Why Nutrition is Important in Addiction Recovery

Why Nutrition Is Important In Addiction Recovery

Why Nutrition is Important in Addiction Recovery

As you start the process of recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, there are probably many things on your mind. You might be thinking about the toll that addiction took on different aspects of your life. You might also be considering the road ahead and what physical and mental challenges you might face on the path to long-term sobriety. However, one thing that you might not be thinking about is nutrition.

Many people who are recovering from addiction don’t realize the extent of the physical damage that has been caused by their addiction to drugs or alcohol. It’s easy to notice the mental and psychological changes that are caused by substance abuse, because they are so obvious. In fact, they can sometimes overshadow the physical consequences of addiction. However, it is important to also treat the physical damage that is caused by drugs and alcohol.




An important part of the drug and alcohol treatment process involves restoring physical health. To help with this process, the team at HARP has assembled some information about nutrition and addiction recovery, as a way to lay the foundation for long-term sobriety. Our professionals explain the importance of nutrition in recovery and how addiction negatively impacts the body. They also provide a basic nutritional guide to help aid in the recovery process.

Health Problems From Addiction

Everyone knows that an addiction to drugs or alcohol causes a long list of problems, including financial, personal, legal, professional, mental, psychological, and physical. Addiction influences each one of these areas in different ways, and it has a serious negative impact on the body.


In many cases, an addiction to drugs or alcohol leads to malnourishment. People who struggle with alcohol addiction drink empty calories that are found in beer, wine, and liquor. This creates a feeling of fullness, and many people with an alcohol addiction do not eat a healthy and nutrient-rich diet. As for people with a drug addiction, they are often so focused on getting high that they forget to eat. Additionally, people with a drug addiction may struggle with problems like constipation, diarrhea, or indigestion, which strain the digestive system.

Absorption Problems

Alcohol and drugs not only block the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals, but they also prevent the body from absorbing vital nutrients. As a result, people who struggle with addiction often lack important nutrients and natural chemicals that promote feelings of well-being.

Immune System Problems

Substance abuse and malnutrition have a negative impact on the body’s natural defense system. People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of catching colds and flus. They are also more likely to develop serious health problems like cancer. Some of the most common types of cancers among people with substance abuse problems include breast, colon, liver, and lung.

Liver Damage

In addition to an elevated risk of liver cancer, people who use drugs or alcohol often have serious liver damage. Heavy drug or alcohol use and poor nutrition work together to lower the liver’s ability to filter toxins.

Additional Health Problems

There are other physical effects of addiction and malnutrition, including weight loss, tooth loss, skin problems, or yellowing of the skin, to name a few.

Malnutrition is an especially serious problem for people with an addiction and even people who are in recovery. Alcohol and drug use causes physical and biochemical changes. Compounding the problem is the fact that people who use these substances tend to make poor dietary choices. Some of the most common choices include not eating breakfast; eating large quantities of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods; and not eating enough protein, fiber, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

The physical toll of addiction and malnutrition can be overwhelming. While it’s not always possible to completely reverse the negative health effects of addiction, good nutrition can improve a person’s health, strength, and appearance. It can also aid in the drug and alcohol treatment process.

Malnutrition and the Missing Nutrients

Since addiction causes malnutrition and poor eating habits, people are often missing several key nutrients when they enter an alcohol and drug treatment program. However, the type of deficiencies depends largely on the type of substance that the person has been abusing. Some examples of common nutritional deficiencies by substance include:

Alcohol: People who abuse alcohol have the most nutritional deficiencies, because alcohol forces their bodies to excrete large quantities of nutrients.

Cocaine: People who use cocaine tend to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.

Opiates: People who use opiates tend to lack calcium, iron, and vitamins B6 and D.

When people with an addiction are malnourished, the symptoms that they present vary based on what nutrients they are lacking. For example, people who are missing magnesium tend to have anxiety, insomnia, and weakness, while individuals with vitamin C deficiencies often have weakened immune systems and wounds that heal slowly.

People who have these nutritional deficiencies are clearly at risk for having a host of problems. They are also more likely to suffer from more intense withdrawal symptoms when they stop using drugs and alcohol. Most people will experience some degree of withdrawal symptoms when they detox during the addiction recovery process.

The type of symptoms vary based on the substance used and the severity varies based on many factors; however, poor nutrition can produce more intense symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include cravings for alcohol or drugs, depression, fatigue, irritability, and lack of mental clarity. All of these problems work together to make it more difficult for people to get clean and sober.

At HARP, we believe in a comprehensive approach to treating drug and alcohol addiction. As a result, we offer nutritional counseling as part of our program. Clients who select nutritional counseling work with a nutritionist to develop a customized nutrition plan to help the body and mind recover. Our team of experienced drug and alcohol treatment professionals want to stress the importance of living a healthy lifestyle during recovery.

