For many recovering addicts, sugar, caffeine and nicotine is the oh so comforting trifecta, and substitute for whatever substance they put down. Sugar may seem like a natural substitute for alcoholics, especially. Quitting booze means drastically cutting one’s intake of carbs and sugar. Sugary foods can not only comfort alcoholics, but drug addicts as well, many people in active Heroin addiction only consumed sugar when on their drug of choice. This can be a hard habit to cut when you quit alcohol, and or drug abuse.
Sugar is notoriously difficult to resist for many, if not most people. It has the effect of making you crave more instead of satisfying you. When people eat too much sugar, they can cause the release of chemicals associated with pleasure and reward, dopamine, and eventually develop a physical addiction. If you're an alcoholic and already have an overworked liver trying to process alcohol, the last thing you want to do is to put a further strain on the liver trying to process sugar.
“Old wisdom from the recovery community would suggest that a liberalized approach to sweets, nicotine, and caffeine is favorable to help the individual get past the immediate crisis. New wisdom suggests that this type of eating behavior is a form of cross addiction that should be addressed early in recovery.”
Highly accessible and highly palatable food is a significant contributor to the changing human brain and addiction epidemic. There is increasing evidence to suggest that all this processed food high in fat and sugar, low in fiber and nutritional elements, is stimulating an evolution of the human microbiome, leading to more illness and addiction. So why on earth would this be a good diet for someone trying to get away from an unhealthy life full of addiction? It wouldn’t, but most people don’t understand how important nutrition is to early recovery.
Once the individual has gotten through the acute medical detox, it should be time for a nutrition intervention. This is helpful in the recovery population, as many individuals are uneducated in health, and less likely to make changes all on their own. This iassessment can provide group education, individual counseling, and working with the culinary staff, or cook to implement guidelines for the facility.
“In early recovery, nutrition should be used to improve the gut health after drug and alcohol abuse, and to eventually help rewire the brain.”
Given the addiction epidemic and its associated healthcare burden, it is time to prioritize nutrition as a vital part of addiction recovery. While there may be some resistance from the patients (as well as the staff), nutrition interventions will hopefully become an important part of the recovery process. Advances in our understanding of food addiction should point to the necessity of addressing eating behavior in drug addiction. Meanwhile, nutrition should never be punitive and should be framed as a helpful component of recovery, individualized to men, women, and more specific.