Alcoholism

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Nutrition for Recovering Drug Addicts and Alcoholics in Recovery

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Can nutrition play a role for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in recovery? You bet it can. I was curious about this myself, so I did some research and thought I would present you with some facts about it.

But first, let’s clear up some of the myths you might have heard:

Myth #1 - Certain foods can fight cravings – this is basically false, although some research concluded at one time that it might be true.

Myth #2 - Proper nutrition or vitamin supplements can constitute a recovery program – this is false. Regardless of how many vitamins you take or what diet you consume, it will not radically change the way you feel in recovery, especially in terms of the emotional roller coaster that early sobriety brings with it. True recovery from addiction requires much more than just proper nutrition. (In fact, I did not even think about nutrition for the first 7 years of my recovery, and I did just fine!)

* Special note: if you are withdrawing from alcohol, you need medical supervision, not nutritional advice.

So here is the road map I’ve found for nutrition in recovery:

1) Recovering alcoholics and most drug addicts will tend to be malnourished in early recovery. The solution is to eat a healthy diet. There is a ton of information available as to what that consists of, but here is my pick from the Mayo Clinic.

2) Be sensible. A daily multi-vitamin is probably a good idea. On the other hand, taking mega doses of exotic vitamins and formulas is probably not necessary.

3) Limit or curtail caffeine and heavy sugar intake. A surprising high number of recovering alcoholics also drink coffee. You don’t have to quit, but what about going from 4 cups of coffee to one or two per day? Again, be sensible.

4) Here is a recommended “recovery” diet. You’ll notice that it is sensible, simple, and healthy. Who would have imagined that?

So in recovery, nutrition is important, but there is no magic formula out there that says you should be taking certain supplements because you’re in recovery. During the detox stage, some extra supplements might be necessary (under medical supervision), but there is no need for anything other than a healthy and balanced diet in long term recovery.

Does anyone have any nutritional advice for recovering addicts and alcoholics? Let us know in the comments….

 

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  • Kim

    You said you were going to present some facts…but really all you did was present your opinion, and assert that nutritional-based detox is a “myth,” based on your own experiences. If you were presenting “facts,” than you would have backed them up with evidence, including controlled scientific studies proving that mega-doses of supplements make no difference in recovery. Perhaps you didn’t have to think about nutrition for the first seven years of your recovery because you were fortunate enough to have been taught to eat a healthy diet as a child, or perhaps someone else cooks for you, or you just happen to have access to higher quality food than some. In other words, just because you didn’t consciously follow a certain diet, doesn’t mean good nutrition didn’t play a role, even if by accident. Even though you didn’t need them, perhaps there are some people who could benefit quite a lot from mega-doses of certain supplements.

  • Patrick

    @ Kim – you are at least half right in your assertion that all I did was state my opinion.

    Nevertheless, my opinion is backed up with a lot of experience, and I work in the substance abuse treatment field in a couple of different positions (for example, I have been under an M.D., an Addictionologist, for about 5 years now). I have watched this doctor treat thousands of patients, and I know he consults with lots of other doctors in the same field (because he always updates us on new research during staff meetings…).

    So it may be my opinion, but I think there is plenty of experience to draw on there, and I still stand by my assertions.

    Have you seen examples where nutrition played a key role in recovery? Because after working in the field for over 5 years now, I still see nutrition as a secondary, less important strategy of the holistic approach. Just my opinion of course, I could be dead wrong! Would love to hear more about your experiences with this….

  • Rose Anne Hamilton, B.Sc.

    You may have done just fine, but a teenager who lives on junk food and pop will have a hard time with withdrawal and staying clean, because their body is already at war with swinging blood sugar and hormonal imbalances created by poor nutrition, chronic dehydration, and floods of transfats. And most people’s definition of “fine” falls woefully short of anything like good health, but having never experienced it, they are not aware of what it feels like!

    There are in fact decades of studies connecting criminal recidivism and addiction relapse rates with nutrition. In addition, there are specific orthomolecular and herbal protocols which can substantially ease withdrawal.

    Bear in mind that the average MD in the USA has less than 10 hours of nutrition classes in their 8-12 years of training, primarily centered on basic guidelines for pregnancy and the infamous industry-skewed USDA dietary recommendations. Instead of learning about the functional aspects of the (neolithically designed) human body and what it requires to run well and heal, they study years of – drug “therapy”!! You would do better to speak with true specialist experts in the nutrition field before slamming the tools that a body requires for operation and healing. A quick internet search alone would give you plenty to learn about.

  • Patrick

    @ Rose Anne Hamilton – I still disagree with the idea that nutrition plays a major role.

    My stance is that it does play a role, but that it is a very minor one, especially in early recovery.

    I believe that nutrition can become more important the longer a person stays clean and sober. But in the early stages, it is a distraction from what they actually need to focus on.

