Quality nutrition during addiction recovery is essential to healthy living. Because addiction alters the way the brain functions and depletes nutrients from the body, reintroducing healthy eating habits aids the body’s healing process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drugs that resemble the brain’s messenger system send wrong messages to both the brain and body. Over time, the brain’s neurotransmitters no longer function and the body needs the substance of abuse to feel and function “normally.” When this kind of drug dependence develops, the person struggling does whatever he or she can to get and use drugs, including buying drugs instead of food. That’s why most drug and alcohol addicts are severely malnourished when they enter rehab. Relearning the important of healthy living, including making the right food choices, increases the likelihood of a successful recovery.
Addiction Recovery Basics
When a person enters drug or alcohol treatment, the first step in the recovery process is medically-supervised detox. Detox gives the body the chance to rid itself of drug toxins. Medically-trained personnel are on hand 24 hours a day to monitor patients and provide support for withdrawal symptoms in a safe environment. Once detox is over, doctors and therapists diagnose any underlying mental illness that might be contributing to or causing the addiction. Once a diagnosis is reached, treatment can begin. Treatment includes individual, group and family counseling sessions and other holistic options to support the entire recovery process. Exercise, meditation, yoga, spiritual support, life skills and nutrition are all part of treating the entire person- body, mind and spirit. Nutritional counseling and classes can help you or your loved one begin making food choices that strengthen the body and facilitate healing.
Nutrition and Recovery
Foods high in protein have been shown to help reduce or alleviate some of the symptoms of addiction. The following are specific amino acids and the foods where they’re found that can help in the recovery process:
- L-tryptophan – Egg whites, spirulina, Atlantic cod, raw soybeans, parmesan cheese, whey protein, dairy products
- L-5 hydroxytryptophan chromium salts – Minute traces in turkey and cheese, supplements derived from the seeds of Griffonia Simplicifolia
- L-Glutamine – Meat and dairy products, beans, beats, spinach, parsley, whey protein and cabbage
- L-phenylalanine – Cow milk, goat milk, aspartame sugar substitutes
- L-tyrosine – Cheeses, spirulina, soy protein, egg whites, salmon
- Phenylalanine – Meat, poultry, fish, soybeans, dairy products, nuts and seeds
Getting nutrients directly from food is the best way to rebuild the body. However, many of these are available as supplements if there are food allergies, digestive issues or lack of access to fresh produce or other products.
Simple Foods Big Results
Some common and readily-available foods can help your body heal during recovery. Pork and beans contain large amounts of thiamine (Vitamin B1), which is one of the most important vitamins for brain function and neurological health. Thiamine deficiency is common in those who struggle with alcohol addiction. One lean pork chop contains 67 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily value of thiamine, while a cup of navy beans contains 29 percent. Wheat bagels, sunflower seeds and macadamia nuts are also good sources of thiamine.
Broccoli is loaded with healing nutrients that are especially good for the liver. Because the liver’s main function is to filter the blood, it can become damaged from substance abuse. Kale, cabbage and arugula are also good at cleansing and repairing the liver.
Alcohol and drug abuse can also result in low levels of potassium, magnesium and electrolytes. These minerals are responsible for regulating the heartbeat and blood pressure and maintaining nerves and muscles. Low mineral levels can cause weakness, muscle cramps, fatigue and muscle cramps. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and magnesium. Oranges, kiwi, papaya and peaches are also good sources, as are avocado, spinach and tomatoes.
To help prevent the blood sugar spikes that are often associated with alcohol recovery, eat potatoes and other complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates found in vegetables and some fruits release sugars slowly and help curb alcohol cravings.
Eating Right During Recovery
Along with the vital nutrients needed to heal the body after addiction, eating right offers a host of other benefits. Some of these include:
- Sustained energy throughout the day
- Reduced cravings for drugs and alcohol
- Improved sleep
- Increased concentration
- Lowered anxiety and the depression that is often associated with the first year of recovery
- Weight gain control
- Improved gastrointestinal function
These healthy eating habits can help you get the most out of what you eat during recovery:
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast, even if it’s small, to kick start your metabolism
- Eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day
- Eat from all food groups throughout the day
- Watch serving sizes
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day
 The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding Drug Use and Addiction,” August 2016. February 27, 2017. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
 Richard Taite. “Medically Supervised Alcohol Detox Aids Alcoholism Recovery,” November 18, 2013. Accessed February 27, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ending-addiction-good/201311/medically-supervised-alcohol-detox-aids-alcoholism-recovery
 Medline Plus. “Substance Abuse Recovery and Diet,” January 31, 2016. Accessed February 27, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002149.htm