Diet and Substance Abuse Recovery
Substance abuse can be short-term or long-lasting. A person may abuse alcohol, drugs sold by prescription or over the counter, or illegal drugs. Good nutrition and a healthy diet play an important role in recovery from substance abuse.
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Substance abuse is a major cause of malnutrition in otherwise healthy people. Nutritional care should be paired with other therapies used in recovery. Good nutrition may help decrease cravings for drugs and alcohol. It can help prevent a relapse, too. The goal of nutritional care is to:
Alcohol abuse often reduces appetite. Alcohol provides no nutrients and, in fact, requires nutrients to help it detoxify in the liver. It replaces healthy foods that normally provide key nutrients and calories. By irritating the intestinal tract, it interferes with the absorption of essential nutrients. Vomiting and diarrhea may also contribute to poor use of any foods eaten. A person who abuses alcohol may suffer permanent damage to the liver and pancreas. This leads to problems regulating blood sugar levels.
Substance abuse can cause a person to lose appetite and eat less, too. It slows the metabolism and affects how well the body absorbs nutrients. It impairs major organs and body systems, including the:
This leads to many vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Because of the harm substance abuse does to the body, a person needs more nutrients to repair the damage. Substance abuse can lead to serious weight loss, which can in turn cause loss of lean muscle. All of this results in malnutrition.
Certain nutrients are of great concern with substance abuse. These include:
Because of the way drugs and alcohol affect the intestines, vitamin K is decreased. Lactose intolerance can also occur. The amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, which are building blocks for protein, are also depleted. These need to be supplied during recovery.
Nutritional care for substance abuse begins with an evaluation of nutritional status. Blood tests may be done and health and diet histories may be taken. Initial goals are to supply enough protein and calories to stabilize the person’s weight and prevent low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. If necessary, fats are added to the diet, too. Foods high in fiber are encouraged to correct or prevent constipation that is common during recovery.
Too many sweets and too much caffeine are discouraged. Often, these become substitutes for the drugs or alcohol that were being abused.
Usually smaller, more frequent meals are better tolerated. A food plan with 6 small meals a day helps lessen such problems as cravings and binge eating.
The best treatment for malnutrition due to substance abuse is a healthy, low-fat diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Following the US Food Guide Pyramid ensures that all food groups are represented. Vitamin and mineral supplements are helpful, too. A person may benefit from one to three times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C. Supplements cannot protect the body from the damage alcohol and drugs do. However, they may help minimize long-term nutritional consequences.
Article type: xmedgeneral