Nutrition and Addiction Recovery

Alcoholics and addicts self-identify usually only after their problem presents in such a way that they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” By this point, alcohol and/or drugs are so dominant a force that important areas in life are often neglected. One of these is nutrition.

Stimulant users forget to eat for days on end; opiate abusers tend to eat irregularly and not very selectively (usually, whatever is at hand); and alcoholics, among other things, subject their bodies to unnatural insulin swings.

Not only are eating habits generally poor, but alcoholics and addicts may have also compromised their bodies’ ability to metabolize nutrients properly, as drugs and alcohol interfere with healthy metabolic functioning.

Recovery is about more than abstinence

It’s about choosing an entirely new way of living, which includes self-care in terms of spiritual, psychological, emotional, and physical health. Nutrition plays a crucial part—and not just in regard to physical health. Poor dietary choices can lead to fatigue, which can lead to depression (as well as anxiety over responsibilities that become harder and harder to meet). They can also lead to weight gain, with the attendant health (and, often, self-esteem) issues. These problems, in turn, can lead to despondency and can compromise recovery.

Taking care of oneself is an aspect of
—and builder of—self-esteem

Proper eating, combined with exercise, contributes to a general sense of well-being that has always been so elusive to the problem-drinker or drug abuser, who used substances to find that sense and usually overshot the mark.

Because there are different types of people, there is some controversy over the question “Is there a standard diet that has maximum benefit for all?” It’s best to do some research, read up on the issue, and talk to people in recovery who have found for themselves what works.

Common sense supports a few simple ideas in dealing with nutrition and addiction recovery:

  • Minimize sugar consumption
  • Minimize or cut out “cheap carbs” (white bread, noodles, white rice, etc.)
  • Eat colors (green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, etc.)
  • Eat fruit (moderately—fructose is still sugar)
  • Minimize fat and cut out trans-fats
  • Minimize processed foods
  • Eat proteins (fish, chicken, some meat, rice/beans)
  • Eat breakfast!

Watch out for diet fads or overly strict regimes: they’re a setup for failure. Consider eating plans as goals and guidelines, not ironclad rules (unless you’re diabetic or following a doctor’s advice).

It’s fun to feel good, and worth the effort to feel good for the right reasons.

About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.

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