Most people know the major health risks of addiction: an increased risk of accidents, catching diseases from shared needles, overdoses.
But that’s not all. Substance abuse can also negatively affect the digestive system. Many addicts neglect their diet, creating a host of complications in recovery. However, there’s an important role dietitians can play in recovery. By helping patients learn (or relearn) good nutritional habits, they can fix many of the serious health problems substance abuse can create.
Here’s how four commonly abused substances can affect digestion:
Medical nutrition therapy
A longstanding component of healthcare, medical nutrition therapy has traditionally been used to improve chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. As NIDA reports, addiction is also a chronic disease, and proper nutrition can aid in recovery in four ways:
Healing the body: Whether due to personal neglect or the toxic effects of the substances themselves, many addicts lose valuable vitamins and minerals as they use drugs. Addiction’s also an unhealthy lifestyle – lack of sleep, poor eating habits and no exercise can create further health problems. Encouraging those in recovery to eat better and at regular times as well as get exercise will improve health and teach new habits useful for a lasting recovery.
Healing the brain: Drugs work by rewiring how the brain functions, causing neurotransmitters to not function properly. Carbohydrates can help; in addition to stabilizing blood sugar, carbohydrates can also increase serotonin levels, which can help stabilize a recovering patient’s moods.
Stopping cravings: Drug cravings often result from depressed or anxious moods. Long-term addicts can often forget what regular food cravings feel like, and mistake them for urges to start using again. Poor diets are also a problem in recovery, as sweet food can be a source of comfort. Studies have shown that sugar can replicate the same reward and craving cycles as drugs do. Nutrition therapy can steer patients towards healthier habits – as well as reminding them of the difference between hunger pangs and drug cravings.
Sovereign Health is a leading provider of mental health and addiction treatment. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at firstname.lastname@example.org.