Diet is a frequently overlooked element of a successful recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). While counseling, peer-support and medication form the backbone of a healthy recovery, the role that proper nutrition plays in health cannot be overstated. That’s why, at Shanti Recovery and Wellness, we have a nutritionist on-staff to design a healthy food and diet plan tailored to every patient’s lifestyle.
How does addiction affect the body in terms of nutrition? How do the nutritional impacts of stimulant use vary from the impacts of, say, opioid use? What are some of the most common vitamin deficiencies we see in people with SUD? How does proper nutrition help sustain long-term recovery?
Today, we will answer all of these questions. Let’s take a closer look at what makes nutritional support the real MVP of addiction recovery.
Addiction Directly Interferes with Proper Nutrition
Substance abuse usually causes nutrition to take a backseat in our lives. As we become so focused on obtaining and using our substance of choice, nutrition is one of the first priorities that begins to be sidelined.
Many people with SUD have co-occurring mental health disorders which are often at least partially influenced by this poor nutritional profile. As active addiction becomes more severe, these co-occurring disorders are only exacerbated by this overall decline in nutrition. As such, SUD frequently “teams up” with mental health issues and poor nutrition to create a negative feedback loop in the lives of sufferers.
Any thoughtful physician will simultaneously intervene with all three problems to give patients the best chance at meaningful recovery.
Here’s How Alcohol Impacts Nutrition
In the case of alcohol abuse, people with SUD may start to “drink their calories” in the form of non-nutritive alcohol instead of consuming calories through healthy meals. When you replace meals with alcohol, you will likely begin to exhibit deficiencies in various vitamins and minerals. Most commonly, we see particular problems with vitamin A, vitamin C and thiamine in those who are dependent on alcohol for this reason.
In other cases, people with SUD who are dependent on alcohol may supplement a standard food-based caloric intake with many extra calories in the form of alcohol. Here, the result is often weight gain. This, in turn, can lead to health complications like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
In either case, excessive alcohol consumption also makes it more difficult for your body to absorb certain nutrients, further exacerbating malnourishment in people with alcohol dependence.
Stimulants Like Meth, Cocaine and Crack Also Impact Nutrition
Stimulants suppress the appetite. This can lead those with struggle with stimulant abuse to frequently skip meals, which leads to weight loss and disruptions in metabolic regulation. Without enough caloric intake, our bodies cannot function properly on any level.
Meth use in particular is linked with dental issues, which can also exacerbate eating problems. Simply put, when our teeth hurt, we are less likely to eat enough food.
Folks with SUD are also much more likely than the general population to struggle with eating disorders. We see this with stimulant users in particular, as patients sometimes initially turn to stimulants to help with unhealthy weight loss goals driven by disordered eating. In these cases, again, we need to treat the underlying mental health issue – in this case the eating disorder, as well as any other contributing mental health conditions, if applicable – alongside the addiction and the nutritional issues.
Opioids Have Negative Effects on Nutrition, Too
Opioids slow down the body’s digestive system, often leading to extreme constipation. For this reason, opioids often cause gastrointestinal distress, like abdominal pain, heartburn, nausea and bloating. Patients with these symptoms will often avoid eating altogether.
Furthermore, opioid use disorder is associated with depleted levels of vitamin C, zinc, selenium, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins.
Detoxing from opioids causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It’s very easy at this phase of recovery to become dangerously dehydrated.
Nutrition Supports Addiction Recovery and Relapse Prevention
Not only does our nutritional support help get our patients on the right track, it helps support them for the long-term, as well. Healthy eating can help address underlying mental health issues, reverse substance-related deficiencies and interrupt some of the strongest relapse triggers threatening long-term recovery.
Give us a call today at (503) 206-8850 and learn how we can help you take back control of your life.