An integral part of our addiction treatment program has always been a regimen of healthy eating in addition to educating our clients about the importance of good nutrition. This is a component of recovery that is often overlooked. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health stress this connection in publications on their website MedlinePlus. They say: “Recovery from substance abuse affects the body….including metabolism (processing energy), organ function, and mental well-being. Proper nutrition may help the healing process. Nutrients supply the body with energy. They provide substances to build and maintain healthy organs and fight off infection.”
Different illicit substances damage the body in unique ways, the effects of which can be combated with the right food choices. For example, “alcoholism is one of the major causes of nutritional deficiency in the United States. The most common deficiencies are of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamine, and folic acid. A lack of these nutrients causes anemia and nervous system (neurological) problems. Korsakoff’s syndrome (“wet brain”) occurs when heavy alcohol use causes a lack of enough thiamine.” Also: “Opiates (including codeine, oxycontin, heroin, and morphine) affect the gastrointestinal system….Symptoms that are common during withdrawal include: diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Eating balanced meals may make these symptoms less severe….A high-fiber diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, vegetables, peas, and beans) is recommended.”
The team at a good treatment center can help customize meals for a client’s needs. “People with substance abuse are more likely to relapse when they have poor eating habits. This is why regular meals are so important. People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol often forget what it’s like to be hungry and instead think of this feeling as a drug craving. They should be encouraged to consider that they may be hungry when cravings become strong.” The National Institutes of Health provide the following tips to improve the odds of a lasting and healthy recovery:
- Stick to regular mealtimes
- Eat a low-fat diet
- Get more protein, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fiber
- Vitamin and mineral supplements may be helpful during recovery (this may include B-complex, zinc, and vitamins A and C); eat nutritious meals and snacks.
- Get physical activity and enough rest.
- Reduce caffeine and stop smoking, if possible.
- Seek help from counselors or support groups on a regular basis.