The Importance of Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

You’ve already started down the path of recovery. Perhaps you’ve just completed residential drug rehab, or maybe you’re several months into an addiction-free life. While you probably recognize the terrible toll your addiction took on your life and relationships, you may be like so many recovering addicts who don’t fully realize the physical damage that abuse exerts on your body. Restoring your physical health through good nutrition is a smart way to lay the foundation for continuing recovery.

Addiction takes a serious toll on your body.

  • Addiction often leads to malnourishment. For those with alcohol addiction, drinking the empty calories found in wine, beer, and liquor creates a feeling of fullness. Unfortunately, as a result many alcoholics fail to eat a healthy diet rich in the nutrients their body needs to function properly. Drug abusers are often so wrapped up in finding their next fix that they don’t eat. The poor diet of most addicts is tough on a digestive system already strained by the diarrhea, indigestion, and constipation that commonly occurs. By the time they enter drug rehab, malnourishment has taken a considerable toll on their overall health.
  • Addiction blocks your body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Alcohol and drugs prevent your body from absorbing vital nutrients, such as tryptophan, that naturally help maintain feelings of well-being.
  • Addiction damages your immune system. Whether you were mired in alcohol addiction or drug addiction, there’s no question that substance abuse – and the malnutrition that comes with it – disrupts your body’s natural defenses. A compromised immune system increases your risk for developing cancer, such as breast, liver, lung, or colon cancer.
  • Addiction can damage your liver. Heavy use of drugs or alcohol combined with a decrease in nutrients lowers your liver’s ability to filter toxins. The process triggers a dangerous one-two punch to your body by causing the liver to swell. When this occurs, it increases the likelihood of developing liver cancer and also reduces an already lackluster appetite.
  • Addiction destroys your self-esteem. The physical effects of addiction are often quite visible, such as bloodshot eyes, rotting teeth, scarred skin, significant weight loss, or a yellowing complexion. Unfortunately, some of those markers of addiction are still visible after you’ve stopped using and are on the road to recovery, making it very difficult to rebuild your self-esteem.

Nutrition tips to help ensure a successful recovery.

You may not be able to reverse all the damage caused by your addiction. However, good nutrition can go a long way toward rebuilding a body that’s stronger, healthier, and more attractive as well. In fact, some alcohol and drug rehab centers provide nutritional counseling as part of their treatment program. They have you work with a nutritionist or dietician in order to customize a plan to help your body recover and heal. If you’re working with a nutrition specialist, always follow his or her advice. If you don’t have access to a dietician or nutritionist, then the following guidelines will provide a starting point. Use these to begin revitalizing your body, your brain chemistry, and your self-esteem with proper nutrition.

  • Go decaf. The caffeine found in soda, tea, and other drinks is stimulating. It can trigger mood fluctuations that make it harder to resist cravings for alcohol or drugs.
  • Avoid sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. Use extra caution if you have a sweet tooth or gravitate toward refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, cake, or white bread. Like caffeine, sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause mood fluctuations that may make it harder for you to make healthy choices. They also provide empty calories that fill you up and make you less likely to eat the nutrient-rich foods your body so desperately needs.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants play a vital role in boosting your immune system. They help protect cells from free radical damage that can lead to cancer. Fruits and vegetables are jam-packed with these powerful nutrients, making them a good choice for rebuilding a strong immune system during your recovery. Add fresh fruits (apples, strawberries, blueberries, etc.) and raw or lightly cooked vegetables (broccoli, peppers, carrots, etc.) to your daily diet. As a bonus, these nutrient-dense foods help restore your skin and hair, which often visibly deteriorate when you’re using alcohol or drugs.
  • Power your body with protein. When it comes to nurturing a recovering brain, protein is a key building block. If your liver is not too badly damaged, quality proteins will help it become more efficient. Just be sure to choose healthy, easy-to-digest protein sources like fish, poultry, and beans.
  • Fill up with fiber. Since alcohol and drug abuse upset your digestive system, adding fiber to your diet will go a long way towards helping your body recuperate. Start replacing white flour foods with 100% whole grains. Brown rice, black beans, artichokes, peas, and whole grain pasta will also provide valuable roughage for your system. To jumpstart your fiber intake, consider using an over-the-counter fiber supplement.
  • Be a smart snacker. Eating regular, healthy snacks that contain some protein will help regulate your blood sugar. Stable blood sugar levels help keep your mood stable. In other words, light snacking, or eating mini-meals, will reduce those between-meal mood dips that make it harder to resist the craving to use. Light snacks for someone in alcohol or drug rehab recovery might include a handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or fresh fruit with cheese or yogurt.
  • Do a diet do-over. With all the damage addiction does to your body, it may be necessary to consider a complete diet overhaul. For example, some recovering addicts have transformed their physical health with a macrobiotic diet. This diet focuses on creating a healthy, balanced body by eating only unprocessed, organic foods. Whole grains, like brown rice, millet, and rye, as well as vegetables, fruit, and soup make up the bulk of a macrobiotic way of life. As with any diet, it’s always wise to talk with your doctor before starting.

True recovery from substance abuse is about restoring your mind and your body. Good nutrition is one of the best ways to replenish a body that’s been ravished by addiction. For more tips and a customized plan, talk to a nutrition specialist or look for a drug rehab program that includes nutritional counseling. Diet plays a significant role in how you feel; the better you feel, the greater your chances of a successful, lasting recovery.

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