Malnutrition is a common side effect among alcoholics and substance abusers. Malnourishment occurs in substance abusers because of decreased food ingestion and in some cases impaired metabolism and absorption processes. It is known to lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can cause many serious health problems. Some drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and amphetamine are known to cause a loss of appetite. Abusers of these drugs may stay up for days at a time on a binge and suffer dehydration and electrolyte imbalances as a result.
Malnourishment leads to a break down of basic bodily function and vitamin deficiencies. Vitamins are essential to maintaining growth and normal metabolism because they regulate many physiological processes. Fatigue, digestive problems, menstruation issues, tooth decay, aches and pains are often experienced by people who are malnourished. Additionally, people who suffer from malnutrition are vulnerable to infection. The nutrients from food are essential to the functioning of the effectiveness of the immune system. Without a properly functioning immune system one is easily susceptible to disease.
People who drink alcohol or take drugs usually are faced with vitamin deficiencies and in some cases are malnourished. These deficiencies usually occur as result of poor nutrition and a lack of good health. Long term, and in some case, irreversible health problems can occur when someone has a deficiency in an essential vitamin or mineral.
Thiamine deficiency is a very serious disorder that occurs as a consequence of poor nutrition and a lack of thiamine, or vitamin B1.
Individuals who suffer from chronic alcoholism are at risk of suffering from a very serious health condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, or Wet Brain Syndrome. Vitamin B1 is essential for brain function and the nervous system, flow of electrolytes in and out of cells, digestion and carbohydrate metabolism. Thiamine is found in many foods such as beef, wheat, milk, oranges, seeds and cereals. Most people will get the amount required by the body through adequate food consumption. Because many drugs and alcohol abusers neglect their diet and health, they are at risk of causing a deficiency in thiamine.
Liver disease is another consequence of poor health and inadequate consumption of essential vitamins. Damage can occur when vitamin A and E are not present in the body through poor nutrition. Alcohol is known to affect the metabolizing of vitamin A in the body which can lead to damage to the liver.
Alcohol has been found to affect the amount of calcium in the body. In the long term, this can lead to osteoporosis and other health conditions. Calcium is important for many body functions including vascular contraction and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling and hormonal secretion along with bone strength. Chronic alcoholism has been found to disturb vitamin D metabolism, resulting in inadequate absorption of dietary calcium and a loss in bone mass and density.
Vitamin therapy is the use of high doses of vitamins to treat diseases and conditions. This alternative approach to health care has been found to provide impressive results in some cases for many different diseases, including alcoholism and substance abuse. Evidence has shown that vitamin therapy can aid in reducing withdrawal symptoms, increase the treatment retention rates and improve mental health. This may be because of the chronic deficiencies that some people have as a result of their long term drug or alcohol use and because of the healing properties that specific vitamins, such as vitamin C, have been found to induce.
Chronic depletion of vitamins and minerals should be considered in any health treatment for substance abuse. For alcoholics and drug addicts, nutrients commonly used in vitamin treatment include niacin; B Complex vitamins especially B1, B5 and B6; antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E; calcium and magnesium. Each of these vitamins have been found to facilitate a large number of metabolic processes and their deficiencies can be associated with mental disturbances and chronic health problems.
Studies have shown that adverse effects from vitamin and mineral supplements are incredibly rare and levels of supplementing vitamins required to evoke a reaction are far higher than would be considered practical. Safety studies indicate that adverse effects from short-term use of high dose vitamins used during withdrawal or rehabilitation, are negligible. With the exception of synthetic vitamin A, it is most likely that adverse events associated with high doses of a single vitamin are actually caused by resulting nutrient imbalances.
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