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Boosting Recovery With a Healthy Diet

March is National Nutrition Month! With that being said, drug withdrawal isn’t the only thing that causes headaches, drowsiness and depression. Malnutrition induces similar ailments, complicating recovery from addiction. Learn how nutrition rejuvenates the mind and body to promote health, well-being and sobriety.

Most people don’t think about diet when they enter treatment for addiction. They think of withdrawal. They think of counseling sessions or group therapy. People in recovery talk about following the 12 Steps, finding purpose in life or developing a relationship with a higher power.

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is rarely mentioned.

“I don’t think anybody can be active in recovery if they aren’t nourished,” Advanced Recovery Systems dietitian Kurry Friedell told “Eating properly, getting consistent sleep and being active boost the ‘good feeling’ hormones in your body that lead to a successful recovery.”

It’s easy to overlook nutrition. Everyone knows they should eat more fruits and vegetables. But most people eat what makes them happy — or what’s quick and easy — until a doctor tells them they’re at risk for diabetes, heart disease or other ailments.

Some diseases even contribute to poor nutrition or malnourishment. Addiction is one of those.

Regular consumption of alcohol or other drugs deprives the body of essential nutrients. Many drugs suppress or increase appetite. Meth users may go days without eating. Marijuana smokers are notorious for “having the munchies” and binge eating.

“Most of the time, eating is skewed because they’re using and staying up all night,” said Friedell, who assists people with substance use and eating disorders. “Because they aren’t taking in nutrients, they can be malnourished. They aren’t getting the macro- and micronutrients they need.”

Unhealthy diets inhibit recovery by causing headaches, sleep problems and low energy levels. Many of those symptoms are also caused by drug withdrawal, so it’s difficult for many people to know if they’re hungry or in withdrawal. A healthy diet aids the recovery process.

How Substance Abuse Disrupts Nutrition

The main side effect of an unhealthy diet is malnutrition, a condition caused by a lack of nutrients. Substance abuse increases the risk of malnutrition because alcohol and other drugs deprive the body of its ability to absorb nutrients. Many people with substance use disorders ignore dietary needs and rely on their drug of choice to relieve physical or emotional discomfort.

“When they’re using, they can’t separate hunger cues from other cues,” Friedell said. “During recovery, it’s hard to differentiate between malnourishment and withdrawal.”

Weight gain or loss is an overarching concern for people in recovery. Some people lose too much weight because of malnourishment. Others gain too much weight because they try to replace drugs with food. Each type of substance also causes unique health problems.


Chronic alcohol consumption deprives the body of an important vitamin called thiamine. Every tissue in the body uses thiamine, including tissues in the brain, heart, liver and kidneys. Without the vitamin, the tissues can’t function properly.

Low thiamine levels increase the risk of heart disease and heart failure. The brain also suffers. People with thiamine deficiency are more likely to experience dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The syndrome is associated with incoordination, vision problems, confusion and memory loss.

Chronic alcohol use also increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is associated with high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and too much body fat. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease.


Opioids slow the way the body functions, making people who take them feel sleepy. The drugs also slow digestion and metabolism. That means the body isn’t able to efficiently process nutrients from food. The most recognizable side effect of disrupted digestion is constipation.

Withdrawal from opioid use can disrupt a meal plan. People often feel nauseated, vomit and have diarrhea during withdrawal. These symptoms can prevent food and water consumption at a time when the body needs fuel.


Dramatic weight loss is the primary concern for people who chronically use stimulants, such as cocaine, methamphetamine and prescription ADHD medications. Stimulant users are more likely to develop eating disorders, such as anorexia.

People who go on cocaine or crystal meth benders may go days without eating or sleeping. When the bender ends, they’re starving and often binge eat. These dramatic consumption habits increase the risk of malnutrition.

Additionally, crystal meth users often have problems with oral hygiene. They may be less likely or unable to consume solid foods because of missing teeth or pain while chewing.

Maintaining sobriety is easier when the body is healthy and nourished. That’s why comprehensive meal plans are key components of addiction treatment. People in recovery should learn to prepare and eat healthy meals to feel happier and more energized. Maintaining a healthy diet can help prevent relapse and aid a person’s recovery.

Excerpts taken from original article here from