How the Top 4 Drugs of Abuse Harm Diet during Addiction and What to Do about It in Recovery
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Substance use and abuse do immeasurable harm, both in the short-term and the long-term. The nature of that harm varies from substance to substance, but in almost all cases, a focus on proper nutrition all but disappears during active addiction, limiting access to much-needed nutrients and vitamins required for healthy function while damaging organs that require those nutrients.
In recovery, we have the opportunity to begin to right the ship – the ship being our bodies – with positive nutrition choices that not only boost the immune system and help us stay healthy but also begin to repair some of the damage that occurred during active drug use.
Nutrient deficiency is a common issue among people who struggle with alcohol use disorder, whether they binge drink on the weekends or drink heavily all day, every day. A lack of B vitamins is a significant issue, as it can contribute to the development of a number of serious disorders.
Another issue for people who drink heavily is that both the liver and the pancreas are often damaged as a result of alcohol. These two organs are responsible for metabolism and the processing of nutrients, thus when they are damaged, the ability to properly extract and utilize nutrients from food is diminished. Many in recovery from alcoholism have an imbalance of electrolytes, low protein levels, and difficulty managing calories (energy). Severe malnutrition is often a problem for people in recovery for long-term alcohol use disorders, including alcoholism.
- Start with lab tests to determine whether or not protein, electrolyte, and iron deficiencies signify liver damage, anemia, and other significant medical disorders that require treatment.
- Take calcium supplements in addition to getting a good amount of calcium in your daily diet through dairy products and broccoli, among other calcium-rich foods, since osteoporosis is not uncommon among women who are living with alcohol use disorder.
- Seek to balance out electrolytes and stay hydrated.
- Make sure to get regular servings of lean protein throughout the day, like eggs for breakfast and lean meats or beans for lunch and dinner.
Using marijuana frequently increases cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods, which can contribute to obesity. Additionally, an eating schedule based on cravings can mean eating large amounts late at night, which can disrupt quality of sleep and impact mood and energy levels.
- Create a balanced calorie-conscious meal plan with the goal of getting to a healthy weight that is sustainable for the long-term.
- Increase vegetable intake.
- Cut back on or cut out processed foods and fried foods.
- Choose regular mealtimes and stick to them rather than “grazing” all day long or eating late at night.
Heroin, prescription painkillers, and synthetic opioids are at the root of the current drug epidemic facing the United States today and the cause of more than half of all overdose deaths. During active addiction, use of opiates negatively impacts the gastrointestinal system, often resulting in constipation, and during opiate detox, that symptom can turn into diarrhea and vomiting.
Cumulatively, these issues can result in an imbalance of electrolytes and a lack of absorption of essential nutrients that can contribute to low energy, low mood, and ongoing difficulties with underlying medical disorders.
In order to address the issues caused by opiate abuse and addiction, you can:
- Increase electrolyte intake (e.g., potassium and sodium).
- Stay hydrated.
- Increase fiber intake (e.g., whole grains, beans, and green vegetables).
- Choose balanced meals with changing ingredients to expose you to a range of nutrients.
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Most Stimulants have the effect of being appetite suppressants, which often translates into a lack of food intake. This in turn means a lack of necessary vitamins and nutrients for days on end during a binge and significant weight loss. Dehydration is also common with stimulant use and abuse, and it can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes. It can be difficult to get back on track right away with a healthy diet, but it’s possible.
- Make every bite count with nutrient-dense foods.
- Choose an array of colorful vegetables for every meal – as many as possible.
- Don’t skimp on the good fats like olive oil, nuts, eggs, and seeds.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
- Eat something small at mealtimes and snack times even if you aren’t ravenously hungry.
Nutrition Fix Recovery
In fact nutritional therapy can go a long way toward helping people in recovery to identify the unique challenges they face nutritionally due to their personal experience with drug use and underlying medical and mental health issues. A nutritional therapist that specializes in drug addiction treatment will know the right tests to run and how to interpret them, plus they will be able to assist you in creating a meal plan that works for your lifestyle and tastes. As you begin to implement your new health-focused diet, you can continue to meet with your nutritional therapist to talk about how it is working for you and how you feel, and discuss meal planning and recipes that are workable throughout your week in your living situation.
A healthy diet will help you to fix the issues caused by your substance abuse, plus help you to feel better physically and mentally. Higher energy means that you will feel more like working out during the week, and working out will help you sleep better. Sleeping better means that you are in a better frame of mind to make beneficial choices, including healthy eating choices. When it comes to recovery, starting with a focus on good nutrition can increase your ability to manage the work of recovery and become more stable in your new life more quickly.