Among the myriad of things we’re encouraged to be mindful of when we get sober, proper nutrition is not everyone’s favorite. And, guess what? No one is going to make you tackle life in recovery like a saint straight out of the gate, either, so don’t worry. Baby steps are the name of the game here, as always.
Nevertheless, nutrient and vitamin deficiencies are some common side effects of addiction that are often overlooked, and they shouldn’t be. If you think about this, it certainly makes sense that addiction and nutrient deficiencies go hand in hand. When we’re drinking and using in excess, our bodies have to work overtime to eliminate toxic substances while defending against further damage. And, of course, working overtime leaves the body depleted, and at some point, it becomes necessary to restore it with nutrients so it can function properly.
Heavy drinking impacts the brain
Heavy drinking and using affect how the brain regulates neurotransmitters. This can lead to things like depression and anxiety. In extreme cases, neurological functions associated with the memory can even be impacted.
Alcohol can also cause harm to the pancreas and liver
Alcohol in particular can also cause harm to the pancreas and the liver. The pancreas makes enzymes necessary for digesting fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It also produces hormones that are needed to process blood-sugar. The liver, on the other hand, breaks down all sorts of toxins, including alcohol. If it stops functioning properly due to heavy drinking, alcohol can remain in the blood for longer and cause even more damage to the digestive system.
Drug and alcohol abuse can lead to nutrient deficiencies
Drug and alcohol abuse are known to cause deficiencies in essential nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B6, and thiamin (the same as B1). Lack of these nutrients can result in anemia. Thiamin deficiency is particularly bad because it significantly increases the likelihood of the sufferer experiencing neurological damage down the track. Chronic alcohol consumption can also lead to a loss in minerals like zinc, calcium, and magnesium — these minerals are vital to bone health, emotional wellbeing, and immunity, among other things. They also help regulate our blood-sugar levels.
Sadly, many addicts have done irreparable damage to parts of their body like the liver, kidneys, and, of course, the brain. Having said all of that, the human body is remarkably resilient, and for the vast majority of us, we can still bounce back. It just takes time.
Focus on a serotonin balancing diet
In recovery, you should focus on a diet that balances your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that helps with relaxation and is, in large part, responsible for our moods. Try eating foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, such as legumes (e.g., lentils, black beans, peas), root vegetables (e.g., potatoes, carrots), pasta, rice, and whole grain breads. Eating these in conjunction with proteins (e.g., meat, fish, soy) and healthy fats (e.g., eggs, salmon) will help ensure your body functions properly and keep it working well.
Your nutritional needs might be higher in your first year
During your first year in recovery, it’s typical for nutritional needs to be higher than normal. This is because the body often needs to overcompensate and work double time to reverse the damage caused by years of abuse. Try not to worry too much about the scale, either. Weight gain is common in the first year of recovery, but the body will ultimately return to homeostasis. Your recovery is the most important thing here, so go easy on yourself.
Here are some easy steps you can take to begin replenishing and repairing your body:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and protein. The more color on your plate, the better. Things like dark leafy greens (e.g., kale, spinach), papaya, chicken, and brown rice are great. And, don’t restrict yourself too much. A few slices of cheese won’t kill ya, and we’re not saying you need to ditch the dessert either. Just be mindful of your portions. Dark, semi-sweet chocolate is a great alternative to commercial candy bars, and you will very likely be having sugar cravings if you used to be a heavy drinker. Your body is no longer getting the sugar from the alcohol and it’s going to want it. Some sweet treats here and there are much better than picking up a drink.
- Take a good multivitamin. Of course, the best way to get your vitamins is from food, but taking a good multivitamin is a simple way to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients in your body each day to avoid deficiencies. Your multivitamin should, at the very least, contain these seven ingredients: Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc, Iron, Folate, and Vitamin b-12. And, remember, take them, but don’t rely on them entirely. Eat those whole foods as well.
- Talk to your doctor about what diet is best for your body and blood type. Your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist. This is a good thing. Try to find someone who’s worked with others in recovery. He or she will have a good idea about what your body might need in early recovery based on the information you share.
Finally, start small with all this stuff and don’t put pressure on yourself to do it perfectly. Celebrate the wins. Baby steps are key, and if there’s one crucial thing we’ve learned about recovery, it’s that it’s a one-day-at-a-time endeavor. Getting sober is a significant milestone in and of itself. Remember this, even if you only have one salad this week. You are amazing.
Kembali Recovery Center is here for you
If you or someone you know and love is struggling to get sober or stay clean, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn more about our offerings.
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