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      Sober Nation

      Putting Recovery On The Map

      08-12-13 | By

      The Role of Diet in Recovery

      saladThe Impact of substance abuse not only affects emotional and psychological well-being, it affects physical well-being especially in the aspect of nutrition. Not only does the substance itself cause negative effects to the body it also causes negative changes it a person’s lifestyle such as poor diet and irregular eating patterns. Recovery not only promotes mental well-being, a proper and sensible diet can promote physical well-being, increased ability to fight off infections and overall optimal organ functioning. Depending on the substance that was being abused, there are different needs for the body regarding dietary needs.


      Alcoholism is one of the major causes for nutritional deficiency. In alcoholics, the most common deficiencies are in the B vitamins, with vitamins B-6, B-1 (thiamine) and B-9 (folic acid). The lack of these nutrients can lead to anemia and some neurological disorders such as Korsakoff’s syndrome, which causes loss of declarative memory. Declarative memory includes the storage of factual information (semantic memory) as well as storage of observational memory attached to a specific event or events (episodic memory).

      Alcohol itself can cause damage to the liver, pancreas, and intestinal tract damage. When alcohol is processed in the liver, for example, it produces compounds that cause oxidation such as acetaldehyde. These harmful compound interfere with the absorption of nutrients such as lipids that are vital to proper organ functioning. Other complications due to abuse of alcohol include diabetes, high blood pressure and cirrhosis.

      In recovery, it is crucial that individual be tested for the amounts and presence of iron, electrolytes and protein. Women may also have to take calcium supplements as part of a recovery diet and regimen.


      The use of opiates such as morphine, heroin and oxycontin interfere with normal gastrointestinal functioning. Imbalances in this system prohibits nutrients from being absorbed in the body and leads to loss of electrolytes and overall nutrient deprivation. Among the key nutrients lost for the opiate user are Vitamins A, B, C, and E.

      Vitamin A is crucial in one’s diet for vision as well as maintenance of the immune system. Vitamin B is actually compromised of chemically distinct vitamins that often coexist in the same foods. They include B-1 (thiamine), B-3 (niacin), B-9 (folic acid) and B-12 among others. The B complex group of vitamins is important in diet for metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Vitamin C is crucial in one’s diet for bolstering and maintaining the immune system and prevents inflammation. Finally, Vitamin E is needed for providing smooth cell signaling mechanisms.


      Simulants like crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine among others suppresses appetite which leads to weight loss and thus malnutrition. Because people who use and abuse these drugs may stay up for days they can suffer from dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Long term abuse may also cause memory problems. Other side effects may include breathing problems, enlarged heart, and high blood pressure. Because many stimulant abusers exhibit poor eating habits, permanent digestive damage can occur.

      Impact of Diet on Recovery

      Establishing a proper diet is an essential part of an individual’s recovery program. Depending on the substance that was being abused, there are different dietary needs. Consulting with a doctor would be a prudent first step. Diet, along with exercise and other positive life style changes, bring the recovering person back to balance.

      In general, eating balanced meals according to the USDA food pyramid is a good starting point. Eating three meals plus three snacks per day in a good rule of thumb to start. Because drugs and alcohol deplete the body of vital nutrients the use of a multi-vitamin, especially the B-complex vitamins, may also be of benefit. Another thing to keep in mind is to be mindful of overeating—since a recovering person may forget what it is like to be hungry and they may feel in their mind that the feeling is like a drug craving.

      The recovery diet should include an increase of fruits and vegetables as well as proteins. Also, if possible, the intake of sugars and caffeine (especially in soda) should be reduced and eliminated if it is feasible. For those recovering from opiate abuse, taking a magnesium supplement like milk of magnesia may aid in proper muscular and neurological functioning along with a high-fiber diet. There should also be great care taken to the amount of red meat consumed since red meat is harder for the body to digest.

      These suggestions are general guidelines. Again, seeking solid medical advice would be a great starting point in developing a solid dietary plan for the recovering individual.


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