Addiction And Nutrition

Addiction And Nutrition

Addiction and nutrition is a chronic condition marked by a dependence on alcohol, drugs and non-nutritive foods for self-medication.

The effects are serious, causing gradual and progressive damage to the brain, organs, hormones, immune and nervous systems.

Alcohol, drugs and junk foods are toxic.

The high the body experiences is a complex detoxification reaction to these substances, where vital enzymes, hormones and nutrients are brought to a full stage of development and then make ineffective. This impact on the body contributes to poor health.

When people are in full-blown substance abuse, their supplies of nutritional reserves are depleted, and the effects on the metabolism can be sever.

Simple refined sugar is a primary addiction, which sets off a succession of stages called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which underlies virtually all substance abuse conditions.

As a person’s blood sugar is strongly affected by sugars, stimulants and chemicals, the energy and mood pattern of the individual will fluctuate greatly, generating anger, frustration, confusion, irritation, and irrational behavior.

Surprisingly, this rocky road is temporarily smoothed over with the intake of the drug of choice. This sends a message to the mind and body that it feels better to be on the non-healthy substance, than to deal with stress naturally.

Unconsciously, a pattern of dependency becomes an addiction, with the consequence being unhealthily and irresponsible behavior.

Specific Impact Of Different Drugs On Nutrition


Alcoholism is one of the major causes of nutritional deficiency in the US. The most common deficiencies are of pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), thiamine, and folic acid. Deficiencies in these nutrients cause anemia (low blood count) and neurological problems.

Korsakoff’s syndrome (“wet brain”) is caused by nutrient deficiencies related to absorption problems caused by heavy use of alcohol, rather than by the drinking itself.

Alcohol intoxication also impairs two major organs involved in metabolism and nutrition: the liver and the pancreas.

The liver detoxifies harmful substances and the pancreas regulates blood sugar and absorption of fat. Impairment of these two organs results in an imbalance of fluids, calories, and electrolytes.

Other complications include permanent liver damage (or cirrhosis), seizures, diabetes, and severe malnutrition.

Laboratory tests for protein, iron, and electrolytes may be needed to determine if there is liver disease in addition to the alcohol problem. Post-menopausal women who are alcoholic are at high risk of osteoporosis and require calcium supplementation.


Opiates, which include codeine, heroin, and morphine, affect the gastrointestinal system. A very common symptom of abuse includes constipation.

Symptoms common during withdrawal include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, which may lead to nutrient deprivation and electrolyte imbalances. Electrolytes include sodium, potassium, and chloride.

Eating balanced meals may decrease the severity of these symptoms, though this can be difficult due to nausea. A high-fiber diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates (such whole grains, vegetables, peas, and beans) is recommended.


Stimulant use, including use of crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine, results in a significant decrease in appetite, weight loss, and eventual malnutrition.

Abusers of these drugs may stay up for days at a time and suffer dehydration and electrolyte imbalances during these prolonged episodes. Return to normal diet can be difficult if there has been profound weight loss.

Alcohol, Malnutrition, And Medical Complications


Although alcoholic liver damage is caused primarily by alcohol itself, poor nutrition may increase the risk of alcohol-related liver damage.

For example, nutrients normally found in the liver, such as carotenoids, which are the major sources of vitamin A, and vitamin E compounds, are known to be affected by alcohol consumption. Decreases in such nutrients may play some role in alcohol-related liver damage.


Nutritional deficiencies can have severe and permanent effects on brain function. Specifically, thiamine deficiencies, often seen in alcoholics, can cause severe neurological problems such as impaired movement and memory.


Alcohol has direct toxic effects on fetal development, causing alcohol-related birth defects, including fetal alcohol syndrome.

Alcohol itself is toxic to the fetus, but accompanying nutritional deficiency can affect fetal development, perhaps compounding the risk of developmental damage.

The nutritional needs during pregnancy are 10 to 30 percent greater than normal; food intake can increase by as much as 140 percent to cover the needs of both mother and fetus.

Not only can nutritional deficiencies of an alcoholic mother adversely affect the nutrition of the fetus, but alcohol itself can also restrict nutrition flow to the fetus.

Studies also have noted an association between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer.

The mechanism of this effect is not yet known, but the association may be due to carcinogenic actions of alcohol or its metabolites, to alcohol-induced changes in levels of hormones such as estrogens, or to some other process.

See A Nutritionist

A visit to a competent nutritionist is an essential part of treatment for substance abuse. The nutritionist will review the history, habits and dietary patterns of the person, and recommend a diet that will correct the hypoglycemia, nerve irritation and organ and endocrine imbalances.

Food high in complex carbohydrates will be offered to replace simple sugars and sugar substitutes, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, seeds, legumes and nutritious “booster foods” will take the edge off of the sugar blues and detox shakes.

An individual evaluation will provide the information to design a program of proper amino acid, essential fatty acid, vitamin, mineral and enzyme support, which will minimize the withdrawal or craving reaction as addictive substances and habits are weaned from the diet and lifestyle. Then, growth on all levels can resume in a healthy way.

The road to recovery is much more effective with proper nutritional support.

Treatment centers that provide nutritional programs have a greater than 70% success rate compared to only 20% or less when psychology and behavior modification are the only modalities.

Addiction and Nutrition

Mental, emotional and physical health will always improve when nutritional needs are met. Learning to eat well is an investment in the health of the whole family, not just the substance abuser.

It can repair much of the damage of both substance abuse and a dysfunctional family system. It’s never too late to learn how to live well.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *