Substance Abuse Disorder and Recovery

Nutrition during Recovery for Substance Use Disorder

Why is Nutrition important during recovery from substance use disorder?
Substance use disorder has many, and possibly severe, negative effects on the bodies of people in recovery such as chemically depleted brains, digestive problems, and other health issues that prevent the absorption and utilization of nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies can also be a major cause of withdrawal-like symptoms such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, and irritability. Proper and improved Nutrition is important since it can make recovery during treatment more effective, while reducing drug and alcohol craving, helping prevent relapse.

When to Eat:

Eating regular meals throughout the day, especially eating breakfast, is important for helping your body stabilize its blood sugar levels throughout the day. Also, by having a regular eating pattern your body will be able to break down, absorb, and utilize nutrients in a more effective way. This can help prevent mood swings and irritability throughout the day as well as lead to an overall sense of wellness.

What to Eat:

Protein: Chemical substances like alcohol can impair the digestion of proteins into amino acids, which are the building blocks for proteins, many hormones, and neurotransmitters in our body. Also, abusing opiates leads to less amino acid production from the brain, further shortening the supply of these very important amino acids in the body. That means having a high protein diet when recovering from drug and alcohol use is crucial in order to give the body enough amino acids.

Some high-quality protein choices are:

  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Cashew Nuts
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Broccoli

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are found in many different foods and come in two forms: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are found in processed food and "junk" food, such as soft drinks, cake, white pasta, sugary cereals, and alcohol, and are stripped of most of, if not all, of their nutrients. Complex carbohydrates are not stripped of their nutrients, so they are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Simple carbohydrates should be replaced with complex carbohydrates since they are much healthier and are broken down by the body much slower, giving you a stable source of energy throughout the day.

Some high-quality complex carbohydrate choices are:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Butternut Squash
  • Green Peas
  • Black Beans
  • Many other vegetables and leafy greens

Fat: Good quality fats are very useful in digestion and play key roles in many cellular functions of the body. They are an important component in the diet for people recovering from substance use disorder, and the best sources for them are nuts, seed, and fish. Highly processed fats and oils from fried food should be avoided since they are unhealthy.

Some high-quality fats choices are:

  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Various Fishes:
    • Tuna
    • Salmon
    • Trout
    • Sardines
    • Mackerel
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Dack Chocolate (70% cocoa or greater)

How to eat:

  • In order to improve your nutrition during your recovery, eat a high-protein diet with high- quality fats while replacing simple carbohydrates with more complex ones. Eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit as they provide a lot of important vitamins and minerals that the body normally lacks due to the effects of substance use disorder.
  • Meals should be eaten at relatively regular intervals to stabilize blood sugar throughout the day and to help your body better digest and utilize the food you eat
  • Try to limit your caffeine intake and drink a lot of water, recommended eight 8-ounce glasses (~ half a gallon) every single day.

Miller, "Nutrition in Addiction Recovery", 2010

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