When a person has a serious addiction, the primary focus is breaking the addiction cycle, and many times basic quality-of-life issues like proper nutrition are pushed to the back burner. However, good nutrition can make a tremendous positive difference in addiction recovery.
Many circumstances surrounding substance abuse disorders combine to make adequate nutrition a lesser priority. Poverty, co-occurring mental illnesses, and an inadequate support network are just a few. However, paying attention to proper nutrition and hydration during addiction recovery can improve the healing and recovery process by helping people achieve better physical and mental health. In fact, nutritional deficiencies can aggravate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can hinder recovery or even trigger a relapse.
How Substance Abuse Disorders Counteract Good Nutrition
Substance abuse disorders can affect your nutritional status in many different ways. For instance, addiction can deplete financial resources to the point that you do not eat enough, or eat inexpensive foods that are low in nutritional value. Some addictive substances, like stimulants, suppress the appetite, leading to inadequate calorie intake as well as improper nutrient processing by the body. Still other substances can cause an increase in appetite, resulting in unhealthy weight gain. For many people in the throes of a substance abuse disorder, there is simply not enough energy to make proper eating a priority, so good habits can be eroded.
Goals of Nutrition Counseling as Part of Addiction Recovery
Ideally, nutritional counseling should be part of addiction recovery, but this is not always the case. Addressing your nutritional status may seem frivolous compared to the gargantuan task of detoxification and rehabilitation. Yet nutritional counseling can lead to healthy lifestyle changes that can improve mental health. Just as someone recovering from any other disease should pay attention to proper nutrition for the best possible recovery, if you are a person with a substance abuse disorder, you should do so as well.
In fact, individualized nutritional counseling and education in addiction recovery have been found to measurably improve sobriety success rates after three months. Goals of nutritional counseling should include:
- Healing the body from the damaging effects of addiction
- Stabilizing mood and reducing stress
- Helping curb cravings for drugs and alcohol
- Helping address co-occurring medical conditions that result from substance abuse
- Encouraging better self-care for people with substance abuse disorders
How Good Nutrition Supports Better Mental Health
Co-occurring mental illness is common in people who have substance abuse disorders, and many substances have serious, toxic effects on brain chemistry, depleting neurotransmitters and altering the body’s absorption and utilization of amino acids and other nutrients. The results can include depression and agitation, which are not conducive to good addiction recovery.
Helping people in addiction recovery understand how food affects people’s mood and relapse risk should begin with macronutrients, like healthy carbohydrates. Healthy carbs help a person’s brain function properly, help blood glucose levels to remain more stable, and allow for the steadier production of neurotransmitters that affect mood. Intake of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, can also affect neurotransmitter production. For example, low levels of dopamine can trigger a person to turn to substance abuse, because so many drugs impact dopamine levels. Proper nutrition can help short-circuit this trigger response.
Micronutrients are important too. Omega-3 fatty acids can assist with recovery from depression by decreasing inflammation and helping with neurotransmitter uptake in the brain. Minerals like iron and vitamins like folate and B vitamins are also important to developing and maintaining better mental health.
Finally, proper hydration can help by ensuring adequate absorption of medications and diminishing side effects. Dehydration itself can produce irritability and difficulty concentrating, which can also be relapse triggers in some people.
Being adequately nourished is necessary for you to be an active participant in your own addiction recovery. Addiction recovery is a prime opportunity to learn better nutritional habits, and the recovery treatment programs that consider the whole person – nutritional needs and all – are the ones with the greatest chances of long-term success. If you have any questions about addiction recovery, we invite you to contact us at any time.
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