Nutrition programs are rapidly gaining popularity in treatment programs because of their ability to positively impact recovery. Diet and nutrition have an enormous impact on overall health. The connection between the two has affected the way many conditions are treated, including addiction. While nutrition is generally not the main focus in early recovery for those working to overcome addiction, it has become an intrinsic part of the healing process because it improves quality of life and helps many recover faster. Many people fail to recognize the link between proper nutrition, physical health, or mental health. Due to the way drugs and alcohol deplete the body and cause nutritional deficiencies, developing healthy eating habits is critical to overall success.
How Substance Abuse & Addiction Cause Poor Nutrition
Those who struggle with addiction often prioritize their addiction over everything else. Among the numerous problems that may arise as a result of addiction, nutritional deficiencies are often high on the list. Substance abuse can affect physical and mental functioning, which can directly impact the body’s ability to nourish itself. There are varying ways this can happen, including:
- Failure to eat: Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol often affects the appetite. This can manifest as appetite suppression, and some might even forget to eat altogether while high.
- Binge eating: Some substances can increase appetite and lead to binge eating. Many are familiar with the phrase “having the munchies,” and in most cases, the foods they crave are not healthy. This can lead to increased body fat or obesity.
- Poor diet: Those who struggle with addiction often prioritize drugs or alcohol over everything else. In an effort to support their habits financially, they may cut back in other areas. Eating a balanced diet is often one of the first things to go, and can often lead to poor nutrition.
- Malnourishment: Because some substances have the ability to suppress appetite, many addicts are at risk for becoming malnourished. Over time, the body becomes unable to absorb nutrients from food because of poor diet or failure to eat consistently.
- Organ damage: Substance abuse can damage numerous organs, including those that aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Suppressed immune system: Drugs and alcohol can also damage the immune system. This can lead to increased risk for illnesses and infections.
- Health problems: Due to their damaging effects, drugs and alcohol can lead to the development of other health conditions. These may include irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal infections, acid reflux, and hypoglycemia.
How the Type of Drugs You Use Effect Your Health & Nutrition
While any illicit substance can produce side effects that impair proper nutrition, some are more well-known for the problems they cause.
- Alcohol: Those who struggle with alcoholism often also have poor diets. Alcohol is known to interfere with the absorption of nutrients because of its ability to damage vital organs involved in digestion. Chronic alcohol abuse can damage the stomach lining, pancreas, and liver. These organs help the body balance blood sugar levels, as well as the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. With the introduction of alcohol, the body can begin performing these functions on toxins which can lead to problematic imbalances. Many people suffering from alcoholism have severe deficiencies that can cause anemia, learning and memory problems, and neurological disorders.
- Opioids: While opioids themselves can lead to nutritional deficiencies, the withdrawal process can often exacerbate this. Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and life-threatening. Many experience vomiting and diarrhea, which depletes the body and leads to dehydration. Although it can be difficult to eat while withdrawing from opioids, it is critical to eat a balanced diet to counteract withdrawal symptoms and reduce their severity.
- Stimulant drugs: Stimulants can produce immense amounts of energy while simultaneously decreasing appetite. This can cause users to binge for days without much sleep, food, or water. These effects can lead to dehydration and malnutrition and result in a suppressed immune system. Without proper rest and nutrition, many experience symptoms such as low body temperature, impaired healing rates, and other physical or mental disturbances. Once the high has worn off, many engage in binge eating, which can be equally damaging.
- Marijuana: Marijuana is known to increase users’ appetites. This can cause excessive weight gain, and when coupled with poor eating choices, can cause numerous health issues. It is not uncommon for marijuana users to have an increased risk for developing infections, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Many who struggle with addiction also struggle with co-occurring disorders. Eating disorders frequently accompany addiction and treatment programs are fully equipped to address these as well.
Combating Addiction with Nutrition: How to Heal Substance Abuse with Nutrition
Substance abuse can have many long-term physical and mental consequences. In order to help the body recover from the damage addiction can cause, proper nutrition is vital. A healthy diet can aid those in recovery by improving mood, increasing energy, strengthening the immune system, and repairing damaged organs. Addressing individual needs is critical in recovery, and diets are often tailored to the unique needs of each individual. There are several ways to improve recovery through diet that include:
- Drink more water: It is important to stay hydrated, especially during initial withdrawal and detox. Many who struggle with addiction have varying levels of dehydration. Drinking water consistently throughout the day and can improve digestion and help the body flush out toxins.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar intake: Caffeine and sugar can often take the place of substances because they make users feel good. These can cause negative side effects such as dehydration and suppressed appetite that negatively affect the body’s ability to recover.
- Eat more protein and complex carbs: Foods that make you feel full and give you more energy can help the body recover more easily. These foods can strengthen muscles, improve physical recovery, and help people feel more energized while improving mood.
- Eat consistently and consume smaller portions: Changing the way you eat can help maintain blood sugar levels and decrease cravings for unhealthy snacks.
- Exercise: Regular exercise is critical in recovery. In addition to eating healthier, exercising regularly can improve self-image, increase energy, reduce cravings, and boost mood. The effects of exercise are critical in building self-confidence and strengthening the body, which in turn reduces the risk of relapse.
Many recovery programs utilize nutrition programs in treatment because of their ability to help the mind and body heal. Once detox is completed, nutrition is addressed early in recovery as part of the treatment plan. Proper nutrition contributes to the successfulness of sobriety and can generally help people recover more quickly from the effects of drugs and alcohol.
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