Much of the damage that addicts inflict on their body does not occur directly because of the substance abuse. In many instances the real source of the problems will be a poor diet. This is particularly true for alcoholics who end up replacing meals with the empty calories in alcohol. Conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, alcoholic liver disease, and alcoholic dementia are all closely related to nutritional deficiencies. When people enter recovery they can continue to suffer from problems if they fail to eat a balanced diet. This is why it is vital that any nutritional deficiency is rectified, and that the individual learns to eat the right things.
When people enter recovery it is important that they begin eating a balanced diet. The reasons for why this is so important include:
* Many newly sober individuals will suffer from nutritional deficiencies that can interfere with their mental and physical health.
* In order to recover physical and mental health quickly it is vital that people get all the nutrients they need in their diet.
* If people are suffering from nutritional deficiencies it can hinder their progress in early recovery. This could mean that they are more likely to relapse back to their addiction.
* Many people complain of post acute withdrawals syndrome that can last for months after the individual has become sober. One of the most intrusive symptoms of this is foggy thinking and this can be exacerbated by poor nutrition.
* In order to build a good life away from addiction the individual will need plenty of energy. Eating the wrong food can leave people feeling lethargic and lacking in energy.
* A common reason for why people give up their addiction is that they feel sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. If they continue to eat a poor diet then this could mean that they continue to feel sick and tired.
* It is now generally accepted that eating the right food can lead to improved mood and healthier emotions. This is because hormones related to food digestion can actually trigger pleasant emotions in the brain.
* While some foods do trigger pleasant emotions it is also possible for food to lead to unpleasant emotions as well.
* Chronic conditions such as alcoholic liver disease and alcoholic dementia are caused by a lack of proper nutrients in the diet. Failure to rectify these deficiencies can lead to permanent ill health and eventually death.
* When people commit to a life in sobriety they usually aspire to enjoy improved health and mental functioning. Failure to eat a balanced diet could prevent people from make this aspiration a reality.
* When people take control of their diet it can actually be very empowering for them. They now feel like they have more control over their life, and it increases their self esteem.
* It is possible for people to learn how to eat the food they really enjoy without suffering from nutritional deficiencies or becoming overweight.
There are a number of reasons for why people will suffer nutritional deficiencies in recovery including:
* Alcoholics often replace food with alcohol, and this means that they are missing important nutrients in their diet. It can take a bit of time to fix these deficiencies when people first become sober.
* Drug addicts will also tend to make poor nutritional choices, and so when they become sober they will also have deficiencies in their diet.
* When people first become sober they may have a poor appetite. They might also continue with their poor eating habits in recovery.
* Some people have a lack of knowledge about what constitutes a healthy diet so they continue to make poor food choices in recovery.
* It is common for newly sober people to turn to comfort eating in early recovery, and this will often mean eating junk food. It is possible to eat excessively and still have nutritional deficiencies- especially if people are just eating junk meals and snacks.
* The majority of people just do not appreciate how much the food they eat affects their life. This makes it easier for them to make poor choices.
The most common nutrient deficiencies that addicts are likely to suffer from include:
* Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxal phosphate) is a common deficiency among alcoholics. A lack of this vitamin can lead to mental confusion and skin problems.
* Vitamin B1(Thiamine) deficiency is also known as beriberi, and it is most likely to affect chronic alcoholic. A lack of this vitamin can lead to alcoholic dementia and cardiovascular problems.
* It is common for all addicts to suffer from electrolyte imbalances because of regular diarrhea. This means that they have a lack of sodium, calcium, or potassium in their body and in some instances this can lead to death.
* Many addicts who fail to eat a balanced diet may be missing important minerals such as copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc. These are normally stored in the body but those who rely on a poor diet can deplete these stores over time.
It may sound a bit counterintuitive, but it is possible for people to eat excessively and still suffer from nutritional deficiencies. For example, one report found that there is a clear association between obesity and vitamin D deficiency. One possible reason for why this happens is that adipose tissue (fat) soaks up the vitamin D. Another more obvious reason for why comfort eaters can suffer from nutritional deficiencies is that, while they are eating plenty of calories, they still might not be getting all the nutrients they need for a balanced diet.
Comfort eating is sometimes described as trying to eat away emotions. It means that the individual is eating food because of their emotions and not because they are hungry. The foods that people are most likely to turn to when looking for comfort are the ones they enjoyed as children – usually junk food and sweet things. The more problems the individual has in their life they more they might turn to comfort eating. Eventually the weight gain and feelings of sluggishness become another reason to overindulge in food.
When people first become sober after a period of addiction they can be attracted to anything that helps them deal with uncomfortable feelings. Early sobriety is often described as an emotional rollercoaster so the individual may feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Food can seem like a harmless indulgence when compared to alcohol or drugs. The danger with this behavior is that it can lead to weight gain and nutritional deficiencies so that ultimately it makes the individual feel worse. It can interfere with the ability of the individual to find happiness in recovery so they might use it as an excuse to relapse.
Nutritional deficiencies can be a serious problem for people in recovery so it is vital that they are dealt with. The situation can be rectified by:
* It may be necessary for the individual to take nutritional supplements at least in the short term. A physician or dietician can be able to advice about this.
* Those people who have serious nutritional deficiencies may need to undergo intravenous therapy so as to get these nutrients into the body quickly.
* It is important that people understand what is meant by a balanced diet. This information is readily available on the internet.
* Human knowledge about nutrition is being constantly improved upon. Many of the ideas that were promoted a few years ago are not longer accepted so it is important for people to stay up to date with their knowledge of nutrition.
* People should avoid turning to food for comfort in sobriety. This can become another way to avoid dealing with reality, and it is ultimately self-defeating.
* It is not a good idea to skip meals in recovery. Hunger can actually act as a relapse trigger so it should be avoided if at all possible.
* Some people will benefit from taking a multivitamin tablet every day. It is good to get advice about this from a physician.
* Those individuals who are vegetarian or vegan need to pay particular attention to their diet to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need. The vegetarian diet can be very healthy but only if people eat sensibly.
* It is highly recommended that people keep a food diary. That way they will have a better idea of their diet and will find it easier to spot any deficiencies.