When you consider a holistic approach to treating drug addiction, nutrition needs to be part of the equation. In fact, more rehabilitation programs are including nutritious meals and/or nutrition education as part of an addiction treatment plan.
How Nutrition Supports Recovery
Nutrition is important for supporting your body as it recovers from addiction. Getting enough of key nutrients helps your brain and body heal from the damage of addiction and work toward a healthier way of living. This is especially important for getting over the effects of the drug on your organs, metabolism and other parts and processes in the body.
The withdrawal process might make your body need extra nutrients. For example, when you’re withdrawing from heroin or other opioids, you could have vomiting or diarrhea that cause you to not take in enough nutrients. Margherita Grotzkyj-Giorgi explained in Drugs and Alcohol Today that the brain needs nutrients for recovery and that “a well-nourished brain means fewer withdrawal symptoms during the early stages of detoxification and higher possibility of achieving long-term recovery.”
In addition, MedlinePlus points out that nutrition can help prevent relapse by boosting your mood and helping you feel healthier. The site says, “When a person feels better, they are less likely to start using alcohol and drugs again.”
Nutrition often becomes a problem area during addiction, so improving nutrition needs to be a focus during treatment and recovery. The chronic use of some drugs, including alcohol, can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Grotzkyj-Giorgi noted that long-term heroin or alcohol abuse can cause damage to the intestinal lining, which affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
And many people don’t eat properly when they’re addicted. For instance, using cocaine tends to decrease your appetite so you might not eat enough, whereas marijuana might encourage you to eat too much, especially of non-nutritional food. A proper diet plan can help your body restore the nutrients it needs.
Nutrients to Include in Your Diet Within an Addiction Treatment Plan
While it’s a good idea to follow a balanced diet plan with healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables when you’re treating addiction, you should also focus on specific nutrients that will provide extra support for this concern.
Try to get more of these nutrients in your diet:
Amino Acids: It especially helps to get more of the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine because substance use can keep your body from using these correctly. Also, these nutrients are essential for brain health, and they help you make important brain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, that get off-kilter from addiction.
Carbohydrates: You need carbs for your body to make the neurotransmitter serotonin that helps you have a better mood and provides other benefits that aid recovery, explains Alyssa Salz, MS, RD, LD, for Today’s Dietitian. Plus, carbs give your body energy.
Make sure you choose complex carbs such as whole grains and vegetables as much as possible instead of options with low nutritional value such as white bread or pastries.
Vitamins and Minerals: Numerous vitamins and minerals can support recovery. B vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid help your body turn the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin. Also, you need to take in enough of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron and folate because being deficient in these can look like mental health problems, explains Salz.
MedlinePlus also recommends getting enough B-complex, zinc and vitamins A and C. For The Fix, Master Nutrition Therapist Patricia Farrell recommends taking B vitamins, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids to help neurotransmitters.
A dietitian might recommend that you consume more of other nutrients based on the type of drug you have been using and/or other factors of your unique situation. For example, The Fix article notes that probiotics can help people overcoming an opiate or alcohol addiction, and omega-3 fatty acids provide support after a cocaine addiction.
You’ll be able to get large amounts of important nutrients by focusing on a healthy, balanced diet and by choosing foods rich in certain nutrients. For instance, you could get the amino acid tryptophan through meat, bananas, sunflower seeds and other foods.
In general, eating a good amount of complete protein will help you take in more of the amino acids your body needs. If you’re a vegan, choose plant-based complete proteins, such as quinoa or buckwheat or a combination of incomplete proteins such as rice with beans. A nutrition professional can help you learn how to fit certain nutrients into your vegan diet.
A dietitian or nutritionist specialized in addiction recovery can provide guidance to help you have the most success with a healthy diet that supports your body’s needs. These health professionals might also recommend that you take supplements for certain nutrients, especially if you’ve had a deficiency. Grotzkyj-Giorgi also noted that some rare people might need intravenous nutritional therapy at first if the gut has been damaged enough.
Additional Nutrition Tips for Overcoming Addiction
A few more dietary tips can help you support your body. Try to stay away from sugar as much as possible. It’s good to try to balance your blood sugar levels and avoid the highs and crashes of too much sugar and simple carbs.
Drink plenty of water. MedlinePlus says that people are commonly dehydrated when going through recovery.
MedlinePlus also recommends having regular mealtimes because it’s possible to mistake hunger for a drug craving and turn to drugs when food would have satisfied your body’s urges. You might find that eating smaller meals throughout the day helps you.
When you’re trying to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol, don’t overlook your diet. This is an important area to focus on for helping your body heal from the damage done by addiction and for giving your body the nutrients and support it needs to move forward.