Effects of Addiction & Alcoholism on Nutrition
It is important for every person to develop healthy eating habits, but it’s even more crucial for people who are recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Even short-term addiction can take a huge toll on the body as it is forced to work overtime to eliminate toxic substances and defend itself against the damage they do. Achieving nutritional balance is essential in repairing the harm addiction does to the body.
How Substance Abuse Disrupts Nutrition
Each substance has its own set of specific effects on health, but many of them have similar impacts on a person’s ability to get all the nutrients necessary for health in recovery. Those who abuse any substance are likely to experience one or more of these broad symptoms:
- Loss of appetite:Many substances suppress appetite or cause the user to forget about eating altogether.
- Poor eating choices:People under the influence are more likely to make poor decisions, like living on a diet of fast food or sweets.
- Hypoglycaemia: Low blood sugar can be caused by a lack of sustenance or proper diet.
- Organ damage:Most drugs cause direct damage to the organs responsible for nutrient breakdown and processing.
- Gastrointestinal disorders:Alcohol and other drugs contribute to chronic issues in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that prevent it from effectively absorbing nutrients from food.
Alcohol and Nutrition
People who abuse alcohol typically do not pay attention to nutrition. Even those who were formerly healthy tend to let their good eating habits go as they become more consumed with the need to find and drink alcohol. This creates a two-fold nutritional problem because even if someone does manage to eat healthfully and get all of their nutrients, alcohol prevents them from being fully absorbed.
Alcohol abuse also causes severe harm to two critical digestive organs: the pancreas and the liver. The pancreas makes enzymes necessary for digesting fats, proteins and carbs. It also produces hormones essential for balancing blood sugar. The liver breaks down toxins, including alcohol, and if it stops working correctly due to heavy drinking, the alcohol will circulate in the blood for longer and cause more damage to the digestive system.
Alcohol abuse is known to cause severe deficiencies in these essential nutrients:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin B6
- Thiamine, or B1
Lack of these nutrients can result in anaemia, which makes the sufferer feel cold, lethargic and frequently dizzy. They may also experience frequent headaches and feel short of breath.
Thiamine deficiency is particularly dangerous, as it increases the likelihood of developing neurological conditions like Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (a brain disorder due to vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency).
Opioids and Nutrition
When someone begins regularly misusing opioids, they often begin to develop disordered eating. There are several patterns of eating that result from appetite suppression due to excess dopamine production and the competing priorities of eating and continuing drug use. These include:
- Eating fewer than two meals a day
- Putting off meals to prolong the opioid intoxication
- Skipping meals
- Failing to eat enough fruits and vegetables
- Failing to drink enough water
Another issue is opioid-induced constipation, which can become severe over time. As the condition worsens, appetite suppression increases and eating can become painful. Stopping opioid abuse and increasing fibre intake is the only way to get back on track after opioids have hijacked your nutritional intake.
Stimulants and Nutrition
Stimulants also cause appetite suppression, but do so by making people feel more energetic and “invincible” as though they don’t need to eat. People who abuse stimulants frequently go on binges of the drug in which they don’t eat or drink enough to nourish the body. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and heavily reduced food intake inevitably lead to malnutrition in those who use stimulants heavily. Some of the problems from this lack of nutrition include:
- Mental health issues like depression and anxiety
- Cognitive issues like confusion and trouble problem-solving
- Disturbances in heart rate and rhythm
- Low body temperature
- Muscle wasting
- Weight loss
After stopping stimulants, it’s common to experience a strong spike in appetite — which may lead to overeating — and this can overwhelm the weakened digestive system. A treatment program, such as the primary residential program offered by The Lighthouse Bali, that pays close attention to nutrition for recovering addicts will create a meal plan with appropriate portions that allow a healthy reintroduction of healthful food into the body. Our inhouse chef creates nutritionally balanced and individually appropriate dishes that are packed with flavour using Bali’s freshest produce.
Marijuana and Nutrition
Marijuana is known to significantly increase appetite. While this can be helpful for people with chronic diseases like cancer, it can be dangerous for people without conditions because it encourages them to eat more often, in greater quantities and with less attention toward nutrition. Someone abusing marijuana is likely to choose foods typically associated with cravings, such as those that contain significant amounts of saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Consuming a diet like this long-term can increase cholesterol, possibly leading to heart disease and failure. It may also contribute to diabetes.
USING NUTRITION TO IMPROVE BRAIN FUNCTION
Neuroplasticity is a key concept in addiction recovery. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new connections and rearrange old ones, typically in response to injury, disease or a change in the environment. The development of addiction is itself an example of neuroplasticity, as the reward pathway’s activity chemically adapts to the presence of drugs or alcohol.
