscle weakness, twitching in the hands and feet, and may help stabilize moods.

Foods rich in vitamin B1 include beef, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, nuts, oats, peas, and beans. It’s also possible to find meat-free foods fortified with vitamin B1, including some brands of rice, bread, cereals, pasta, and flour.

Vitamin B2
Getting sufficient vitamin B2 in a healthy diet can decrease symptoms of anemia, fatigue, and blurred vision. Foods rich in vitamin B2 include beef, lamb, yogurt, milk, mushrooms, eggs, salmon, spinach, and almonds.

Vitamin B6

 Research shows that vitamin B6 deficiency can make depression symptoms worse. Other symptoms of deficiency include anemia, confusion, and a weakened immune system. To reduce depression during recovery, look for ways to add more vitamin B6 into your diet. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include pork, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, potatoes, bread and soy beans.

Vitamin B12

Some people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction may struggle with mood changes and depression. If there is also a deficiency in vitamin B12, those symptoms may be worsened. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include milk, eggs, fish, pork, chicken, and turkey. It’s also possible to find meat-free foods fortified with vitamin B12, including some brands of cereal and bread.

Calcium

Suffering from calcium deficiency can cause symptoms that include irritability, muscle pain, abdominal cramps, spasms in the hands or feet, hallucinations, weakened or brittle bones, confusion, memory loss, and depression. Symptoms can be relieved by developing a meal plan that contains plenty of calcium.

Foods that are high in calcium include yogurt, cheese, milk and other dairy products. There are also plenty of non-dairy foods that contain healthy calcium levels, including apricots, kiwi fruit, figs, beans, lentils, kale, spinach, broccoli, sardines, and salmon.

Magnesium

If a person’s magnesium levels are low, it’s possible to experience such symptoms as muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. Treating a magnesium deficiency can be as simple as consuming foods such as milk, yogurt, nuts, beans, spinach and fortified breakfast cereals.

Potassium

People in recovery from substance abuse disorders may experience symptoms of abdominal cramping or bloating, muscle cramps in the arms or legs, vomiting or nausea, irregular heartbeat, delirium, hallucinations, and depression. Those symptoms might be reduced by eating foods rich in potassium, including bananas, avocado, apricots, sweet potato, winter squash, yogurt, and salmon.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for helping to regulate moods. Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids are important to mental health. A person with an omega-3 deficiency may experience symptoms that include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, attention or concentration problems, and joint discomfort.

Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, oysters, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil can help reduce the severity of symptoms.

Integrating Nutrition Planning Into Life after Treatment

The idea of learning to cook elaborate gourmet meals doesn’t appeal to many people. Yet it’s easy to learn how to make a few simple recipes that result in tasty and healthy meals.

Integrating nutrition planning into daily life after treatment doesn’t always mean cooking up a storm every day. Rather, it’s an opportunity to practice self-care on a regular basis.

Setting regular meal times every day and then sticking to those times helps establish a positive new daily routine that extends from new patterns learned in treatment. Reviewing the ingredients that can help regulate moods and reduce symptoms and integrating those foods into your meal plan is a simple solution that can be built into a new routine.

Pre-planning recipes and meals that work for you can also save time and effort. Think about what types of meals you can create using healthy ingredients that can be prepared in advance. Storing pre-made meals in the freezer and reheating them when you’re ready to eat can make the cooking process simpler.

Before being discharged from a Silver Ridge recovery program, those in recovery are taught a range of new coping skills and given access to a variety of tools and aftercare resources to help them maintain abstinence. Relapse prevention planning is a crucial part of any recovery plan, but maintaining good nutrition not only helps to reduce symptoms and regulate moods. It also plays a role in self-care that boosts self-esteem too.