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Nutrition: Why it matters during recovery

By Tim Woodley

You would be forgiven for thinking your nutrition insignificant in the face the challenges surrounding problematic drug and alcohol use and addiction. With successful drug and alcohol treatment requiring much of your strength, focus and commitment, how could it compare in importance?

The truth is different. Substance use disorder is a disease, and while maintaining healthy eating habits might seem minor on the surface, it plays an important and worthy role in sustaining you and minimising stress on the body as you proceed through recovery and rehabilitation.

Nutrition influences the way the brain functions. When your body isn’t producing enough brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) or the chemicals are out of balance, you can feel irritable and anxious. You can suffer from sugar cravings, anxiety and an inability to sleep. This results in stress that can also affect memory and make people paranoid, tired, dissatisfied and depressed.


Why is nutrition and hydration important during rehab and recovery?

Simply put, our brains require food and sound nutrition to function at their best. Food is fuel to us, and we require a healthy and varied diet to survive and maintain our energy levels.

For many struggling with problematic drug and alcohol use or addiction, nutrition is often one of the first things to fall as substance use takes greater priority in life. Binge drinking and drug use can lead to unbalanced nutrition through lack of eating or overeating, disrupting our energy levels and moods during an already difficult time.

If left unchecked, poor nutrition can cause a deterioration of health, mental strength and wellbeing at a time when all are critically important in fighting addiction and substance misuse.

Proper hydration is important to maintaining your bodily functions. The normal process of detoxification that occurs as a result of an individual’s liver metabolising and ridding the body of toxins requires proper hydration. Remaining hydrated helps to flush toxins through the liver and out of the body; proper hydration can also reduce symptoms of withdrawal and cravings and help your body to restore itself to normality. Guidelines suggests you should aim for 6-8 glasses of water and other liquids each day to replace normal water loss – around 1.2 to 1.5 litres. Water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee, all count.

Cross addiction and the addiction spiral

For many struggling with drug and alcohol misuse, their minds are wired in a way that makes them more prone to addictive and destructive behaviour. Cross addiction is more likely in a person already addicted to a substance (be that psychologically or physically), and co-occurring eating disorders are common.

The spiral of problematic drug and alcohol use into addiction is challenging enough to face by itself. By abandoning the basics of self-care through nutrition and other activities, the deterioration of your quality of life can be quickened. Your nutrition during recovery will either be a benefit and strength or yet another challenge which must be addressed if you are to succeed and achieve a sober, sustainable lifestyle.


Eating disorders and nutrition

While studies vary, research performed by the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse found those who abuse drugs and alcohol to be eleven times more likely to have an eating disorder than those who do not have substance abuse issues.

Bulimia and purging is a common coping mechanism amongst those struggling with problematic drug and alcohol use and addiction, and its draining effect on the body is severe. It depletes our bodies of electrolytes, which are required for our muscles to flex and operate. Without these, disruption to the muscle that is our heart is common. This can have knock-on effects on other areas of the body such as our digestive system and hormone production, and in extreme cases, a lack of electrolyte production can lead to nervous system complications such as seizures and numbness.

Hormone production can also be affected, commonly leading to depleted energy levels and disrupted menstruation in women. Beyond having their own direct health concerns, these factors all contribute to a destabilisation of wellbeing and health at a time when they are needed the most.


The effects of malnutrition

Poor or destructive eating habits can result in a wide range of harmful physical and mental effects. It’s common for those struggling with drug and alcohol misuse to fall into malnutrition, leading to serious symptoms which undermine health to a potentially severe degree.

Cognitive impairment, muscle deterioration and the weakening of your immune system are just a few of the side-effects of malnutrition. At a time when we must be our strongest, the impact of these difficulties can be decisive in the worst possible way.



Succeeding with nutrition and recovery

Establishing proper diet and coping skills is an instrumental element of any rehabilitation programme. Our Dayhab programme and Digital Dayhab programme are no exception. Beginning with evaluations of physical health and nutritional levels, the path to reliable nutrition is something that is tailored on an individual basis to achieve a healthy, sustainable approach to nutrition that is conducive to successful rehabilitation and abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Although withdrawal from substances can complicate eating and nutritional plans, working with therapists and professionals during treatment  to create and adhere to a healthy diet is one of several critically important aspects of any journey of recovery. With care and professional support behind you, your nutrition becomes a powerful weapon in your arsenal – and it will help you improve your wellbeing and sustain your recovery and a life free from addiction and substance abuse.

If you’re concerned about your current substance misuse and would like to talk to a professional at no obligation, please get in touch with us right away. Call us now on 0208 191 8920 or use our contact form.

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