One of the most overlooked aspects in addiction recovery is nutrition, and more importantly malnutrition. Most alcoholics and addicts arrive to residential treatment completely deprived of nutrients the body needs to heal. The first goal most residential treatment centers aim for is simply getting food into their bodies, so they provide consistent daily meals. 50 percent of addicts/ alcoholics are deficient in vitamins C and D, while 50 percent are deficient in iron, vitamin A and E. Often times however, addicts will replace drug and alcohol use with sugar and caffeine, which actually causes more harm than healing. Alcohol and drugs actually keep the body from properly absorbing and breaking down nutrients, as well as getting rid of toxins.
As our brains are made mostly of fat, healthy fats need to be consumed in order to start the healing of the brain damage caused by chronic substance abuse. Only fat contains more calories per gram than alcohol. So while using alcohol and consuming little food, false signals are sent to the brain that it is full when it is not. This becomes a serious issue when the alcoholic stops drinking. The brain goes into starvation mode, and craves sugar first, as alcohol is mostly made up of sugar. Many women with substance abuse problems also suffer from eating disorders, the “empty calories” alcohol provided led to poor eating habits and malnutrition.
The basis of recovery is learning how to change negative behaviors into positive ones, and learning how to make healthy lifestyle choices. So learning how to make healthy food choices is a vital piece to achieving this all around, healthy and balanced way of life. Newly recovering addicts are already struggling with cravings to use alcohol and drugs. To replace these cravings with only sugar and caffeine, also addictive drugs, is just trading one addiction for another. Research has shown that a diet with the right types protein, healthy fats, and nutrient dense carbohydrates can make a huge difference in the recovery process. Foods greatly affect moods; sugar and caffeine are big contributors to mood swings, and should be avoided or limited in the early stages of recovery.
Alcohol and drug abuse prevents the body from making two vital amino acids, tyrosine and tryptophan. These two amino acids are responsible for producing three very important neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These compounds are essential for mental clarity, and emotional stability; decreased levels of these neurotransmitters have a greatly negative effect on mood, behavior, and proper sleep. Proper diet and vitamin intake, such as omega-3’s will help greatly. It is recommended that three well balanced meals, and two to three healthy snacks is an appropriate recovery diet. This is a lot of information to take in at first, when staying sober is a big enough job. It is important however, to get information of how the foods and chemicals you put in your body once sober, are either helping or hindering your growth and recovery.