Drug and alcohol addiction takes a very significant toll on the body. Not only does it lead to personal hardships and relationship strains, it produces immense health effects which, if left untreated, can cause long term problems. Nutritional deficiencies are regularly occurring in addicts. Some are caused by the actual drug, while others can be associated with behavioral actions associated with the addiction. Whether stemming directly or indirectly, robbing the body of much needed nutrients can hinder recovery.
A lot of people who abuse drugs and alcohol also smoke or chew tobacco products. While tobacco is commonly associated with lung cancer, there are many other harmful side effects. Tobacco increases the metabolism which helps to burn calories. It also causes a decrease in appetite, and negatively alters the taste of food. Apart from the overall reduction in food intake, tobacco can cause a deficiency in vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, omega-3’s, fatty acids and zinc.
When alcohol is consumed, the body can essentially run on it which is why many alcoholics don’t eat a lot of food. This unhealthy fuel quickly erodes the bodies’ cells and depletes nutrients like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, thiamine and B-complex vitamins. The latter deficiency leads to a condition known as Korsakoff’s syndromewhich results in memory loss and cognitive malfunctioning. As the alcohol abuse continues, the digestive track becomes damaged making it more difficult for the body to absorb the little nutrients it’s getting. As the liver functioning becomes impaired, another common effect of alcoholism, it is less able to absorb calcium which it needs.
Every drug, including those that are legal and illegal, can cause different nutrient deficiencies. Some cause a suppressed appetite and others lead to overeating. Many drugs also cause digestive problems including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea all of which can cause dehydration and the loss of important salts, minerals and vitamins. Persistent stomach problems will lead to lowered potassium and sodium levels. Eventually, the bodies’ nerves, glands, hormones, vital organs and overall vitality will suffer leaving the individual with a weak immune system.
Unfortunately the stigma of addiction makes it very difficult for a lot of people to talk about what they’re going through. Keeping these feelings inside can provoke shame and guilt leading to a social withdrawal and isolation. This obstacle can get in the way of a person asking for help because they don’t want to be judged and further these already troubling emotions. There is no shame in addiction. It is something that can happen – even unexpectedly. Help and support is available.
As the addiction progresses and the body is unable to get the vitamins and nutrients it needs, physical symptoms will start to appear. Some of these signs include:
While some of these can cause extensive problems like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, which can be permanent, most, can be reversed within 6-12 months through an adequate diet. If you’re not sure whether or not you are deficient in any vitamin or mineral, a simple blood test can prove this.
Vitamin supplements should be taken on a daily basis as soon as you begin your recovery. There are all types of different brands, so look for one which meets your daily needs of the primary nutrients. While a supplement can be a good option in the beginning, it is more ideal to get your vitamins and minerals naturally through the right foods.
Sources of B Vitamins – B vitamins are absolutely essential for converting food into fuel; thereby giving you much needed energy. They are also responsible for cognitive functioning. Dark green vegetables like zucchini, broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, kale and spinach are all fantastic sources of B vitamins. It’s best to consume them lightly cooked rather than in their raw form because that makes them easier to be digested.
Vitamin C Rich Foods – You need vitamin C in your diet. As an antioxidant, it cleanses the body and helps it to form and maintain connective tissue like bones, blood vessels and skin. All citrus fruits provide enough vitamin C to reverse any deficiency. However, if you don’t like these foods, passion fruit, berries and cauliflower are rich in this vital nutrient.
Foods with Calcium – Calcium helps the blood to clot, promote the nerves to send messages and allows muscles to contract. It also maintains the health of your bones and teeth. Yogurt, cheese and milk are the most adequate sources of natural calcium. If you don’t consume dairy, you can get calcium from leafy greens, sardines and fortified cereals.
Sources of Magnesium – Magnesium regulates muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Dark leafy greens, wild salmon, fresh tuna, avocados, bananas and nuts all contain large amounts of magnesium.
Amino Acid Containing Foods – Amino acids are the bodies’ building blocks for protein and muscle tissue. You need them to function, build energy and to recover after working out. You also need amino acids to produce antibodies and hormones like GH, testosterone or insulin. Any foods rich in protein will boost amino acids. These can include red, lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy. Vegetarian sources of protein include lentils, legumes, quinoa, soya and seeds.
Recovery from addiction is all about feeling better. When you start to improve your diet and increase the overall amount of nutrients you will notice a change in the way you look and feel. By doing so, dopamine is also increased; thereby, promoting happiness, relaxation and balance.