The Importance Of Nutrition In Addiction Recovery
In the face of a disease like addiction, maintaining healthy eating habits may seem insignificant. However, lack of nutrients combined with drug or alcohol can put a significant amount of stress on the body. This combination often creates disruptions to the body's ability to function that can lead to vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances and in severe cases, malnutrition and death.
Why Is Nutrition Important?
In order for the brain and body to function normally, it needs food. Food fuels the body throughout the day by breaking down foods into glucose. The glucose is then released into the bloodstream to be used for energy, or to be stored in the body for later.
The body needs a variety of foods to thrive. While carbohydrates are great for a short-term burst of energy, the body also needs proteins and healthy fats to preserve for later use. Maintaining a balanced diet is key to creating a healthy lifestyle in addiction recovery.
How Addiction Affects Diet And Nutrition
Like most things during active addiction, proper diet and nutrition often fall by the wayside. Instead of spending their time, money or energy on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, those suffering from addiction use these resources to perpetuate their destructive drug or alcohol habit.
As an addicted person continues to neglect their nutrients, it will begin to interfere with the body’s overall well-being and ability to function.
Some typical food-related behaviors that those suffering from addiction exhibit are:
- Failing to eat: Those abusing drugs or alcohol often have a suppressed appetite and will forget to eat while under the influence.
- Eating poorly: During active addiction, most users will spend all their money on drug or alcohol. This leaves little to no money to spend on healthy meals.
- Binge eating: When coming down from a high, some people suffering from addiction will regain an insatiable appetite and continue to eat even after they are full.
Months or years of extreme drug or alcohol abuse combined with a poor diet will take a toll on the body.
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How Addiction And Poor Diet Affects The Body And Brain
Bad eating habits and addiction often go hand in hand. Unfortunately, this combination can disrupt many essential functions of the brain and body.
Persistent drug or alcohol abuse and lack of food will quickly lead to malnutrition, which can manifest in ways, such as:
- Low body temperature
- Cognitive impairment
- Muscle degeneration
- Heart rate inconsistencies
- Suppressed immune system
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Electrolyte imbalances
While these are the most common side effects of maintaining a poor diet during active addiction, it is by no means a complete list. Other side effects are specific to a users drug of choice.
One of the most common side effects of substance abuse and lack of nutrients is chronic constipation (CC). This symptom is most likely to appear in patients that abuse opioid drugs because opioids have the ability to partially paralyze the stomach. One study published in the International Journal Of Clinical Practice found that as many as 80 percent of opiate abusers suffered from opioid-induced chronic constipation.
The uncomfortable nature of CC often leads those suffering to abuse laxatives to find some relief. However, the overuse of laxatives can lead to a completely new set of problems including electrolyte imbalances, heart palpitations, heartburn, vomiting, and contribute to the development of life-long gastrointestinal conditions.
Not maintaining a balanced diet can be especially damaging for people who are addicted to alcohol. Chronic abuse often severely disrupts the body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients from food due to damage of the stomach lining and a digestive enzyme deficiency.
Alcohol abuse can also significantly damage the pancreas, which is responsible for digestion of lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and hormones that delicately balance blood sugar levels. Without the proper diet, this organ can’t function as intended and can lead to the development of an irreversible condition called alcohol-induced pancreatitis. Without proper treatment, pancreatitis can be deadly.
Additionally, vitamin deficiencies caused by chronic alcohol use and an inadequate diet can cause an irreversible brain condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This condition occurs when those who abuse alcohol do not consume the recommended daily amount of thiamine. Since alcohol hinders the body’s ability to absorb this vitamin, a thiamine deficiency is common among those with alcoholism. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome leads to permanent memory loss, difficulty creating new memories and psychosis.
Stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, are known to cause a euphoric high that can keep users up for days at a time. They’re also known to suppress a users appetite. Suppressed appetite often leads to severe dehydration and vitamin deficiencies. It also makes people who abuse stimulates at the highest risk of malnutrition.
Many people that are addicted to stimulant drugs often use them as a misguided attempt to lose weight, but prolonged periods of malnutrition can lead to a number of consequences including:
- Tooth decay
- Hair loss
- Inconsistent menstrual cycles
- Open sores
When people who abuse stimulates come down from their high, their appetite spikes. This can lead to overeating or binge eating.
Nutrition In Addiction Recovery
Without the right food, the body suffers. However, a balanced diet can also be a powerful tool in addiction recovery. As your body begins to heal from the inside out, those in recovery will start to feel the difference that a healthy diet can make including:
- Improved mood
- Increased energy
- Better memory
- Stronger immune system
- Reduced risk of disease
With so many benefits to be had, allowing diet and nutrition to play an active role in recovery isn’t just about reaching goals, but finding the balance of mind, body and spirit in sobriety.