healthy salad
Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

How Nutrition Helps Recovery from Addiction

By Joy Stephenson-Laws

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. It is considered a brain disease because studies have shown that drugs and alcohol physically change the structure of the brain and how the brain works.

Research has shown that a majority of addicts suffer from biochemical, nutritional, and metabolic disorders, including depleted or malfunctioning brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar), which  causes a wide range of symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, depression and panic attacks; as well as poor adrenal function; digestive problems such as the overgrowth of yeast, leaky gut syndrome and malabsorption of nutrients; food allergies or sensitivities to common foods such as corn, wheat, sugar and dairy products; and nutritional deficiencies of key amino acids, vitamins (e.g., B vitamins and vitamin C), and minerals (e.g., zinc, magnesium, and calcium).

So what does nutrition have to do with addiction recovery?

Good nutrition plays an important role in successful change. For example, healthy food choices are particularly important for recovering addicts in the following areas:

Preventing relapse. People recovering from substance abuse are more likely to relapse when they have poor eating habits. This is why healthy and regular meals are so important.

Feeling better. Proper nutrition helps recovering addicts feel better because nutrients give the body energy, help build and repair organ tissue, and strengthen the immune system.

Improving behavior and cravings. The brain needs a consistent supply of nutrients on a day-to-day basis from the diet to continue to make neurotransmitters and perform optimal transmission. Research suggests that changes in diet can alter brain structure both chemically and physiologically, and influence the individual’s behavior. If nutrient levels are not maintained and/or the wrong types of food are consumed, then neurotransmitter levels will decline and disruption of mood, thought and behavior and the inevitable cravings for alcohol or the substance of choice may return.

Healing bodily damage. Recovering addicts who have neglected their diet may have also developed multiple gastrointestinal disorders, including diarrhea, constipation and an inability to digest foods properly, along with a poor appetite. As a result, they have a special need for foods that are high in nutrients to rebuild damaged tissues and organs, and regain appropriate functioning of the various systems including the nervous and gastrointestinal systems.

So what’s the plan?