It is commonly said that the mind and body are connected. Because of that connection, this can mean that the body often will mirror a person’s state of mind. Consequently, when a person’s mental health is suffering, many physical symptoms will present themselves.
The opposite is also true. A healthy diet, full of nutrient-rich food can improve an individual’s overall mental health. This is why the relationship between nutrition and addiction is so meaningful. At Luna Recovery, we want you to be empowered to take care of your whole self—body, and mind. Therefore, we would like to share some information about nutrition and addiction recovery.
What is Nutrition?
Nutrition is defined as, “the sum of the processes that lead to the intake and utilization of food substances by an organism.” In other words, nutrition is everything that has to do with the food we eat and how our bodies use it.
Put simply, nutrition is the science of how food and drink impact the health of a person. This includes everything from the vitamins and minerals in food to how those nutrients are used by the body.
Why is Nutrition Important in Addiction Recovery?
Good nutrition is important for everyone. It gives our bodies the tools we need to function at our best. When we are eating a balanced diet, we have more energy and feel better overall. This is especially important for people in recovery from addiction. Addiction takes a toll on the body, and good nutrition can help the body heal.
Often, when someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, those substances take priority over things like nutrition. For example, someone who is addicted to alcohol may not eat regularly, or may not eat a balanced diet. This can lead to malnutrition, which can make recovery more difficult. Other ways that addiction impacts nutrition includes the following:
- Poor food choices: when an individual is focused on abusing substances, their food choices may lack sustenance.
- Organ damage: substance abuse can damage important organs such as the liver, stomach lining, pancreas, and intestines which all have to do with nutrient absorption.
- Eating disorders: substance abuse can lead to or be comorbid with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.
- Overeating: certain substances can increase appetite and lead to an individual consuming too much food.
- Damage to the immune system: some substances, such as alcohol and opiates, can damage the immune system which makes individuals more likely to get sick or experience illness.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: some substances can cause gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, or nausea.
During recovery, it is not enough to only stop using substances. It is also important to focus on healing the body. This means eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise. By focusing on these aspects of physical health, healing from addiction can become easier to manage.
How Alcohol Abuse Affects Nutrition
Many substances have a short and long-term impact on health and nutrition. One substance that greatly affects nutrition is alcohol. When someone is abusing alcohol, they are more likely to make poor food choices and not eat enough of the right foods.
Alcohol also interferes with the absorption of nutrients in the body. This means that even if someone who is abusing alcohol does eat a nutritious meal, their body may not be able to properly use those nutrients. It is common to see nutritional deficiencies in people with alcohol use disorder regarding folic acid, vitamin b6, and vitamin B1 (also known as Thiamine.)
The impact of alcohol abuse on nutrition can lead to several health problems, including anemia and neurological issues. Alcohol also harms the pancreas and liver which can cause imbalances in electrolytes, proteins, calories, and fluids. This can lead to malnutrition, which is defined as “a condition that results when the diet does not provide enough calories or nutrients, or when the body cannot properly absorb them.” Malnutrition can weaken the immune system, making someone more susceptible to infections and disease.
How Drug Abuse Affects Nutrition
Nutrition and addiction also share a relationship when it comes to drug abuse. For example, opioids such as heroin, codeine, and morphine, can cause constipation. This is because opioids slow down the digestive system and reduce the intestine’s ability to absorb water.
Chronic constipation can lead to bowel blockages, which can be painful and require medical intervention. Further, these drugs can also lead to vomiting and diarrhea which depletes the body of nutrients and causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Other drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine can also have an impact on nutrition. Methamphetamine, for example, suppresses appetite. This can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and an overall inattention to nutrition.
How Nutrition Assists With Recovery
Proper nutrition helps the brain and body heal from the effects of substance abuse. Good nutrition supports the immune system, helps with detoxification, and can help reduce cravings. Moreover, a healthy, balanced diet will produce the following effects:
- Repair of damaged organs and tissues
- Improved immune function and defense
- Increased energy and improved mood
- A reduction in relapse risk due to fatigue or depressed mood
Sometimes, when recovering, people may indulge in junk food. However, it is important to resist these cravings and instead eat foods that will help the body heal.
How Diet and Food Affect the Brain and Body
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) points out that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. Like other chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, addiction is managed but not cured. And, similar to other chronic diseases, nutrition plays an important role in addiction recovery.
Good nutrition is important for the body and the mind. It can help reduce stress, improve mood, and increase energy levels. According to the American Psychological Association, up to 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced by gut bacteria. This greatly influences a person’s mood and gastrointestinal activity.
Nutrition and Addiction Recovery
When we are struggling with addiction, taking care of our nutrition can be difficult. We may not have the money or the time to eat well. We may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress or other emotions. Or we may simply not be able to stomach healthy food because of withdrawal symptoms.
What is Nutritional Therapy?
Nutritional therapy is one way to help people in recovery improve their nutrition. Nutritional therapists work with clients to create a plan that meets their individual needs. This may involve making changes to the diet, such as eating more fruits and vegetables. It may also involve supplements to improve nutrition.
There are many benefits of nutritional therapy. It can help reduce cravings, improve mood, and increase energy levels. It can also help the body heal from the damage caused by addiction. Nutritional therapy is an important part of recovery and should be part of any comprehensive treatment plan.
How to Improve Your Nutrition for Addiction Recovery
If you are in recovery, there are many ways to improve your nutrition. When taking care of your physical health and eating a healthy range of foods, recovery will often become easier and more sustainable.
It is important to eat a balanced diet that includes all the major food groups: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. It is also important to drink plenty of water and avoid sugary drinks.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are rich in essential vitamins and minerals and can lower the risk of many different diseases such as heart disease.
- Get enough protein: protein is important for the repair of cells within the body as every cell contains protein.
- Drink plenty of water: water is essential for the body to function properly. It helps to flush toxins out of the body, carries nutrients to cells, and moistens mucous membranes.
- Avoid sugary drinks: sugary drinks can cause weight gain and contribute to diabetes and other chronic diseases.
- Take supplements if possible: taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement can help to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients you need, especially if you are not able to eat a balanced diet.
By taking these steps to improve your nutritional health, you will be on your way to a healthier mind and body. Improved nutrition and addiction recovery are possible.
Recovering with Luna Recovery Center
While nutrition is of high importance, addiction requires comprehensive treatment. Substance abuse treatment not only enables sobriety but also treats the underlying causes of addiction. When a person leaves rehab, they are empowered to live a sober and happy life.
At Luna Recovery Services, we understand the challenges that come with addiction, including the connection between nutrition and addiction. We offer a variety of services to help our clients on their journey to recovery, including various types of therapy.
If you or someone you know is struggling with nutrition and addiction, please reach out to us today. We are here to help.
Dr. Allaire received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Houston, as Valedictorian of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and his Medical Doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, where he served as Chief Resident. He is the medical monitor for the Physician Counseling Committee of the Harris County Medical Society and the Medical Director of Serenity House Detox. Dr. Allaire specializes in medically assisted detox cases, treating patients in recovery from addiction or other mental health disorders, the medical assessment and monitoring of patients with addictive disorders, medical care related to eating disorders and the medical treatment of patients with mental health conditions.