Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

Anyone who has quit an addiction will tell you that its really goddamn hard. Your body is begging for the thing it’s become dependent on, whether that be opioids, alcohol, sugar, or toxic relationships. Addictions and toxic relationships can take many forms, and breaking from them takes more discipline than many people are capable of giving. When I think of the people who are going through addiction recovery, I cannot begin to imagine the kind of self-discipline and endurance it requires. I count myself very lucky that I haven’t had to deal with that kind of ordeal, and I hope to offer resources to those who are struggling whenever I can.

Emotional support and validation is important when people are going through these challenges, but people often forget that the symptoms of withdrawal can be counteracted with clear cut fixes such as cleaning up one’s diet and nutrition.

On a societal level, capitalism ensures that we have direct access to junk food whenever we’re struck with an impulse, Mix that culture with an alcoholic’s inability to control themselves, and you often are left with a poor diet indeed. Neglect of self care (which often first manifests in food) is one of the first things to go when alcohol controls your life.

Sidebar: I want to be clear that I think there are lots of definitions of a healthy diet, and that dairy, meat and gluten aren’t essential for a healthy diet. There’s a lot of money in the food industry, and common assumptions about nutrition (i.e. animal products are inherently good for you.) are often debunked when truly examined. Several of my friends were really moved by a documentary entitled What the Health on Netflix. A healthy diet is determined by every individual’s ethics and their specific body, not by a set, generalized system.

On a medical level, alcoholics can easily become malnourished, and this negatively affects more vital systems than one would think. Alcohol prevents the breakdown of food molecules because it inhibits the production of digestive enzymes. So your body doesn’t absorb the necessary nutrients, even if you are eating well. Basically, your energy levels drop enormously, no matter how much food you consume. Malnourishment also manifests in menstrual problems, tooth decays and other various aches and pains.

Vitamins are totally essential for the body to function normally in terms of maintaining growth and metabolizing efficiently. The most common deficiencies alcoholics have are vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B6, thiamine and folic acid. When our bodies are deficient, it hinders our immune system and renders us more susceptible to disease. These particular deficiencies can lead to heart disease, cirrhosis, nerve damage and pancreatitis. A particularly dangerous condition one can contract is ‘Wet Brain Syndrome’, which stems from a thiamine deficiency and leads to problems with brain functions and the nervous system.

But when you understand all of the risks and the effects, you become better prepared to approach these problems in the weakened state of withdrawal. It can be really tempting to eat junk or whatever’s available while going through an alcohol detox, and doing your best to give your body the fuel it needs to return to normal will help your recovery immensely. Create a regular meal schedule: 3 meals a day with snacks. You know how you get tired when your sleep schedule is upset? It’s the same thing with eating meals: your body needs a routine so you don’t get hit with bouts of hunger.

An even more direct approach is vitamin therapy. Vitamin therapy directly addresses the damage done to the body nutritionally, and can make the addiction recovery process much smoother. Basically, you’re prescribed high levels of vitamins to treat whatever condition you’re in. It’s been shown to aid in improving the mental health of patients in recovery. If you want to learn more about vitamin therapy, look into it here.

Wherever you on your journey, kudos, and be as kind to yourself as possible!