You are what you eat and that’s more important than ever when it comes to healing the body (and mind) from the consequences of drug abuse. From oral decay to cardiac distress to liver failure, there are countless ways that drug addiction harms the body. While food alone won’t reverse those effects, the vitamins and nutrients of what you put in your mouth make up the building blocks your body will use to restore itself. Moreover, drug use itself directly contributes to malnutrition which exacerbates the bad and slows recovery even further.
Learn how addiction depletes the body’s nutrition and the effects it can have.
How Addiction Causes Malnutrition
First, the basics. Nutrition is defined simply as the foods necessary for health and growth. It’s less about the food itself and more so the vitamins, minerals, and macromolecules that food provides. Malnutrition, on the other hand, is the condition when the body lacks those essential compounds needed to function properly. When this occurs, physical and mental functions become impaired and continue to deteriorate the longer the issue goes unchecked.
So what does drug use have to do with nutrition?
Reduced Food Consumption
Drug use can affect both hunger, our body’s biological urge to eat, and appetite, the desire to eat. This one-two punch often results in decreased food consumption. While there are a number of physiological reasons why drug users don’t eat as much as they should (disrupted hormone and hunger-signaling, decreased metabolism, etc.), the most alarming is the psychological one and drugs’ ability to override the biological instinct to seek sustenance.
Unhealthy Food Choices
When an addicted person does eat, the cognitive impairment and increased impulsivity can result in an increased likelihood to seek unhealthy food choices. Depending on the severity of the addiction, the physical, mental, and even financial state of the individual may render healthy options impossible.
Reduced Nutrient Absorption
It’s not news that the liver plays a key role in drug use and addiction. It’s responsible for filtering toxins from the body and breaking down the harmful compounds we ingest. What you may not have known is that the liver also has a hand in how nutrients from food are extracted into our bodies. The liver produces digestive enzymes that facilitate the absorption of several vitamins and macro nutrients.
Disrupted Digestive System
Drugs jam up the digestive process from start to finish. First, there’s the decreased saliva production in the mouth which is essential to breaking down food (and the foundation of proper digestion). Then, there’s how they irritate the stomach and damage the lining which can lead to abdominal pain that deters food consumption. Interfering with nerve and muscle function, substance abuse can lead to recurring diarrhea or vomiting which both removes potential sources of nutrition from the body and increases energy expenditure which can exacerbate issues of undernutrition even further.
Why Nutrition is Important for Addiction Recovery
Reversing substance abuse’s unsavory effects on nutrition isn’t only beneficial for the restoration of digestive system functioning. Proper nutrition can hasten the addiction recovery process and in parts of the body that drugs ravage most.
Malnutrition and drug use directly impact the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illness and disease. A sick person will require a greater energy expenditure and nutritional need, trapping the malnourished individual into a vicious cycle. A healthy diet can put a halt to this cycle, not only improving one’s immune system, but freeing up the calories and energy to be used towards repairing damaged livers and kidneys, overworked hearts, irritated gastrointestinal tracts, or dehydrated skin.
Improved Mental Health
One of the most devastating effects of substance abuse is psychological. Even just occasionally dabbling in drug use can have lasting consequences on the hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate the brain. This can lead to impaired memory, cognition, physical coordination, and emotional stability long after drug use has ceased. While a healthy meal won’t single-handedly undo all the damage, it can go a long way towards improving your mental wellbeing and make the path to sobriety far more pleasant.
How is this possible? The stomach is closely linked to the brain and, amongst other things, can directly affect mood and emotions namely through your microbiome, the thousands of helpful microorganisms that live in the gut. Studies have found that mentally healthy individuals have flourishing microbiomes and that in individuals suffering from depression or anxiety, bolstering the microbiome with probiotics notably improved both conditions. Diet is believed to account for more than 50% of the microbiome’s state, with genetics, lifestyle, and other external factors making up the rest.
Malnutrition is quite prevalent amongst habitual drug users. For this reason, many addiction treatment programs include an educational component specifically about healthy eating. Find a rehab near you to find one of these programs and to learn more about nutrition and addiction recovery as a whole.