Rehabilitation for addiction to drugs and alcohol is a multifaceted process, combining detoxification, treatment for withdrawal and various types of therapy, all designed to get patients out of their pattern of substance abuse and into a healthy, productive life.
While detox and therapy are important parts of the recovery process, there is another important area of recovery that’s often overlooked: nutrition.
Addicts often have serious health issues as a result of their substance abuse, not the least of which is malnutrition, due to focusing on drugs or alcohol instead of good eating habits.
In addition, studies have shown that the right combinations of foods, vitamins and nutrients can make a measurable difference in reducing the symptoms of withdrawal, detoxifying the body and increasing the chances of successful recovery.
Effects of Substance Abuse on the Body
Quite simply, addicts tend to be malnourished. Alcohol, for example, is high in fat and calories, but offers no nutritional value. As a result, addicts often feel full after drinking, and fail to eat – thereby failing to give their body the nutrients it needs to function properly. Other drugs actually damage the internal organs in addition to curbing appetite, and as a result, rehabilitation patients are likely to experience gastrointestinal issues. These issues make the process of withdrawal and detoxification unpleasant and painful, but getting into a pattern of eating healthy meals with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can help repair that damage and reduce the discomfort caused by those symptoms.
Food and Mood
Study after study has shown that food has a powerful effect on mood – in both addicts and non-addicts. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can actually improve a person’s mood and keep them focused and alert. In the case of an addict, keeping an even keel helps prevent cravings and in some cases, a relapse. One of the most important parts of recovery for an addict is learning to maintain his or her mood, as mood swings can lead to powerful cravings for drugs or alcohol. When the recovering addict’s diet is full of healthy foods, though, and he or she eats regularly, those mood swings can be reduced or eliminated.
Best Foods to Eat
Research has shown that certain foods are better for addicts to consume than others, and many treatment centers adhere to these guidelines when working with patients.
Those in recovery should make a point to eat a diet full of protein rich foods, such as chicken, fish, lean meat and tofu. Protein is especially important because it increases the production of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain and helps repair damaged tissue throughout the body. However, it’s important to choose lean foods, and avoid saturated fats, to maintain overall health.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are also important, as they are packed with vitamins and minerals that can help your body repair itself from the damage caused by drugs and alcohol, and help you feel good. Fiber rich foods – including whole grains, beans and produce – are also important to get your digestive system working again and help flush the toxins from your system.
The Significance of Supplements
Some experts recommend a supplement in addition to balanced diet for those in recovery. Drugs and alcohol tend to reduce overall levels of vitamins B and C as well as zinc from the body. These vitamins are vital to your overall health, and help restore your body and maintain your mood. In addition, a small piece of good quality chocolate once a day has been shown to improve mood, and offers health benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system.
Of course, as with any nutrition plan, there are some foods that those in recovery should avoid. Processed and packaged foods, while convenient, aren’t generally high in nutritional value. Fill up on whole, fresh foods instead. Recovering addicts should also try to avoid caffeine and excess sugar and salt – and stay hydrated with water. Substance abuse often caused dehydration, and drinking plenty of water can help rehydrate the body and repair damage to organs and tissues.
While it’s important for recovering addicts to maintain a healthy diet as part of an overall plan for returning to health, it’s more important to stay away from addictive substances. If avoiding sugary snacks or potato chips is making someone antsy or angry, then it’s perfectly okay to indulge. Long-term recovery is the goal, and as the patient grows stronger through therapy and support, the chances of sticking to a healthy diet increase as well.