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Nutrition Psychoeducation

Nutrition is often overlooked during addiction treatment. When an addict first arrives at detox the most pressing concern is, of course, withdrawal. As their treatment continues, it becomes important to get the addict involved in therapy or support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for long-term maintenance of their condition. However, nutrition plays a vital role in recovery. It contributes to physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. All of these are extremely important for an addict on their journey to sobriety.

While an addict is using, they are not being properly nourished. Instead, they are using drugs and alcohol to alleviate mental and physical discomfort. Some addicts will eat very little, while others, such as marijuana users, may over-eat. In the case of undereating, it leads to malnutrition. Malnutrition occurs when an individual does not consume enough nutrients and calories to fuel his or her body. This causes headaches, irregular sleep patterns, and even depression. On the other hand, overeaters may experience issues related to weight gain, such as fatigue and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, it also puts them at higher risk of developing diabetes.

The role of nutrition in withdrawal

Addicts in active addiction deprive their bodies of vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They often can’t determine whether or not they are hungry, as these biological cues become difficult to distinguish while using drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol also impede the body’s ability to absorb and, therefore, utilize any nutrients that are consumed.

When people who suffer from substance use disorder quit using, they usually experience withdrawal symptoms. This causes electrolyte imbalance, leading to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and a slew of other unpleasant symptoms. In more serious cases, it may lead to seizures.[1] This makes it crucial to maintain a healthy diet while detoxing. Each class of drugs comes with its own challenges to re-establishing a balanced diet.

Depressants (opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol)

Depressants slow down the central nervous system (CNS). This leads to fatigue and a slowed metabolism. A decreased metabolism means slowed down digestion, leading to poor absorption of key nutrients that fuel the body. Once someone stops taking depressants and withdrawal sets in, his or her metabolism will restart. As a result, people may experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, making it difficult for the nutrients that are needed to be consumed.

Specifically, in the case of alcohol addiction, this difficulty in absorbing nutrients can lead to thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is an important vitamin used in the process of glucose metabolism, which is the body’s main source of energy. Thiamine deficiency causes a number of physiological issues including anemia and neurological diseases. One neurological condition is Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome or WKS. Symptoms of WKS include ataxia or lack of coordination, memory loss, and confusion[2]. Eating a balanced diet can help to re-establish nutrient levels and electrolyte balance, potentially lessening the severity of withdrawal symptoms[1].

Stimulants (methamphetamines, cocaine)

Stimulant abuse leads to a decrease in appetite, which causes most users to become drastically underweight. Poor nutrition in stimulant users may result in electrolyte imbalance and vitamin deficiencies. One side effect of this is memory loss or impairment, which in severe cases can be permanent [1]. Once stimulant abuse ceases, people usually experience an abrupt spike in their appetite. Consequently, people may overeat and gain weight – leaving many addicts struggling with obesity.


Marijuana is commonly prescribed to cancer patients to help stimulate appetite during chemotherapy treatments and reduce nausea[3]. People who abuse marijuana typically have an overactive appetite, or “munchies”, which leads to binge eating. Marijuana abusers are often overweight and may experience long term complications such as arthritis from increased strain on joints, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure [4].

Nutrition and mental health

Stable mental health is extremely important for a recovering addict. After all, stable mental health is proven to prevent relapse. A staggering number of people with substance use disorder also suffer from a co-occurring mental health condition, and poor nutrition only exacerbates these issues. Poor nutrition is known to increase anxiety and depression, which can trigger a person to want to return to using drugs and alcohol. However, eating a balanced diet improves mood and overall well-being.

Eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet boosts hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These hormones are often referred to as the “feel-good” hormones. They are associated with feelings of pleasure and are responsible for stimulating appetite, regulating sleep, and acting as natural pain relievers[5]. Drugs artificially stimulate production to mimic the function of these hormones. People in early recovery have low levels of these hormones due to their drug use. Lastly, proper nutrition is a key factor in mental health.

Our unique “east meets west” approach to healing incorporates treatment, recovery, maintenance, prevention, philosophy, and psychology. A strong emphasis is placed on helping clients achieve a balanced and rewarding lifestyle through the integration of evidence-based services. Our program addresses physical, nutritional, chemical, environmental, emotional, social, spiritual, lifestyle values, and challenges.

Eating disorders and addiction are two separate conditions that are often seen together in people who suffer from addiction. Furthermore, patients suffering from both anorexia and bulimia are at high risk for severe malnutrition. Their unhealthy behaviors towards food make it even more difficult to maintain a nutritious diet in recovery. Sufferers of bulimia and anorexia may benefit from additional treatments that encourage healthy eating habits. This can include developing meal plans.

Nutrients are broken down into several groups: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. All play their unique roles and are vital for maintaining a healthy diet. It is important to make sure to choose nutrient-rich foods from each food group when developing a balanced meal plan.

Proteins play an important part in metabolism and compose muscle tissue. Lack of proteins due to poor diet may lead to muscle atrophy or decay, not only in skeletal muscles that allow the body to move but also in the heart, which is the most important muscle in the body. Great sources of protein in a diet includes meats such as chicken as well as fish. Protein is also found in plants. Similarly, beans are an excellent source of protein for those refraining from eating meat[6].

Fats get a bad reputation for being unhealthy. However, they have their own role to play when it comes to nutrition. In fact, healthy fats are linked to numerous health benefits such as lowering the risk of developing heart disease and type II diabetes. Sources of healthy fats include vegetable-based oils, avocados, nuts, fish, and cheese. Fish and cheese also serve as good sources of protein[7].

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of glucose, which is the sugar used to provide the body with energy. A lack of carbohydrates leads to fatigue and even cravings that may be confused with cravings for drugs and alcohol. Some excellent sources of healthy carbohydrates include whole grains such as rice, cereal, and pasta as well as vegetables, potatoes, and beans[8].

Vitamins and minerals are found in any of the food groups listed above. It is important to eat a wide variety from each group to get the vitamins and minerals the body needs to function. In some cases, such as when there is a deficiency of a vitamin or mineral, some people may need to take supplements to artificially replace what they are lacking[9]. Our drug rehab nutritionists will help you determine which supplements you should take to help boost your overall well-being.

Newly sober addicts sometimes turn to food for comfort when they stop using their drug of choice. This is usually in the form of binge eating or restricting. Without a healthy diet, sleep patterns are disrupted and energy levels decrease. In addition, it causes mental and physical discomfort. As addicts experience these feelings of discomfort, it may increase drug cravings in a desire to alleviate those symptoms. Instead, maintaining a nutritious diet will help support your mood, mental health, and sobriety.

It is important to develop a structured meal plan that involves a variety of foods. This ensures that people in early recovery are getting the nutrients they need. Another reason for a structured meal plan is to decrease the risk of developing unhealthy eating habits, such as binge eating. Nourishing the body during recovery alleviates the symptoms of withdrawal and helps people to feel better long term. It helps to maintain both physical and mental health on the addict’s journey in recovery.

Nutrition Counseling in Addiction Treatment

Our drug and alcohol rehab center in Fort Lauderdale has nutritionists on staff to help guide addicts to develop healthy meal plans. They work to educate clients on how to choose the right foods that suit their individual needs. Our staff is here to provide all the support and resources necessary for a successful recovery. Addiction doesn’t have to win, call our treatment center today and start a new, sober way of life.

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