What is the Role of Nutrition in Substance Abuse Recovery?

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, once said to let food be your medicine, and medicine your food. Nutrition and a healthy diet are important for everyone. Eating wholesome food and keeping a balanced diet can lessen the severity of many adverse health conditions. Proper nutrition can even stave off illness as a person ages. Getting the right vitamins and minerals through diet or supplementation is essential for keeping the body’s systems in optimum condition.

If someone has been abusing drugs or alcohol, those chemicals will deplete the body of vital nutrients and essential amino acids. For those in recovery from substance abuse, it is critical that they learn the importance of nutrition during the recovery phase. Many effective rehab treatment centers have nutritionists on staff to help patients with this process.

What are the adverse effects on nutrition when a person abuses drugs?

Different substances impact the body’s systems in a multitude of ways. When a person abuses drugs, the drugs can significantly decrease that person’s appetite. In some cases, drugs can give a person cottonmouth, and they will often drink sugary, sweet drinks to counteract those effects. This behavior is often seen in people who are addicted to meth or other powerful amphetamines. Alcohol abuse will also deplete the body of vital nutrients, and drugs of all kinds will cause organ damage.

Chronic substance abuse is well-known to cause significant malnutrition in long-term abusers. It is crucial to a person’s recovery that they follow a proper diet to prevent chronic health issues, organ failure, and premature aging from taking effect. Studies have found that up to a quarter of all rehab patients suffer from mild to moderate nutritional deficiencies, while the majority of patients have an overall poor appetite and diet quality. Half of the surveyed patients were found deficient in iron or other essential vitamins, such as vitamin A, potassium, and vitamin C.

Studies have found that people with drug and alcohol use disorder and nutritional deficiencies have a harder time resisting drug cravings, managing their recovery, and avoiding relapse. Poor nutrition is directly related to the emotional symptoms of withdrawal and may play a crucial role in depression and anxiety rates of patients in recovery. Up to 88% of all rehab patients require education, advice, and guidance when it comes to incorporating healthy eating habits with sober living. Proper diet can help patients eliminate their cravings and avoid relapse.

  • Opiate-derivatives will damage the intestines and stomach and will cause constipation when a person is abusing drugs. During withdrawals, these substances will cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Marijuana can stimulate appetite and cause a person to overeat and gain weight.
  • Alcohol will severely damage the liver and pancreas. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to liver failure, heart disease, diabetes, seizures, and general malnutrition.
  • Amphetamines and stimulants will decrease a person’s appetite and make them thirsty. Failing to eat or drink enough will cause general malnutrition, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance.

Not only do drugs and alcohol impair a person’s thought processes and ability to make a decision, so too does malnutrition. Not getting enough essential vitamins and nutrients in the diet can also increase a person’s rate of contracting an infectious disease, and impairs their ability to fight off and heal from the infection.

Once a person enters recovery, nutrition and a good diet will give the body the tools it needs to heal and rebuild itself. Vitamins and nutrients are the essential building blocks to repair organ damage, electrolyte imbalance, and other complications of malnutrition.

How does nutrition play a role in recovery?

When someone decides they are ready to seek help for addiction and enter a treatment facility, there are many stages to the recovery process, with nutrition playing a pivotal role in how a person can manage sober living and avoid relapse. In most cases, a person will initially enter a detox program, so the body can have a chance to cleanse itself of all harmful chemicals and drugs thoroughly.

Under medical supervision, patients can get all of the drugs out of their system, while medical staff can prescribe medications that will lessen the severity and duration of the withdrawal timeline. It is after the patient is thoroughly detoxed from either drugs or alcohol that doctors can fully assess the damage that drug abuse has done to the patient’s state of nutrition. While a person is going through detox, medical staff will monitor the patient’s food and drink intake and will give the patient healthy food choices that are optimized for healing the body from vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.

After detox, patients can begin the rehabilitation phase. Depending on the severity of their past drug use and their personal circumstances, patients may live on-site in an inpatient rehab facility, or participate in intensive outpatient rehab. Regardless, patients will be required as part of their recovery to attend in a variety of different therapies, including nutritional counseling in combination with psychological treatment.

Patients will get education and counseling on how to incorporate better nutrition into their diet, which may be tailored to their specific nutritional needs after recovery from substance abuse. Patients will also learn the importance of regular meal eating and staying hydrated. Doctors and nutrition specialists will also counsel patients on how healthy eating habits will strengthen their bodies and help them overcome cravings and avoid relapse.

Recovery from drug abuse is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. Each plan will need to be tailored to the individual. A patient who presents with the nutritional deficiencies present in alcohol addiction will have different dietary needs than a person who has abused marijuana. For recovery to be successful, patients will need access to a team of doctors who can put together a holistic and customized treatment plan that includes guidance on nutrition and healthy eating habits.

Are you or someone you care about suffering from the nutritional deficiencies present in drug or alcohol addiction? It’s never too late to get help. The dedicated and caring professionals at Windward Way are standing by to answer your questions about rehab and nutritional counseling. Please contact Windward Way today to learn how you can achieve sobriety.


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