By Elizabeth Rosselle
First things first—if you’ve struggled with substance abuse issues and you’re newly in recovery, you deserve a major pat on the back for getting to where you’re at now. It takes a lot of courage to get sober, and in the early days of recovery, just focus on the most important win of them all: you’re sober. That’s unbelievably freaking awesome!
Nevertheless, as you start putting some recovery time together, you’ll most likely start to pay attention to some other areas in your life where you can make adjustments. And, when it comes to living your best life sober, having a solid nutrition plan in place is a great way to help ensure you maintain your sobriety. Moreover, depending on how much damage you’ve done to your body in active addiction, a good diet can be crucial to how well your body bounces back.
For those in active addiction, good nutrition and general health typically take a back seat to drugs and alcohol—the best and easiest way to “feel good fast” was to ingest substances. Furthermore, because of the disrupted and chaotic lifestyle that’s generally led to active addiction, money more often gets spent on drugs or alcohol rather than food. Plus, even if you did consume a healthy-ish diet back in your hard-partying days, your body probably wasn’t absorbing the nutrients properly.
Here are just a handful of the ways that the body and mind can suffer as a result of drug and alcohol abuse:
Organ damage. Substance abuse—this includes both drugs and alcohol—can damage the liver, stomach lining, pancreas, and intestines, all of which contribute to proper absorption, digestion, and storage of nutrients. The pancreas produces enzymes and pro-enzymes that aid in the digestion of nutrients needed to balance blood sugar, while the liver metabolizes toxins. The stomach lining and liver are important for general gastrointestinal (GI) function. Damage to any of these can lead to a host of problems, including imbalances in electrolytes, protein, calories, and fluid. Drug and alcohol abuse can also cause chronic GI tract inflammation, IBS, leaky gut, fungal intestinal infections, and acid reflux.
Hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar that’s generally caused by poor nutrition and a bad diet. It’s extremely common in people who abuse alcohol due to the high sugar content in booze, and it’s also quite common in those who abuse drugs for a variety of reasons. Primarily, the cause boils down to poor nutrition, as mentioned. Those who abuse drugs or alcohol are at a higher risk for the simple fact that they don’t take very good care of themselves. Non-diabetic hypoglycemia often goes away on its own with a balanced diet, but, left untreated, it can lead to diabetes, loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death.
Malnutrition. People who abuse stimulants typically experience increased energy and a decrease in appetite. This can lead to severe weight loss and malnutrition which includes the wasting away of muscle tissue, a suppressed immune system, wounds not healing properly, and low levels of other vital nutrients like magnesium and potassium. Marijuana users, on the other hand, tend to have cravings for junk food. This causes a different kind of malnutrition, leading to things like heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, reproductive problems, and even cancer.
Mood disorders. Mood disorders and addiction are often connected. Whether an addict is self-medicating to treat a pre-existing mood disorder or the mood disorder occured as a result of substance abuse is unclear and can vary from person to person. Nevertheless, abusing drugs and alcohol invariably has an effect on our dopamine and serotonin levels. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for many things, but, in a nutshell, they’re the chemicals responsible for making us feel good. Once we start using drugs and alcohol excessively to chemically alter our dopamine and serotonin levels, our body eventually forgets how to regulate them on its own. As a result, we can experience severe mood swings.
Here’s how you can start taking small steps toward getting healthy in recovery while repairing the damage that may have been done to your body and mind in active addiction:
First, seek nutritional counseling and education before you dive headfirst into a new meal plan. This is particularly important for anyone who struggles with eating disorders, which often occur in people who struggle with addiction.
Next, if you’re on a detoxification schedule, make sure you’re detoxed and stable first, then have your nutritional deficiencies evaluated.
Create a nutritional plan that works for your schedule and your recovery. Having a general idea of what your own personal nutritional needs are will set you up for success and help your body heal. Once again, nutritional counseling can help and so can your physician. If you’re in a rehab program, talk to one of the counselors at your recovery center to help get you started.
Include real foods in your diet. Make sure your nutritional deficiencies are addressed, then make sure you’re getting your needs met with whole, real foods rather than overprocessed foods that tend to lack nutritional value.
Drink plenty of water. Consider switching from soda to water. Hydration is crucial to the body’s recovery, so make sure you’re drinking at least a full glass with meals and in between meals. If you’ve just given up alcohol and your body is still really craving the sugar, opt for fruit-sweetened juices in place of soda, but make sure you’re also drinking water.
Monitor your sugar intake. You might be craving sugar not only because you’ve given up alcohol (which contains a ton of sugar), but because of its dopamine-triggering effect. Keep an eye on it, particularly if you’ve ever struggled with hypoglycemia. Sugar, particularly processed sugar, is okay in moderation, but excessive amounts are basically poison. Once again, speak with a nutritional counselor before going cold turkey on the sugar as you don’t want to put your body into shock, but be very mindful of how much you’re consuming. And, try to cut back where you can.
Consume more protein and fiber. Fiber will fill you up while protein helps you build the muscle that’s been broken down by malnutrition.
Eat small, regular meals. Eating regular small meals will help you to keep your blood sugar levels high while decreasing cravings for unhealthy snacks between meals.
Exercise. Getting active will improve your mood, your body image, and your energy levels while alleviating cravings and lowering your risk of relapse. It feels good to move and it’s another great way to help your body repair itself. Even if you don’t love to work out, you can probably find some way to move your body that’s enjoyable, like taking a walk at sunrise or sunset.
Supplements. Once again, you should talk to a physician before taking anything, but supplements like A, C, zinc, and B vitamins can help restore deficiencies, and amino acide supplements can help repair neurotransmitters in the brain.
Why eating healthy and taking care of our bodies in recovery is important:
Believe it or not, our bodies are quite resilient. While it’s true that in some instances, we may have done irreparable damage to our systems in active addiction, our bodies will usually bounce back over time. And for those of us that have done permanent damage, it’s never too late to start proper taking care of our existing mental and physical assets.
Kembali Recovery Center can help
Getting the body healthy by incorporating proper nutrition into your sobriety program is a big part of your recovery blueprint at Kembali Recovery Center. If you or someone you love is struggling to get sober or stay clean, Kemabli Recovery is here for you every step of the way. Contact us today to learn more about our 28-day inpatient recovery program. Because you never have to do this alone.