Diet And Substance Abuse Recovery

Diet And Substance Abuse Recovery 1

The consumption of substances harms the body in two ways:

  • The substance itself affects the organism.
  • It causes negative changes in lifestyle, such as irregular diet and poor diet.

Proper nutrition can accelerate the healing process because nutrients supply energy to the body. They provide substances that form and maintain healthy organs and fight infections.


The recovery of substance use  also affects the body in different ways, for example, metabolism (energy processing), the functioning of the organs and mental well-being. 

The impact of different drugs on nutrition is described below:


Opioids (including codeine, oxycodone, heroin and morphine) affect the digestive system. Constipation is a very common symptom of substance use. Symptoms that are common during withdrawal include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

These symptoms can lead to a lack of sufficient nutrients and an imbalance of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride.

Eating balanced meals can reduce the severity of these symptoms (however, eating can be difficult due to nausea). A diet rich in fiber with many complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, vegetables, peas and legumes) is recommended.


The consumption of alcohol  is one of the main causes of nutritional deficiency in the United States. The most common deficiencies are those of vitamins B ( B1 , B6 and folic acid ). The deficiency of these nutrients causes anemia and nervous system problems (neurological). For example, a disease called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (“wet brain”) occurs when excessive alcohol consumption causes B1 insufficiency.

The consumption of alcohol also causes damage to two major organs involved in metabolism and nutrition: the liver and the pancreas. The liver removes toxins from harmful substances. The pancreas regulates blood sugar and fat absorption. The damage to these two organs produces an imbalance of fluids, calories, proteins and electrolytes.

Other complications include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Permanent liver damage (or  cirrhosis )
  • Seizures
  • Severe malnutrition
  • Decreased life expectancy

A poor diet in a pregnant woman, especially if she consumes alcohol, can harm the growth and development of the baby in the womb. Babies who are exposed to alcohol while in the womb often have physical and mental problems. Alcohol affects the growing baby as it crosses the placenta. After birth, the baby may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Substance abuse recovery. Pregnant woman declining an alcohol.
Pregnant woman saying no to alcohol

Laboratory tests for protein , iron, and electrolytes may be required to determine if there is liver disease in addition to the alcohol situation. Women who drink a lot have a high risk of osteoporosis and may need to take calcium supplements.


The use of stimulants (such as crack , cocaine and methamphetamines ) decreases appetite and leads to weight loss and malnutrition. Consumers of these drugs can stay awake for days. They can become dehydrated and suffer electrolyte imbalances during these episodes. The return to a normal diet can be difficult if there has been a considerable loss of weight.

Memory problems, which may be permanent, are a complication of prolonged stimulant use. 


Marijuana can increase appetite. Some regular consumers may be overweight and may need to reduce fat, sugar and total calories.


When a person feels better, they are less likely to start using alcohol and drugs again. Since balanced nutrition helps improve mood and health, it is important to encourage healthy eating in people recovering from problems with alcohol and other drugs.

However, it is possible that a person who has just given up a source of important pleasure is not ready to make other drastic changes in lifestyle. Therefore, it is more important that the person avoid relapsing in the consumption of substances than sticking to a strict diet.


  • Stick to regular meal times.
  • Eat low-fat foods.
  • Get more protein, complex carbohydratesand dietary fiber.
  • Mineral and vitamin supplements can help during recovery (this may include B complex, zinc and vitamins A and C).

A person with substance use is more likely to relapse when they have bad eating habits. This is the reason why regular meals are so important. The addiction to alcohol and drugs causes the person to forget what the feeling of being hungry is, and rather interprets it as a vehement desire for the drug. The person must be encouraged to think that they may be hungry when strong desires become strong.

The dehydration is common during recovery from drug addiction. It is important to get enough fluid during and between meals. Appetite usually returns during recovery. A person in recovery is often more prone to overeating, particularly if he was taking stimulants. It is important to eat healthy meals and snacks and avoid calorie-rich foods with little nutritional value, such as sweets.

The following tips can help improve the chances of a healthy and lasting recovery:

  • Eat nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Do physical activity and get enough rest.
  • Reduce caffeine intake and quit smoking as much as possible.
  • Seek help from advisors or support groups regularly.
  • Take vitamin and mineral supplements if recommended by the health care provide

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