broadwaytreatmentcenter-nutrition-and-addiction-recovery-photo-of-a-man-holding-a-healthy-mealWhen you head into drug and alcohol detox and treatment, your body is likely already malnourished. Sometimes this is due to the chemical changes that happen with drug or alcohol use – each substance depletes the body of nutrients in a slightly different way.  Other times it’s due to the physiological impacts of drug abuse, eating disorders that are caused by the same risk factors that caused the drug abuse, or some combination of all the factors.


Alcohol reduces the thiamine, or B1 vitamin, levels in your body by interfering with your body’s uptake of this essential vitamin and impairing your cell’s ability to use it. Every part of your body uses thiamine to function, including the brain, heart, liver and kidneys.

Low levels of thiamine increase the risk of heart disease and heart failure. It will also cause a decrease in brain function – often leading to Wernicke encephalopathy followed by Korsakoff psychosis. Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff psychosis are serious conditions characterized by coordination and vision issues, confusion and memory loss.

Excessive alcohol consumption also leads to an increased risk of high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or high body fat. This, in turn, leads to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.


Opioids slow down all the body functions, including digestion and metabolism. This slowdown decreases the efficiency of nutrient uptake in the intestines and often causes constipation, which decreases appetite.

Your body needs fuel during opioid withdrawal and it struggles to get it. Withdrawal from opioids can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. All of these decrease the nutrient uptake by the body and decrease appetite.


Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine cause drastic weight loss. Someone on a cocaine or meth bender can go days without eating or sleeping. The period after a bender is often marked by binge eating in response to going without food for several days. Erratic eating habits increase the risk of malnutrition as your body is less efficient at digestion.

Tooth loss or decay from crystal meth use can make eating solid foods painful, also increasing the likelihood of an eating disorder developing.


Marijuana use causes excessive snacking – the munchies. The snacks are typically low quality and highly processed, which can lead to weight issues and health problems.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and substance abuse are clearly linked. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, drug or alcohol abusers have an 11X higher rate of eating disorders than the general population. Eating disorders and substance abuse share many risk factors including brain chemistry, family history, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and social pressures.

The National Eating Disorders Association found that bulimic women who also abused alcohol had higher rates of suicide attempts, anxiety, personality and conduct disorders, and other drug abuse when compared with bulimic women who did not abuse alcohol.

Sometimes drugs are used to control and assist with restrictive eating or anorexia, e.g., tobacco, heroin, cocaine and appetite suppressants (amphetamines). Bulimic purging often leads to abuse of laxatives, emetics and/or diuretics.

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Benefits of Good Nutrition During Recovery

broadwaytreatmentcenter-nutrition-and-addiction-recovery-photo-of-a-lonely-woman-sitting-on-a-chairA dietitian should be a key player during rehab and recovery. During recovery, your body and brain are going through many changes. You are learning new skills and that is hard work. Your brain and body need to be working as well as they can – good eating habits are essential.

Without first refueling with quality, highly nutritious food, the therapy and teachings to help cope with recovery can go in one ear and out the other. It’s just hard to learn and do difficult things without enough healthy food. A dietitian can help you navigate those changes and help screen you for eating disorders that might be hindering your recovery.

A healthy diet can help repair the damage done to your body, improve your immunity, increase your energy, improve your mental health, and generally reduce the chances of a relapse – making long-term sobriety more likely.

What Happens to Your Body During Detox?

During detox, there can be a large increase in appetite when the abused substances leave the body. This leads to weight gain, a great thing for those who weigh too little, but too much weight gain too quickly can be hard on your health. It can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

On the opposite end, some can lose excessive weight during detox. Detox from both alcohol and marijuana can make you lose weight by reducing appetite. Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are symptoms of opioid withdrawal, also reducing appetite.

Some medications used during detox can make eating a healthy diet difficult. Naltrexone and disulfiram’s side effects include nausea and vomiting. Acamprosate increases your appetite and changes the way things taste. Methadone, buprenorphine, and bupropion’s side effects include constipation and changes in your appetite.

Detox is taxing and the nutrient stores in your body are quickly used up. Having a highly structured meal plan to help you during detox will make it somewhat easier to manage.

Mental Health

During your recovery, exercises and habits that help boost your mental health and self-esteem are key to success. Most recovery programs include an exercise and diet plan for this very reason. Proper nutrition plays two roles: it boosts mood on its own and gives you the fuel you need to exercise.

Exercise and good food are well known to boost mood, reduce anxiety and reduce depression, as well as improve body image and alleviate drug or alcohol cravings.

Prevent a Relapse

There are many stages to a relapse. The first stage is called emotional relapse. There are no thoughts of using again at this state, but the emotions and habits that lead to drug use start to come back. The major sign of emotional relapse is a reduction or elimination of self-care, including good eating habits. By focusing on eating well, we are reducing anxiety and depression and preventing the risk of a relapse.

Diet Guidelines to Support Recovery

broadwaytreatmentcenter-nutrition-and-addiction-recovery-photo-of-a-woman-consulting-a-health-professionalAlthough this isn’t always the case, working with a dietician to develop a healthy meal plan should be part of the program at every addiction recovery center. A dietician can determine which vitamins and minerals are low and create a diet that fits you and your nutritional needs best. Regardless of what diet plan you ultimately follow, it should be low in processed, junk food and high in fresh, whole foods.

In general, recovery is best supported by a varied diet and should include a mix of foods that provide enough vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, healthy fats and water.

In addition to a varied, whole food diet, here are some other tips to help stay on the road to recovery.

  1. Focus on complex carbs like whole grains: Complex carbs provide energy that is long-lasting and won’t spike and crash like simple carbs
  2. Take supplements under your doctor’s supervision: It is likely you are very low in minerals and vitamins. Supplements can quickly boost your levels. Your doctor or dietician can help you determine what supplements might be necessary.
  3. Decrease sugar: Sugar mimics some drug use by activating dopamine. Excessive sugar consumption is linked to an increase in depression.
  4. Eat plenty of fiber and protein: Protein is our body’s building blocks and helps build muscles and reduce weakness from malnutrition. Fiber helps our bodies feel full, which reduces over-eating and snacking.
  5. Stop drinking caffeine and start drinking water: Caffeine dehydrates the body and suppresses appetite, while drinking enough water or eating food with a high-water content rehydrates the body.
  6. Eat regular meals and plan your meals: Eating irregularly has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Having a meal plan reduces the chances of poor food choices.
  7. Heal your gut: Poor gut health is being linked to anxiety, depression and low immune function. Support your gut through prebiotics, probiotics, and decreasing simple sugars.

You should be supported through your recovery by a dietitian through nutrition therapy. During nutrition therapy, you will develop a meal plan to make sure you are eating the right foods and work to eliminate other barriers to eating well on your own.

If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction,  call us at (714) 400-2048 and look into our recovery programs. Our programs and recovery center helps clients by providing them with detox, family intervention, and long-term Outpatient or residential treatment if necessary.

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