Like many other things during active addiction, healthy nutrition is often neglected. When addiction is active, those affected focus most of their time and effort on maintaining a steady supply of drugs and/or alcohol and do not pay much attention to the food they are eating. Addictive substances also frequently interfere with metabolism.
Some drugs make you eat too much while others suppress your appetite and make you forget to eat anything at all. Some substances like alcohol will create havoc with blood sugar levels while damaging the liver and pancreas. Common side effects of opioid misuse include constipation, nausea, and vomiting. The effects of nausea and vomiting often decrease the user’s appetite, making it difficult to maintain a healthy diet. As a result of such metabolic imbalances, many people will enter treatment weak and malnourished.
Drugs and alcohol also affect the brain by “hijacking its communication system and interfering with the way it processes information by creating an imbalance that impacts neurons’ ability to function properly. The result is often something called neuroglycopenia,” writes Rebecca McKinty on Neurotrition. Neuroglycopenia refers to a shortage of glucose (hypoglycemia) in the brain, usually due to low blood sugar, a common result of long periods of substance misuse.
“Hypoglycemia is often responsible for many of the debilitating symptoms that addicts face during recovery, such as anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, and, most importantly, cravings,” says McKinty. Replacing addictive substances with a sugar “rush” can be just as problematic. “No longer rewarding their brain with drugs and alcohol, those in recovery turn to a more socially acceptable addiction–things such as sugar and caffeine (which activate the same “pleasure” or “motivation” centers in the brain that drugs and alcohol do).”
In recovery, these nutritional imbalances need to be rectified to support sustained sobriety. A healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone, but for people in recovery, it can also be a defense mechanism against relapse.
Unfortunately, good nutritional intentions often come under assault during the holidays, just when the stress levels go up—a dangerous combination. “Eating, by itself, is not a proven cause of relapse or causing a strong emotional response,” says Recovery Ways’ chief medical officer, Dr. Hans Watson. “However, when we are feeling down, and self-medicate by using food, this behavior often leads to relapse and being susceptible to allowing triggers to overwhelm us.”
Too many sugary cookies, cakes, or other nutritional overloads can create feelings of lethargy, similar to an emotional crash. This, in turn, may trigger intense cravings and possible relapse.
A balanced diet on the other hand can be a powerful recovery tool with benefits such as improved mood, increased energy, and a stronger immune system. Allowing diet and nutrition to play an important role isn’t just about staying sober, but also about rebalancing mind, body, and spirit in a comprehensive recovery plan.
If you, a family member, or a friend are struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, Recovery Ways wants to help. We are dually licensed to treat mental health disorders and addiction. Don’t delay seeking treatment because of the holidays. Our admissions coordinators can recommend a plan of action, suggest an interventionist, or speak with your loved one. For more information, please call us at (888) 988-5217.