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Diet And Substance Abuse Recovery

Diet And Substance Abuse Recovery

Alternate Names

  • chemical dependency recovery
  • drug recovery


Substance abuse can be short-term or long-lasting. A person may abuse alcohol, drugs sold by prescription or over the counter, or illegal drugs. Good nutrition and a healthy diet play an important role in recovery from substance abuse.

What is the information for this topic?

Substance abuse is a major cause of malnutrition in otherwise healthy people. Nutritional care should be paired with other therapies used in recovery. Good nutrition may help decrease cravings for drugs and alcohol. It can help prevent a relapse, too.
The goal of nutritional care is to:
  • prevent or correct nutrient deficiencies
  • solve eating problems
  • help a person make healthy food choices
Alcohol abuse often reduces appetite. Alcohol provides no nutrients and, in fact, requires nutrients to help it detoxify in the liver. It replaces healthy foods that normally provide key nutrients and calories.
By irritating the intestinal tract, it interferes with the absorption of essential nutrients. Vomiting and diarrhea may also contribute to poor use of any foods eaten.
A person who abuses alcohol may suffer permanent damage to the liver and pancreas. This leads to problems regulating blood sugar levels. Substance aAbuse of other substances can cause a person to lose appetite and eat less, too. It They often slows the metabolism and affects how well the body absorbs nutrients. It impairs impairing major organs and body systems, including the:
  • heart
  • central nervous system
  • stomach and intestines
  • liver
  • endocrine system, which produces and regulates the body's hormones
  • bones
  • muscles
Substance abuse leads to many vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Because of the harm this abuse does to the body, a person needs more nutrients to repair the damage. Substance abuse can lead to serious weight loss, which can in turn cause loss of muscle mass.
Deficiencies include:
  • folate
  • thiamin
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin C
  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • zinc
Because of the way drugs and alcohol affect the intestines, vitamin K is decreased. Lactose intolerance can also occur. The amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, which are building blocks for protein, are also depleted. These need to be supplied during recovery.
Nutritional care for substance abuse begins with an evaluation of nutritional status. Blood tests may be done and health and diet histories are taken. Initial goals are to supply enough protein and calories to stabilize the person's weight and prevent low blood sugar, (hypoglycemia).
If necessary, fats are added to the diet, too. Foods high in fiber are encouraged to correct or prevent constipation which is common during recovery. Too many sweets and too much caffeine are discouraged, as these may become substitutes for the drugs or alcohol that were being abused.
Usually smaller, more frequent meals are better tolerated. A food plan with 6 small meals a day helps lessen such problems as cravings and binge eating. The best treatment for malnutrition due to substance abuse is a healthy, low-fat diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Following the US Food Guide helps to ensures that all food groups are represented. Vitamin and mineral supplements may be helpful with a person in recovery taking from one to three times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C.
Supplements cannot protect the body from the damage alcohol and drugs do. However, they may help minimize long-term nutritional consequences.


American Dietetic Association. (1996). Manual of Clinical Dietetics (5th ed.). The American Dietetic Association.

Somer, E., MA, RD.&Health Media of America. (1995). The Essential Guide To Vitamins and Minerals (2nd ed.). New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Escott-Stump, S., MA, RD. (1988). Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Lea&Febiger.

Suitor CW, MS, RD, Crowley MF, RN, MS. (1984). Nutrition: Principles and Application in Health Promotion (2nd ed.) J.B. Lippincott Co.

Mayo Clinic Health Oasis Newsletter. (September, 1998) Addiction: A Chronic Brain Disease.

WebMD. Nutrition Therapy and Substance Abuse.

Escott-Stump S, MA, RD. (1997). Nutrition and Daignosi-Related Care (4th ed.) Williams and Wilkins.

American Society of Addiction Medicine website.

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