Promoting Healthy Eating Habits And Nutrition In Recovery From Addiction
October 25th, 2016
During your time in rehab, you may have learned about good nutrition and the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits as you continue living a drug-free life. Now is the time to reacquaint yourself with these important facts. Here we will walk you through the ways that you can eat well to promote good health, nutrition and vitality.
Damage From Specific Drugs
First, we must understand what exactly the drugs and alcohol did to your body’s systems. Drugs and alcohol are toxins. When they enter your body, they begin working right away towards upsetting critical chemical and physiological processes, both within your brain and body. Due to this, your body becomes depleted of essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals that are elemental for your body to maintain balance. Here we talk about how the more common drugs of abuse can damage your body.
Alcohol — Alcohol may make you physically sick, oftentimes in a way that manifests as gastrointestinal difficulties, such as vomiting and diarrhea. These two things can further hinder your ability to take in the chemical components that your food typically delivers and cause electrolyte imbalances.
Alcohol consumption can, according to MedlinePlus, cause nutritional deficiency, specifically that of vitamin B. In fact, they tell us that it is one of the leading causes of this condition within the U.S..
Opioids — Including heroin, morphine and prescription painkillers, opioids can cause gastrointestinal difficulties, including constipation. The side effects of these would be the same as those noted above in the alcohol category.
Stimulants — Such as cocaine, crack and methamphetamine suppress a person’s appetite, which may cause a significant amount of weight loss and malnutrition. They may also refrain from drinking fluids, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Marijuana — Due to the nature of this drug, a person may be inclined to eat greater amounts of food as the result of an increased appetite, which can lead to weight gain. Oftentimes, the foods that these individuals eat are fat, sugar and calorie laden.
Using Nutrition To Fight Damage Done By Addiction
Good nutrition is formative to good health, and helps to ward off illness and disease and keep your body and brain on an even keel, instead of falling prey to stress, a common factor for relapse. Here we discuss the ways that an addiction can compromise your health, and more importantly, the nutritional steps you can take to relieve some of the burden.
Malnutrition — This happens for several reasons. First, a person may not eat for prolonged periods of time, or eat sporadically, due to the effects of the drugs or alcohol. Secondly, when they do eat, they may be apt to consume foods that are unhealthy, and laden with fats, sugars and empty calories, devoid of the essentials your body needs. Lastly, certain addictive substances can actually strip your body of crucial nutritive components or make it difficult for your body to absorb what nutrients are present from your food.
To counteract the detriment of this condition, a person needs to begin eating a balanced diet. In general, it is a good idea that a person eat a variety of foods that follow the outline as set forth in the food pyramid, however, specific medical or dietary concerns may dictate that a person follow certain guidelines.
Electrolyte imbalance — We’ve noted why above, in order to help remedy this, you need to namely drink more water, however, you can also help to keep this balance by consuming foods that contain electrolytes.
- Potassium — Strawberries, bananas, sweet potato and tomato paste
- Magnesium — Vegetables, beans, nuts and cereals
- Calcium — Dairy, meats, beans and certain produce
- Sodium and chloride — commonly occurring together, found in table salt, cheese and sauerkraut. Please note, it is important that you limit your sodium intake.
Decreased immune system — Food, ideally, should offer your body essential vitamins and nutrients that are responsible for boosting your immune system. Without these, your body’s critical defense systems falter, leaving you at greater risk for illness and disease.
To strengthen this, Harvard Health says to “Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.” Cleveland Clinic gets more specific, noting that you should eat diets rich in zinc, iron, selenium, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, D and E. Find out more information here.
Weight issues — Many drugs can cause changes in your weight, either in significant gains or losses, both of which may present health troubles. In this case, it is important to talk to your doctor and/or a nutritionist to ascertain what dietary changes may be best for you, but in general, it is good to eat a well-balanced diet that incorporates foods recommended by the food pyramid.
Chemical changes — Your diet delivers nutrients and chemical compounds that are foundational for your brain’s health. Without these, your brain’s neurotransmitters may begin functioning improperly, which can cause detrimental changes to your mood and your ability to handle stress, two things that can put a person at risk for relapse.
Certain elements that you can derive from your food to combat this are:
- Tryptophan, which is thought to help increase levels of serotonin (in various nuts and seeds, turkey, cheese, chicken, eggs, tofu, soy, fish and milk).
- Choline — is essential for building the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical in focus and thought and memory processes, things that can be significantly compromised by substance abuse. Foods rich in this compound include: eggs, wheat germ, soybeans and organ meats (such as liver).
- Tyrosine — this amino acid is found in dairy products, fish, bananas, avocado and almonds. It is key within the production of two neurotransmitters, norepinephrine, which helps produce alertness, motivation and concentration, things that are commonly impaired during an addiction, and dopamine, which also produces alertness, a better immune system and general mental function. The latter is especially important, as it is heavily impacted within addiction.
- Folic acid — this essential B vitamin helps you to process serotonin and norepinephrine. Some research suggests it can aid in depression, and it is also very important for individuals suffering from an alcohol addiction.
- Omega 3’s — found in fish, especially salmon, walnuts, soybeans, enriched eggs and kiwi, research shows that this powerhouse helps ward off other diseases, but that it especially protects your brain, suggesting specifically that it helps you with learning, memory and depression, all things that can be affected by substance abuse.
Other Things To Consider
In certain cases, a person may need to take nutritional supplements. Anytime you consider a supplement, even a vitamin, it is important that you first talk to your doctor. Examples include B-vitamin supplements for a person recovering from alcohol. In addition to a good diet, it is important that a person make other wise choices regarding their health, including getting ample rest and sleep, drinking enough fluids, practicing stress-relieving techniques, exercising and limiting sugar and caffeine intake.
Good Nutrition Is Important In Early Recovery
Good nutrition and dietary habits are important for anyone, at any point in their life, and the same goes for a person who has overcome a drug or alcohol addiction, however, these things are especially important for a person who has just set out on a path from sobriety.
This is because, despite the fact they’ve become abstinent from their harmful substance of abuse, their body is still striving to recover and mend itself. In order to do this, your body needs the essential nutrients that it was lacking, or failing to absorb, during your drug-laden life. This can be hard, namely because many people may not have eaten like this even before they used drugs or alcohol, and also because you may have to fight the urges that your body is pushing on you.
A good example would be for a person recovering from an alcohol addiction. As a person continuously consumed alcohol, which is calorie- and carbohydrate-laden, their body becomes accustomed to this constant influx of a substance (alcohol) that turns to sugar. When they stop drinking, they yet psychologically crave this stream of sugar, causing some to turn to consuming large quantities of sugary foods. This does nothing to restore balance to their bodies, and if anything, delivers far more harm than good.
The time directly following treatment is a period where you will either continue the good habits you learned within rehab or develop new and positive ones, hence it is vital that you strive to make good choices that bolster your body’s health. These habits are things you should rely on in the entirety of your recovery, so that you can have an optimal state of health and wellbeing.
Let Us Help You Lead A Healthier Life
If you’re concerned that your drug or alcohol addiction is creating health troubles, including nutritional deficiencies, please contact us. We can aid you in making positive and healthful changes, so that you can lead a more balanced, drug-free life.
MedlinePlus — Tryptophan
Livestrong — Neurotransmitter Foods for the Brain
ScienceDaily — Scientists Learn How Food Affects The Brain: Omega 3 Especially Important