Drugs and alcohol affect the body in one of two ways. They either deplete it of the nutrients needed for healthy functioning or they compel users to inundate it with unhealthy, high-calorie foods that lead to a host of other health complications.  

What’s more, certain substance addictions have associated eating disorders and tendencies that can endanger the health and well-being of someone in recovery. People with alcohol addictions tend to have cholesterol issues. Eating disorders like binge eating, anorexia, and bulimia are also associated with chronic substance abuse. 

Clients may also have health conditions such as diabetes or HIV that require a healthy diet to address their needs.  

Consequently, nutrition is essential to recovery. It can have either a restorative or detrimental impact to the body, further complicating the addiction treatment process. In fact, research suggests that nutrition education can positively impact substance abuse treatment outcomes. 

If you are considering professional addiction treatment, it is important to choose a program that offers a nutrition education component as part of a comprehensive set of therapies. A program that emphasizes nutrition as a critical part of the recovery process will give you the support that optimizes your chances at achieving sustained sobriety.

Read on to find out more about the nutrition deficits that come with alcohol and opiate abuse, as well as nutrition therapy in professional treatment.

Alcohol Addiction and Nutritional Impact

There is a strong correlation between alcoholism and vitamin deficiency. This occurs because people with alcohol addictions neglect eating food. 

They get the bulk of their calories — empty ones with virtually no nutritional value — from alcohol. Long-term alcohol consumption damages the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and impacts nutrient absorption. This hampers the body’s ability to extract nutrients from food.

Then there are the myriad vitamin deficiencies that occur with alcoholism. The deficiencies associated with alcoholism are vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin D. People who drink alcohol tend to be highly vulnerable to having B-group vitamin deficiencies in particular. 

The most critical of these is the lack of thiamine, which can lead many drinkers who grapple with alcoholism to incur brain damage and injury. They can become particularly vulnerable to Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder that is the result of a thiamine deficiency that carries symptoms such as confusion, psychosis, memory loss, and other disorders.

Also, when someone drinks a lot of alcohol, the liver and kidneys, which are already burdened with the task of breaking down alcohol, are unable to properly metabolize vitamin D. This results in a deficiency, which leads to fatigue, muscle pain and wasting, and a loss of bone density. This can also put people, particularly women, at risk for developing osteoporosis.

Other Common Vitamin Deficiencies Associated With Alcoholism Include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Potassium

The symptoms of vitamin deficiency often include depression, insomnia, central nervous system issues, hypoglycemia, and fatigue.

What’s more, alcohol addiction lowers blood sugar and compels drinkers to eat foods with high amounts of sugar. People tend to seek out alcohol due to the release of dopamine that drinking delivers. Thus, alcohol consumption becomes associated with that feel-good brain chemical.

Kenneth Blum, a neuroscientist and addiction expert, told Healthline that, “If you’re prone to addiction, such as genetically, you’ll feel like this dopamine burst is what you’ve been missing for a long time, because it suddenly helps you feel ‘normal.’” 

However, chronic drinking eventually depletes the receptors for dopamine. To compensate for that dopamine deficiency, people with alcohol addictions will eat excessive amounts of sugar. 

Also, some people have genetic impairments that dampen the effect of dopamine, which makes them more prone to engaging in alcohol and substance abuse. 

Using Nutrition to Combat Alcohol Addiction

In general, people with alcohol addictions should focus on eating healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits. It is very important to avoid sugar when detoxing from alcohol. When a person stops drinking alcohol, sugar cravings are common since their blood sugar levels drop, according to information published in U.S. News & World Report.

Additionally, a high-protein diet comprised of fish, eggs, turkey, chicken, nuts, and beans, along with red meat, can help increase the dopamine receptors in the brain. Protein also provides the body the building blocks necessary to make dopamine. 

To combat the vitamin deficiencies that come with alcohol abuse and addiction, it is critical that drinkers develop a healthy diet and take a daily multivitamin that can provide them with vitamins B and D, calcium, and other key nutrients. 

Opioid Addiction and Nutritional Impact

Opioids and opiates such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone produce a myriad of complications that impact the physical, behavioral, and cognitive realms. What’s more, people with opioid use disorders are at risk for developing diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and other bloodborne illnesses. 

Also, opioid use causes profound gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea and vomiting, which can result in a massive loss of nutrients. 

Then there are the ramifications opioids can have on the diet. In early recovery, people with opioid addictions tend to eat high-fat and high-sugar foods that serve as a substitute for the drug. Junk food may temporarily satiate the cravings that arise. Patients may also engage in binge eating as well. Foods with high fat can bring a sense of comfort and sugar can stimulate the reward pathways in the brain like opioids. 

This causes people with opioid addictions to have suboptimal eating habits that can lead to weight gain, obesity, eating disorders, and multiple nutritional deficiencies. They can have calcium, magnesium, and zinc deficiencies, which can result in pain, nervous system, and muscular disorders. 

Zinc deficiency can also lead to brain and nervous system dysfunction in addition to the standard effects and symptoms that come with opioid abuse. This type of deficiency can also exacerbate the withdrawal symptoms of opioid abuse.   

Using Nutrition to Combat Opioid Addiction

It is recommended that people with opioid addiction reduce their sugar intake and increase their intake of nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, and dietary protein. People in recovery should consider a high-fiber diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, peas, and whole grains.   

Professional Treatment and Addiction Education

A reputable professional treatment program will offer comprehensive, specialized therapies to treat your addiction. 

When you enter a professional treatment program for alcohol or opioid abuse, the first step is usually medical detoxification. During this process, the addictive substance is removed from the system, and the mind and body are stabilized. 

A reputable treatment facility will offer residential and outpatient programs to treat the actual addiction. 

Nevertheless, nutrition education is an important part of your recovery. 

According to information published in Today’s Dietician, hydration and proper nutrition play a critical role in helping people recover from substance abuse because they help restore mental and physical health. 

In professional treatment, an on-site nutritionist prepares a nutrition therapy plan as you go through detox. During this period, it is recommended that people in recovery for alcoholism eat foods that are easy to digest.

The Nutritionist Will Target the Following Goals as You Go Through Detox:

  • Reduce stress and stabilize mood
  • Address any medical conditions
  • Nourish and heal the damage to the body
  • Reduce cravings for alcohol
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle and self-care

Amino Acids

Nutritionists are starting to incorporate amino acids into nutrition therapy plans for people with substance use disorders. Amino acids serve as building blocks for protein. They also provide a source of energy and aid in a few vital functions, including bodily growth, food breakdown, and body tissue repair. 

Essential amino acids that are helpful to people in treatment include the following, according to MedlinePlus:

  • Histidine
  • Leucine
  • Methionine
  • Threonine
  • Valine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Tryptophan
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