Nutritional Guidelines for Addiction Recovery

Our nutritionists at HARP develop individualized nutrition plans for each client. While everyone will have a slightly different plan, there are general nutritional guidelines that can help people who are recovering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Add Antioxidants

Antioxidants boost the immune system and they protect cells from free radical damage, which can lead to cancer. It’s easy to find antioxidants because fruits and vegetables are full of them. Fresh fruits like apples, blueberries, and strawberries, as well as raw vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and peppers, are all excellent dietary choices. They can also be incorporated into green smoothies for additional health benefits like increased energy and liver support.

Have Healthy Fats

People often think that all fats are off the table when it comes to healthy eating, but the body actually needs fat to function properly and absorb fat-soluble vitamins. However, it’s important to consume the right types of fat. Good sources of healthy fat include flaxseed oil, olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish and nuts.

Find Fiber

Drug and alcohol abuse can do a number on the digestive tract, but adding fiber to the diet can help the body recover. There are many ways to increase fiber intake, including replacing foods made with white flour with whole grains, eating fiber-rich foods like beans and nuts, and adding an over-the-counter fiber supplement. Keep in mind that it’s important to start slowly when introducing more fiber into the diet to avoid gastrointestinal upsets.

Pile on Protein

During the drug and alcohol treatment process, the brain needs proper nutrition to recover. Protein can provide the necessary building blocks for brain recovery. High-quality protein can also help improve liver function, assuming that the organ hasn’t been too badly damaged by addiction. When selecting proteins, it’s important to go for options that are easy to digest. Some examples include beans, fish, and poultry.

Cut out Caffeine

Caffeine can be found in coffee, soda, tea, and even chocolate. As a stimulant, caffeine can cause fluctuations in mood, which can make it more difficult to resist cravings for alcohol or drugs. Anything that a person can do to reduce cravings and temptation is good.

Push Away Processed Foods

Natural foods are always healthier than processed foods, especially for people who are recovering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. When a person is in recovery, their liver needs to repair itself. Avoiding artificial ingredients and processed foods can help.

Stay Away From Sugar

Many people love sugary foods and refined carbohydrates, including cake, cookies, pastries, and white bread. However, sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause mood fluctuations that can make it more difficult to resist temptation and make healthy choices. These foods also make people feel full, while providing empty calories, rather than the nutrients the body needs.

In addition to considering what and what not to eat, it’s also important to think about when and how to eat. One valuable nutritional tool for people in recovery is smart snacking. When people regularly eat healthy snacks with protein, it helps to regulate their blood sugar and prevents mood fluctuations.

Basically, light and healthy snacking can prevent the mood dips that occur in between meals that can make it more difficult to resist cravings for drugs or alcohol. Some examples of smart snacks include fresh fruit with yogurt, a handful of nuts, or a hard-boiled egg.

Some people who are recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction may also want to think about undergoing a complete diet overhaul to help reverse the damage that’s caused by addiction. One popular diet is the macrobiotic diet, which involves eating only unprocessed and organic foods. Wholes grains, soup, fruits, and green vegetables are key components of this diet.

Before beginning any diet or undergoing any radical nutritional changes, the drug and alcohol treatment center professionals at HARP recommend speaking with a physician or nutritionist first to make sure that the diet is the right fit for you. At HARP, we give all of our client’s access to nutritional counseling to help them make healthy and constructive changes in their diet.

In addition to making dietary changes, it’s also important to incorporate exercise into daily life. There’s a reason why diet and exercise are often referred to in the same sentence. Both elements are necessary to maintain health. The combination of diet and exercise can help a person whether they are trying to become healthier, stronger, more energized, or they’re simply trying to manage their weight.

Get The Help You Need

Recovering from drug or alcohol addiction involves all areas of a person’s life. In addition to receiving treatment for the mental and psychological aspects of addiction, it is also critical to get professional help to address the physical problems that are caused by addiction. A comprehensive approach to addiction recovery tends to produce the greatest long-term success rates for people who once abused drugs and alcohol. Before selecting a drug and alcohol treatment center, make sure that the treatment center addresses all of your needs, including nutrition.




It might seem difficult to change your diet and overcome addiction at the same time, but the two actually go hand in hand. Eating a healthy and nutrient-rich diet can aid in the recovery process, by improving physical health and reducing cravings for drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you love is ready to get help recovering from an addiction, the experts at HARP are here.

HARP, a drug rehab center, specializes in treating addiction to many different substances. Our team of experienced and caring medical professionals and addiction treatment specialists offer medically-supervised detox, counseling and support services, and long-term recovery resources to help each client have a comfortable and productive stay at our treatment center before they reenter their life – clean and sober. With help and support, recovery from addiction is possible. HARP can help clients live a life free from drug and alcohol addiction.

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