    I do not doubt that the medical industry is more drug pushing and less aware of nutritional aspects than what they should be. But in terms of actually breaking through denial and achieving some sobriety….this has almost no bearing on nutrition. Or rather, I should say that nutrition has almost no bearing on the success or failure of someone in very early recovery.

    Let me give a quick analogy: say we are comparing the top athletes in the world. Would we say that diet and nutrition are a factor in judging the best in the world? Sure it is a factor, but is nutrition really the driving force that makes someone into the best in the world? No…the dedication, the hours of practice every day, that is what makes the real difference. They could be eating junk food and ramen noodles all day and still be the best in the world (look at Michael Phelps).

    I am not saying that nutrition is not a factor….just that it is not the priority in early recovery. Later on in long term sobriety, I think the importance of it increases a bit….

    Thanks for the discussion….my ideas are not backed by hard research, but they are backed up by lots of data….I work in a rehab and have also lived their for a few years, so I do make lots and lots of observations….

  • Sue

    Sorry to say…but your assumption that diet isn’t that important is not very scientific. I am an RN and work regularly with alcoholics. Nutrition plays into every major health problem in this country. And your typical alcoholic or recovering alcoholic is not eating brown rice and fresh vegetables with every meal. Nutrition should not be taken for granted or assumed. It most be taught and reinforced over and over again. For an alcoholic who is climbing the walls with anxiety and insomnia…nutritional supplements are often a good first step. Healthy foods..rich in vitamins and minerals are expensive and time consuming to add into a stressed patients life and if you don’t encourage these healthy, positive, first baby steps how do you expect them to stick to the more difficult life style and habit changes. Give them some encouragement…let them take extra vitamin C, Niacin, thiamin…let them juice and work on feeling good enough to sleep through the night. Give them positive habits that make them feel better and then they won’t be as likely to reach for the booze whenever they feel anxious. These people need to learn how to eat…not just how stop drinking.

  • Barbara

    I would agree that while nutrition has not played a major role in substance abuse treatment and recovery, it certainly does not mean that it is not terribly important to consider. In fact there are studies suggesting that if we did pay more attention to nutrition that we might help people stay in treatment, hence recovery longer. As one who is doing their doctoral work in this area, I can assure you that there is a vast literature on the role that nutrition plays in physical health, brain health and mental health…that includes substance abuse and often many co-occurring conditions that exist. Sadly many well intentioned people assume that if it has been the norm, then it isn’t important. The comment made earlier is exactly right, doctors and many medical professionals do not get regular training and education on nutrition and through no fault of their own, just don’t know the effects. Even many nutritionists are not familiar, say with the impact that omega 3’s can have on brain health, mental health and substance abuse. It is my hope that we will start looking at all of our options in treating this chronic relapsing “brain” disease.

  • Barbara

    I would agree that while nutrition has not played a major role in substance abuse treatment and recovery, it certainly does not mean that it is not terribly important to consider. In fact there are studies suggesting that if we did pay more attention to nutrition that we might help people stay in treatment, hence recovery longer. As one who is doing their doctoral work in this area, I can assure you that there is a vast literature on the role that nutrition plays in physical health, brain health and mental health…that includes substance abuse and often many co-occurring conditions that exist. Sadly many well intentioned people assume that if it has not been the norm, then it isn’t important. The comment made earlier is exactly right, doctors and many medical professionals do not get regular training and education on nutrition and through no fault of their own, just don’t know the effects. Even many nutritionists are not familiar, say with the impact that omega 3’s can have on brain health, mental health and substance abuse. It is my hope that we will start looking at all of our options in treating this chronic relapsing “brain” disease.

  • Addictions counsellor

    This article is bullshit, if there is a higher instance of addiction amongst first nations people does that mean that they are genetically predisposed to addiction? Of course not, because there were no addiction problems prior to colonializaton, as its a cultural issue not a “genetic” one. What the genetic argument says is that we don’t have to look at environment and just drug people up AKA “medical attention”. This is big pharma shite.

  • http://tomsteffy@ecologicalinnovationsllc.com Tom Steffy

    Hello,
    I sell a product named ModeraXL which is classified as a dietary supplement and contains amino acids and vitamins in a particular combination. It is a powder you mix with water and drink. This product balances brain chemistry and does it in a matter of hours to a few days. The people who take it have a very real reduction in cravings and change in mood and mental clarity. It used to be given as an injectable but now is able to be given as a drink. I don’t know what to say about obvious, repeatable and verifiable results other than that they are happening routinely in Denver. Several very reputable and well-known Doctors and clinicians have participated in the process of bringing ModeraXL to market and they have seen it work and understand the science behind it. I am new to this whole area of addiction I am hoping to find an open mindedness in the field of addiction treatment which I have yet to experience. Thank you for your time.

