Staying Sober: How Nutrition Can Help
People who are recovering from drug or alcohol abuse usually have an extra set of health problems to deal with, in addition to recovery. Because drugs and alcohol can affect virtually every organ in the body, the effects of substance abuse can be varied and not always anticipated.
For example, alcoholics often suffer from nutritional deficiencies, as well as a host of digestive-related problems. Opioid addicts also tend to have gastrointestinal issues, and withdrawal often leads to vomiting and diarrhea.
Stimulant abusers, such as those who use amphetamines or cocaine, often lose weight and suffer deficiencies due to the appetite-suppressant quality of these drugs.
The fact is, most people in throws of addiction simply don’t eat well. Alcoholics may derive many of their calories from alcohol – others may forgo eating in effort to save money to buy substances. The list goes on and on.
However, proper nutrition during recovery can help the addict with staying sober, as well as mend many of the health-related problems incurred from substance abuse.
How Nutrition Helps With Staying Sober
Proper nutrition helps addicts in recovery for the same reason it helps everyone – it gives the body energy, builds and repairs organ tissue, and strengthens immunity.
From years of drinking, many alcoholics have harmed vital organs, such as the liver and pancreas.
However, eating well now can help supply the nutritional catalysts required to repair and restore damaged tissue.
Persons on stimulants may start to feel hungry, and mistake these feelings for drug cravings. Additionally, significant weight gain may be a stressful factor for many.
Nutrition is also very important for mood. Just like substance use, dietary changes can alter brain structure and contribute to positive or negative feelings. In other words, consuming some foods can make you feel bad, whereas others make you feel better. For example, some foods increase the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin.
Basically, there are both significant physical mental benefits of eating well for addicts. Positive mood decreases the chance for relapse, and indeed, addicts with poor diets are a greater risk of “falling off the wagon”, so to speak.
The following is a short list of widely-accepted dietary changes which can help addicts. Keep in mind, it does not replace the advice of a professional nutritionist.
Staying Sober: Tips To Improve Nutrition and Health
#1 Don’t replace your substance addiction with a food or sugar addiction.
It’s not uncommon for those who are in recovery to find something else to obsess over.
Sugar is a common addiction, because it provides temporary energy.
Alcoholics are especially prone to sugar addiction. When people “come down” off of sugar, they often feel depressed and lethargic.
And indeed, the brain may interpret it as a craving for alcohol, since both tend to create spikes in one’s blood sugar level.
This is not to say that no one who is recovering from addiction should indulge in something. It’s not a matter of trying to take away everything pleasant in your life. It is, however, important that you realize habits you develop during recovery can either promote or prevent relapse. This is one of them.
Some recovering addicts have been known to gain several pounds in the first month of treatment, and much of this is due to binge-eating and food addiction.
It’s critically important to recognize and halt this cycle, because the resulting depression and health issues may contribute to temptation and relapse. Conversely, intervention with healthy diet and exercise can give addicts the tools they need for staying sober.
#2 Reduce processed foods, increase whole grains and other whole foods.
Whole foods are rich in phytochemicals—powerful nutrients found in plant foods. Compared to processed foods, whole also contain more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and beneficial fats.The nutrients found in whole foods work together to help prevent disease.
Conversely, highly processed foods such as candy, soda, potato chips, hot dogs, etc. lack many of the health benefits found in whole foods. High-processing of food often depletes the nutrients and concentrates the fat, salt, and sugar. As noted above, recovering addicts need all the nutrients and health benefits they can get from their food.
#4 Consume more protein, as it produces amino acids.
Amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, also produce the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
These are the neurotransmitters related to addiction, reward, and mood.
The absence of certain amino acids, such as phenylalanine, can reduce levels of dopamine. The amino acide phenylalanine is converted in our brains to tyrosine, which is then converted to dopamine. Dopamine is converted to noradrenaline and then to adrenaline, which are also responsible for energy.
Similarly, another amino acid tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP, which converts to serotonin, and eventually the hormone melatonin, which help us sleep.
Seeking Professional Nutritional Support For Staying Sober
If you have underwent any type of addiction recovery services, whether inpatient or outpatient, it is very possible that nutrition-based services are available to you. If they are, use them.
Also, you may wish to consult a trained nutritionist who can customize your diet to your recovery needs. Due to the nuances in each person’s addiction, is important to consult with a trained nutritionist to determine which approach will best assist you on your path to recovery.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology