Substance abuse is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Just as many factors go into creating addiction, many factors also impact treatment and recovery. While medications, behavioral therapy and counseling, and support groups often come first to mind when we think of substance abuse treatment plans, another element also comes into play when it comes to supporting recovery: nutrition.
Here’s a closer look at the link between substance abuse and malnutrition, along with an overview of the role of nutrition in the healing process.
Nutrition and Addiction
Addiction is a chronic disease that changes the brain and leads to compulsive and detrimental behaviors. Many factors may predispose an individual to addiction, including genetics, psychological vulnerabilities, and environmental influences. Additionally, many substance abusers experience social isolation, anxiety, and depression, which often leads them to use and abuse substances to mitigate these negative feelings. While drugs and alcohol do increase mood-boosting dopamine levels, the fix is only temporary which perpetuates the cycle of addiction.
Addiction also interferes with a person’s decision-making abilities. As a result, many people who struggle with substance abuse suffer from malnutrition – either because they don’t eat enough or they fail to eat adequately nutrient-dense foods. Furthermore, stimulants and other substances may lead to decreased appetite levels and reduced caloric consumption. Drugs can even interfere with nutrient processing.
Ultimately, addicts may suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which threaten both their mental and physical health. Factor in other lifestyle behaviors associated with addiction, such as poor sleep and lack of exercise, make the nutrition issue even more problematic. Concludes Alyssa Salz, MS, RD, LD, “These compounding factors result in an increased risk of long-term health problems, including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, weight problems, and eating disorders.”
Nutrition and Recovery
Attention to proper nutrition during recovery can help restore both physical and mental health in several ways. For starters, managing nutrient deficiencies can help alleviate symptoms ranging from depression to low energy – all of which may have contributed to drug use in the first place and may also become relapse triggers if unaddressed.
Because of the link between substance abuse, nutrition, and recovery, many treatment programs incorporate a nutritional component aimed at supporting optimal physical and mental health in recovering addicts. Specifically, nutrition education and therapy for addicts have the potential to heal damage to the body caused by substance abuse, reduce stress and stabilize the mood, reduce cravings for substances, address co-occurring medical conditions, and encourage self-care toward a healthy lifestyle.
“Just as patients with diabetes or heart disease receive nutrition education to manage their diseases, patients dealing with substance abuse should have nutrition education that addresses their specific risk factors and increases their chances of recovery,” concludes Salz. In fact, comprehensive nutrition education programs and personalized nutrition counseling has been demonstrated to “significantly improve” three-month sobriety success rates.
The takeaway? When it comes to improving an addict’s recovery prospects, in-house drug rehab centers that incorporate a nutritional element can offer a stronger path to lasting recovery. Harris House has been providing individualized and comprehensive addiction recovery programs in the St. Louis area for more than 50 years. Call us today to learn about admissions.