Nutrition in the Early Days of Addiction Recovery
By: Joy Anderson
Nutrition is a topic often overlooked when of course the main focus in the early days of recovery are pretty well filled up with learning how to cope without drugs and alcohol. This is an argument that a healthy diet is absolutely essential to healing the damage we do to ourselves in active addiction.
We are often dehydrated,our brains are not functioning at highest capacity, our organs suffer including the biggest organ of all – the skin. It’s critical to eat properly always and when the body is healing from a bout with substance abuse nutrition can make all the difference.
Nutrition is not necessarily at the top of the list at treatment program. It seems that unless the person seeking treatment chooses a very holistic focused program, this very important part of living a balanced life is barely touched on.
When someone throws in the towel on addiction, the high cost of low living can manifest itself in many ways. Let’s face it – we arrive to treatment malnourished, underweight, pale. The addictive substances we indulged in affect metabolism, brain function (especially memory)and mental well-being. It’s different for each drug as well but almost all can be repaired in time.
Opiate withdrawal may lead to a lack of enough nutrients and an imbalance of electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium, and chloride.)
Alcohol appears to be the most damaging substance affecting the liver and the pancreas. The liver removes toxins from harmful substances. The pancreas regulates blood sugar and the absorption of fat. Damage to these two organs results in an imbalance of fluids, calories, protein, and electrolytes.
Stimulants use reduces appetite, and leads to weight loss and poor nutrition. Memory problems, which may be permanent are also a concern. Here’s the list of foods that help boost memory:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Salmon and other cold-water fish
- Berries and dark-skinned fruits
- Coffee and chocolate
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil
Marijuana – when users step away from their daily attachment to pot, they may lose weight as it increases appetite. Obesity can be extremely damaging to the body and also presents issues for the person’s self-image and ability to engage with others socially.
More information can be found at an article published by the NIH and Medlineplus but the basic rule of thumb: stick to complex carbohydrates early in recovery. Fruits and vegetables, whole-grain rice, breads, and cereals,legumes (beans, lentils, and dried peas)
Eat legumes (beans, lentils, and dried peas).
Simple carbohydrates include Fruits,milk and milk products,and vegetables.
Simple carbs are also found in some sugary snacks but those provide only empty calories.
First hand experience tells me that the craving for sugar and chocolate is pretty overwhelming in the first couple of months and having those items is fine as long as they are counterbalance with other healthy options. I recall eating milkshakes everyday and little else. I had no energy and I put on 15lbs – go figure.
While it is always more important to help the person in early recovery learn the skills it takes to avoid relapse – the biggest trigger being stress, nutrition can truly help. When we eat balanced meals all the organs and functions are satisfied and we are less likely to fall prey to stress and feel better able to handle other daily life events that come our way.
About the Author:
My name comes from a friend my mother was visiting in the hospital when she was pregnant with me. The lady said to her, “This baby will be the joy of your life!” the rest is history. I thank God everyday that I didn’t come out a boy. I am a child of the 80’s: I miss Swatches, U2, Aqua OH-e, The Pretenders, The Clash- I could go on forever. There was no more awful era fashion-wise (think Miami Vice) and none more filled with great cheesy incredible stuff. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Beetlejuice….The music and the movies absolutely shaped me. Yes, I’m a geek. Sadly, the goon of addiction hooked me one day and I was on board for years and years. Not anymore – sober, happy, well employed using my skills and education to do what I do best write and network – bringing people and resources in the world of addiction recovery closer one link at a time.