You may have heard the idea at some point that proper nutrition is important for alcoholism or drug addiction recovery.
You may have even heard the idea that there are certain treatment programs that focus heavily on proper eating and nutrition as part of the healing process.
I am going to go out on a limb here and make a rather bold proclamation in saying that nutrition is only a minor side issue when it comes to addiction recovery.
In other words, proper diet and nutrition is not a solution for recovery. It may be a small part of your overall solution in treatment, but it can never be more than a very small part of the overall treatment plan. Believing that proper nutrition has the power to heal your life or make a drastic impact as far as overcoming a real addiction–that is not accurate in the least.
My experience and my observations in the world of substance abuse treatment suggest that, while proper nutrition may be helpful for addiction recovery, it is in itself nowhere near being a solution for addiction.
So you may be wondering exactly what role proper nutrition would play in recovery, and what a comprehensive treatment plan would look like for someone who is attempting to get clean and sober.
In my opinion it is best to start with the concept of denial and surrender. So a struggling addict or alcoholic is going to be wrapped up in their disease and they are going to be trapped in a cycle of self medicating. They will not be able to break free from this cycle out of their own power, and any attempts that they make are going to result in relapse. This is what really defines their addiction in the first place–this is how they know that they have a real problem. They try to stop on their own and they find that they cannot. This defines their addiction.
Now if they struggle for a long enough period of time, eventually they will get sick and tired of being so miserable all the time, and they will (hopefully) reach a point of what we call surrender. If the person is to surrender fully and completely then it means that they drop all of their denial and they agree to do whatever it takes in order to get help for their problem. Some people are in partial denial and they realize that they probably need to do something about their drug or alcohol problem, but they may not be willing to do whatever is suggested to them just yet. Such a person is not in a state of “total and complete surrender” and therefore their prospects in recovery are not good at this time. Such a person needs to endure more suffering and misery before they can become desperate enough to have the kind of willingness that produces quality recovery.
Once the person surrenders completely they will agree to ask for help and seek professional treatment services. It is at this point that it is typically suggested to the person that they attend inpatient treatment at a 28 facility. There are other forms of treatment available but nothing is going to be as good or as comprehensive as inpatient treatment. I would strongly recommend that they go to a 28 day program if they are serious about recovery.
This is also where the person will typically find advice and guidance regarding nutrition in their recovery. But again, this is only a side issue and is not the main focus of their treatment experience. However there is some effort made to eat healthy and to address the nutritional needs of the client while at an inpatient facility.
In early recovery the struggling alcoholic or drug addict needs to focus heavily on their spiritual awakening and on turning their life around. They need to dive into AA meetings and therapy sessions and group therapy and so on. They need to make all of this therapy and group support the main focus of their life for the next year or two if they want to have a real chance at remaining clean and sober.
In fact, if someone in early recovery is focusing too heavily on something like exercise or nutrition then that is a red flag; it means that they are distracted and not focused enough on their recovery. There are certain things that they have to do in order to make it through early recovery, and that includes the core fundamentals such as rehab, IOP, AA meetings, sponsorship, and so on. If you screw those things up but get the nutrition right, you still end up relapsing.
On the other hand, if you go to inpatient treatment and you follow up with AA meetings and sponsorship and you are going to IOP and you are seeing a therapist, then there is a good chance that you will maintain sobriety even if you are not paying any attention to things such as exercise or nutritional habits. This is because the big building blocks of your early recovery are things such as rehab, counseling, therapy, and meetings.
Really, the holistic pieces that are important to recovery are things that come later on. This would be things like sleep quality, dietary habits, physical fitness, meditation practice, relationships, and so on. These things are all important for your recovery, sure–but they are not nearly as important as the main “building blocks” of treatment and meetings that make up your early recovery routines. In order to thrive in long term recovery and to even have a chance for nutrition to make a real difference you first have to master the basics and the fundamentals in early recovery.
Therefore, my advice to you would be this: Master the basics in early recovery by establishing a strong foundation at an inpatient treatment center. Surrender completely, ask for help, and go to a rehab center in order to get started on the right path. Start with the “big building blocks first”: AA meetings, rehab, IOP, therapy, sponsorship. Get those things in place and find your routine.
As you start to find your footing and transition from early recovery to long term sobriety, you can start to worry about things like fitness, nutrition, and so on. Ask your peers in recovery about their own experience with proper nutrition, ask your therapist or your coach for advice and direction, and start to form a plan based on the feedback that you are getting.
Nutrition is important for recovery but it isn’t the only thing to worry about, and it isn’t even one of the more important things to consider. But it can definitely play a role in the quality of your long term sobriety after you have mastered the fundamentals in early recovery. Good luck!