The Impact of Diet and Nutrition on Recovery

In order to help people recover, it is important to understand the impact of nutrition. It is astounding to consider that only fat contains more calories per gram than alcohol. As a result, while drinking, addicts experience a sense of fullness having eaten very little or nothing. These "empty calories" lead to poor eating habits and malnutrition. Drug abusers experience a similar affect. Alcohol and drugs actually keep the body from properly absorbing and breaking down nutrients and expelling toxins. This leads to a host of health problems. (see "How Drugs & Alcohol Affect the Body")

The essence of recovery is changing negative behaviors into positive ones. Good nutrition, relaxation, and exercise all play an important role in successful change. Learning to make healthy food choices is important to achieving a healthy lifestyle.

Because they have neglected their diet, addicts experience gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, an inability to digest foods properly, along with a poor appetite. As a result, they have a special need for foods that are high in nutrients to rebuild damaged tissues, organs and regain appropriate functioning of the various systems including the nervous and gastrointestinal systems.

Every newly recovering addicts struggles with craving to use alcohol and drugs. Research has show that a diet with the right types of high protein and high carbohydrate-rich foods can make a big difference.

Food affects mood. Along with amino acids, deficiency of nutrients like folic acid and the other B-complex vitamins also have a serious and negative impact. Sugar and caffeine can contribute to mood swings, so intake of both should reduced during the early stages of recover.

Alcohol and drug use prevents the body from properly processing two important amino acids, tyrosine and tryptophan. They are responsible for the production of norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin. These compounds are neurotransmitters that are essential for emotional stability, mental clarity, and a general state of well-being. Decreased levels of these neurotransmitters negatively affect mood and behavior.

Tyrosine is a precursor to the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine--chemical messengers that promote mental acuity and alertness. It is one a nonessential amino acid found in protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and tofu.

Tryptophan is integral to the production of serotonin, which has a calming effect and is important for proper sleep. It is found in foods such as bananas, milk and sunflower seeds, as well as turkey meat.

  1. All addicts in active use of alcohol and drugs are malnourished.
  2. Restoring addicts to physical, as well as spiritual, health
  3. Nutrition actually impacts cravings for drugs and alcohol.
  4. Go to the "Recovery Diet" for some practical suggestions for good eating choices for people in recovery.

Sources:

Nutrition In Recovery by Margaret Soussloff, M.S. & Cara Zechello, R.D., Massachusetts Food Banks and Maria F. Bettencourt, MPH, Massachusetts Department of Public Health

Brain Food: Formulas for Aware Aging, Michelle Badash, New Hope Communications.