Once addiction has forced changes in the brain, however, it damages neuroplasticity and makes it much harder to adapt to sobriety. Additionally, the adaptations that the brain develops disrupt crucial neuropathways, decreasing neurotransmitters and their ability to move normally through the brain.
Brain imaging studies have revealed that drug addiction disrupts connectivity between different parts of the brain, making it more difficult to re-stabilize healthy neurotransmission during recovery. Fortunately, adequate nutrition can improve neuroplasticity by helping the brain replenish normal amounts of neurotransmitters.
Here is how the building blocks of nutrition help restore plasticity to the brain:
- Carbohydrates: Aside from being the body’s primary energy source, carbs help the brain produce serotonin. This neurotransmitter is necessary for a stable mood, healthy sleep and reduced cravings for drugs or alcohol.
- Amino acids: Without enough amino acids, the brain cannot produce enough of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which results in more severe cravings, negative mood changes and greater aggression.
- Dietary fat: Dietary fat facilitates the regeneration of neuroplasticity by reducing inflammation and protecting the integrity of cell membranes in the brain.
- Omega-3s:Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease inflammation and help the brain increase neurotransmitter uptake.
- Omega-6s: These fatty acids, balanced with omega-3s, increase the function of neurotransmitter receptors, helping to increase the overall amount and activity of neurotransmitters in the brain.
THE ROLE OF NUTRITION DURING EARLY RECOVERY
Residential programs at The Lighthouse Bali incorporate nutrition plans to help clients heal more fully. Designing a meal plan that is balanced and satisfying is one way to significantly improve the experience of treatment.
During Admission to The Lighthouse Bali, clients are interviewed by a member of our clinical staff for a review of health history and discussion of the specific issues related to substance abuse. The review includes a talk about eating habits and weight that touches on:
- Weight gained after abusing depressants or sedatives, including opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol.
- Weight lost due to appetite suppression created by stimulants.
- Nutrient deficiencies arising from organ damage or poor eating habits.
- Potential co-occurring eating disorders that may be a cause or result of substance abuse.
Any nutritional needs are relayed to our inhouse chef to ensure all needs are being met. One of the factors to consider is also each person’s stress levels, which are almost certain to be higher during treatment. As the brain is working to re-balance itself after chronic drug and alcohol abuse, the stress hormone cortisol is over-produced and can deplete critical nutrients, including:
- Vitamins A, C, E and B-family
- Minerals, including zinc and magnesium
- Fatty acids
- Electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium
The increased nutritional needs during early recovery are just one of many reasons why professional care is recommended rather than attempting to go ‘cold turkey’ unassisted.
NUTRITIONAL SIDE EFFECTS OF UNASSISTED WITHDRAWAL
The first step in treating addiction to any substance is to remove all traces of the substance from the body. Unfortunately, many people attempt to quit drugs or alcohol on their own, which almost never works. No matter what the substance or the person’s history of abusing it, the withdrawal phase is where most people fail when trying to fight addiction alone.
Attempting to go through withdrawal without medical supervision results in a long list of unpleasant symptoms, some of which have dire consequences for nutritional balance. The nutritional side effects of unassisted withdrawal for most substances include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting: It is common not to be able to keep food down during withdrawal, which means people miss out on key nutrients before they can be absorbed by the body.
- Lack of appetite: Many people can’t or don’t want to eat at all, quickly leading to general weakness and malnutrition.
- Dehydration: Many people go into unassisted withdrawal already dehydrated from chronic drug and alcohol use, and the condition only worsens if there is no medical supervision.
The medically assisted detox offered by The Lighthouse Bali provides clients with medical care and/or medication in order to maintain the healthiest state possible while the body is eliminating drugs or alcohol.
GETTING STARTED: INPATIENT CARE AND REHAB
The Lighthouse Bali’s proven combination of an initial Primary Inpatient Program followed by Outpatient Care and Ongoing Therapy has helped alcohol addicts from around the world get their lives back on track. Through individually tailored treatment, professional therapy, medically assisted detox (if required), and compassionate support, you will be given the tools you need to ensure the best possible chances for long term recovery.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, we urge you to reach out and contact us in confidence. Our private programs are tailor-made to suit individual needs and our doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction.
If you are not currently in Bali but would like to begin a recovery program immediately, contact us as we will be able to arrange a VISA for entry into Indonesia. We also have online recovery options available which can be taken should you not wish to travel.
To talk to one of our team members, contact us on WhatsApp or by Phone. Alternatively, send us an email and we will either answer your questions in writing or call you back, according to your preference: Contact Us.
We understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help but it is the first step towards recovery and a happier, healthier way of living.