  • max

    I tend to agree with Kim. The title of the page is misleading with regards to the content as well. “Nutrition for Recovering Drug Addicts and Alcoholics in Recovery” seems to suggest that the information is “nutritional information” provided within whereas all you have outlined are opinionated myths.
    Apparently with regards to alcoholism esp., patients can be lacking in particular B1 which helps thinking clearly, and will also likely to be dehydrated requiring the intact of water. It would also be advisable for increase of dietary fiber to help maintain digestive system which can often be one of the greatest hit and gradually improving the liver functioning with supplements like Milk Thistle (may help).
    Of course a balanced diet will help, come on, a balanced diet will help ANYONE. I wouldn’t recommend taking multivitamins ever. The idea is to focus on particular vitamins and minerals lost one at a time so that they can be removed separately when the body should be replenished with them. If you take multivitamins, then you may end up taking too much in certain types. Of course foods high in particular (B1,B2,Iron,Magnesium). Where have you outlined any nutritional information?

  • max

    In General (order of importance):
    B1 (thiamine) – most important
    B2 (riboflavin)
    Magnesium
    Dietary Fiber
    Iron

  • Patrick

    Well if you want to get technical, Magnesium is the most important supplement for someone who is detoxing from alcohol, as that poses the greatest medical risk of seizure.

    But that is not really a “nutritional” issue….it is a medical one, and would normally be handled by professionals in a supervised detox.

    Nutrition is just not that important for recovery from addiction. Sure, it is a factor. Sure, it may help a very small amount. But no, it is not a major factor. The point is, the newcomer needs to focus on other things if they want to succeed. That is the important message here.

  • Michael

    wow! I wish you had never wrote this .How can you say that nutrition plays such a backseat in detox and recovery. Jeez…. It is the body we are talking about here. What runs the body is NUTRITION! What you put in it.. Extra potassium helps with RLS and cramps, extra tryptophan or melatonin helps with anxiety and sleeplessness. Vitamin C and B and L-Tyrosine help with depression. My God man, If your body feels like crap, you are not going to want to get up out of bed. It’s a holistic approach, mind, body, and spirit that we live in. Please stop with your erroneous, “opinions” and cookie cutter approach. People, do as much resarch as possible before making any decision.

  • Michael

    “Nutrition is just not that important”. I’m really sorry but you should be shot. (metaphorically speaking). Nutrition is so important when you’re just an average person. If you’re an addict or substance abuser or alcoholic, your body is in terrible condition. Especially your liver and kidneys. Getting proper nutrition is the FIRST thing you should be thinking about. I don’t care what you’ve “observed” from your experience, it’s common knowledge that brain function alone is not optimal without proper nutrition, as well as the nervous system, and elimination faculties. You might as well tell everyone to just keep on drinking, it’ll be ok.

    Patrick, please… go hide under a rock for a couple of years. You are so misinformed and leading people in the opposite direction then they should be going. Our bodies are what get us through life. It is the only one we have. If you have been abusing it, it can and will recover with the right nutrition and maintenance. I bet you don’t think exercise is important either. Or drinking water to help elimination. Please anyone reading this thread, run as fast as you can and even just google nutrition or detox or health or anything other than this thread.

  • http://www.jambotruong.com Jambo Truong

    This article is simply a very big opinion. I an a consultant of integrated health and have been an addictions specialist for the past 10 years. I have been using many different forms of complementary therapies to manage the side effects of detox, abstinence AND hep c medication. I have been in enough rehabs and used simple ingredients from kitchens to help those in recovery manage their symptoms. For more information feel free to follow me on twitter @JamboTruong.

  • France

    Bottom line, there is no truth that applies to everyone. For me, nutrition has been vital in supporting recovery. I have to abstain from caffeine as it usually triggers a craving for alcohol after a few hours.
    I actually found sugar to be helpful when having a craving – half an hour after one candy bar I no longer crave wine. At the same time, I’m weaning myself from sugar, so that’s a gradual, not long term or ongoing solution. I need my b-vitamins, especially Niacin. Will also try B1 after reading these comments. Garlic does wonders for making me feel solid, as does a high protein, low carb diet.
    I don’t see the need here for either/or thinking. The person who wrote this article is sharing what he has experienced. Lots of us experience something different. As always, it all comes down to each individual exploring and deciding for themselves what they need.

  • Katrina

    I am putting together a presentation on nutrition for a womens recovery home (all of whom have 6 months or less sobriety) and I happened across this article. The article and the comments that followed did give me a couple new inspirations. But mainly it reminded me that by helping these women get in touch with their bodies again and their nutritional needs I am not only helping them but I am helping keep myself clean and sober (3 years and counting!)
    And i would like to ask all of you out there to come together and help me relay some ideas to these women. Isnt that our purpose in this journey? After we have fallen in our own lives and received help up from someone whos healthy…to turn and pass on our new knowledge to the person behind us whos still struggling in there own life? Not to bicker amongst ourselves about whos right and why…just take the info you want…and leave the rest.
    I know what works for me in my recovery, what works in yours?