Nutritional Deficiencies and Substance Abuse: Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

Nutritional Deficiencies and Substance Abuse: Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

Nutrition is closely tied to substance abuse and addiction. While using drugs and alcohol, poor nutrition makes changes to the way the body and brain function. These changes and the deficiency of vitamins and nutrients in the body are one of the root causes of the negative symptoms that many who have been abusing drugs and alcohol feel.

Symptoms of nutritional deficiency, coupled with the symptoms of withdrawal, can make the first days and weeks after quitting draining – mentally and physically. Coupling nutritional therapy with detox and rehabilitation therapies eases many of the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal and can make for an easier early recovery.

Am I Malnourished from Drugs and Alcohol?

It is fairly easy to recognize the symptoms of malnutrition, though many who abuse alcohol, opiates, or other drugs don’t readily make the connection between how they are feeling and their substance use. Drugs and alcohol not only leech vitamins and nutrients from the body, but slow the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat.

Think about how you still felt healthy before or even during the first months and years of your substance abuse. As the use continued, it became harder to feel your best; your highs seem lower and your lows sink lower. Even drugs and alcohol can’t cover the symptoms of your body signaling that it is malnourished.

Signs and Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiency from Drugs and Alcohol 

Just as nutritional deficiencies happen slowly, and get worse over time, the signs and symptoms of poor nutrition from alcohol and drug use disorders will build slowly over time, and get much worse the longer you continue to abuse substances. Below is a detailed list of symptoms, many of-which will be very familiar to anyone who has abused alcohol, illicit, or prescription drugs.

Drug and Alcohol Fatigue

Fatigue is common with extended drug and alcohol use, and worsens as the deficiency of protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, Vitamins C, B1, B12, and other B vitamins continues. The lack of these nutrients also contributes to hypothyroidism, cardiac failure, anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety and major depression.

Itchy, Dry Skin and Easily Bruising 

Skin symptoms caused by excessive use of alcohol and drugs like heroin and opioids are quite common, and often tied directly back to lack of specific nutrients. Dry skin is a sign of missing essential fatty acids. A lack of vitamin C also causes a long list of skin problems including red flushed skin, excessive bruising, and excessive itching.

Muscle Pains and Cramps 

Alcohol is especially hard on muscles and muscle tissue, and alcoholics will have noticeably deteriorated muscle mass. Vitamin deficiencies hamper the ability for muscles to repair themselves and will cause worsening muscle pains and cramps. Magnesium, Vitamin D, B1, sodium and potassium deficiencies are characterized by increased cramping, spasms and muscle soreness.

Opioid addiction is synonymous with muscle pains and cramping, especially during opioid withdrawal. These pains are amplified by vitamin deficiency, and vitamin therapy for opioid addicts is recommended in early recovery and opiate/opioid detox.

Diarrhea and Constipation with Alcohol and Opioid Use Disorders 

Gastrointestinal health is severely impaired with alcohol and opioid addiction, and nutritional deficiency worsens those problems. Diarrhea is a common problem with alcohol abuse, while constipation is prevalent in opioid use. Serious constipation arises in individuals abusing prescription opioids from nutritional deficiency, and the filler drugs in pills like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and other opioids worsens the problem.

A lack of vitamin B3 can be blamed for persistent diarrhea and can contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mal-absorption can be worsened by continued abuse of alcohol and drugs. Constipation is a sign of a deficiency of fiber, folate, potassium, and magnesium, as well as the most important element for a healthy body: water. Dehydration is not only a deficiency in itself, but can cause the deficiency of all other nutrients and vitamins.

Neurobiological Symptoms of Vitamin Deficiency 

Some of the most severe symptoms of poor diet and nutrition from drugs and alcohol occur in the brain causing the following:

  • Restless Legs
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Loss of Balance
  • Feeling Vibrations and Numb Spots
  • Lack of Ability to Feel Vibrations
  • Weakness and Shakiness of Extremities
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Numbness and Tingling in the Hands and Feet

Vitamins B1, B12, B3, B6, and E that the body lacks can be blamed for the above symptoms and are a sign that the poor nutrition is beginning to affect the brain and nervous system. Folate, essential fatty and amino acids, and Riboflavin are important for cognitive and nervous system function, and opiate use in-particular will cause these symptoms.

Depression, Irritability, Anxiety and Lack of Concentration 

Anyone who has experienced problematic drinking will know that irritability, anxiety and depression seem to work together in a cycle that makes quitting drinking feel almost impossible. The good news is that many of these symptoms have more to do with poor nutrition from alcohol use than the alcohol itself. Starting a nutritional rehabilitation regimen during early recovery from alcohol addiction can greatly reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

With opioids too, depression and anxiety can be minimized by replacing essential vitamins and nutrients such as Vitamin C, B, B3, B6, B12, folate, fatty acids, iron and magnesium.

Nutritional Rehabilitation through the Phases of Addiction Rehabilitation 

Vitamin, dietary, and nutritional therapy are essential in 3 stages of stopping and recovering from alcohol abuse and alcoholism. First, it is necessary to “boost” the body with essential nutrients before or while tapering down the amount of alcohol being taken in. With serious alcohol addiction and dependence, it may be difficult or impossible to go through a nutritional “primer” to prepare the body for quitting alcohol. However, if it is possible to start vitamin therapy for alcohol abuse before the detox phase, it is recommended and can help ease the symptoms of withdrawals during alcohol detox.

Second, a complete and medical alcohol detox program will begin the process of detoxing from alcohol dependence. Multivitamins specifically made to address the needs of alcohol cessation will be administered throughout the detox process, through the peak acute withdrawals and the 72-hour to 7 day period (Depending on the severity of the alcohol dependence).

Third, a nutritional program for alcohol recovery should be implemented during rehabilitation. This nutrition plan should include a mix of fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and grains so the body can get used to absorbing the needed nutrients naturally, and away from the need for supplemented nutrients. A successful dietary rehabilitation program should teach the individual in recovery how to make the right nutritional choices in sobriety.

Vitamins for Alcohol Detox and Recovery 

(Note: Always check with your doctor or a nutritional therapist before starting any vitamin therapy). There are a number of vitamins and nutrients that alcohol depletes from the body, but some of the most common deficiencies in those with a history of abusing alcohol include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • Vitamin B9 (Folate)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Magnesium
  • L-Glutamine (Amino Acid)
  • L-Tyrosine (Amino Acid)
  • L-Theanine (Amino Acid)
  • 5-HTP (Serotonin Precursor)
  • Omega 3 (Fish Oil)
  • DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA)
  • Multivitamins (For iron, zinc and other minerals)

Vitamins for Heroin/Opioid Detox and Recovery 

(Note: Always check with your doctor or a nutritional therapist before starting any vitamin therapy). There are a number of vitamins and nutrients that heroin, prescription painkillers and other opioids deplete from the body, but some of the most common deficiencies in those with a history of opioid addiction and opioid use disorder include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • Vitamin B9 (Folate)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • L-Glutamine (Amino Acid)
  • L-Tyrosine (Amino Acid)
  • DL-Phenylalanine (Amino Acid)
  • L-Tyrosine (Amino Acid)
  • 5-HTP (Serotonin Precursor)

Nutritional Therapy in Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Recovering from deficiencies and a poor diet is just as important as your recovery from alcohol and drugs. After an extended period of time of alcohol and drug abuse, the body and mind will need to be retrained to make healthy nutritional choices. Without nutritional therapy and training, the body will attempt to get “quick fixes” from junk food sources.

Avoiding Sugar in Recovery 

Many in early recovery develop sugar cravings and sugar addictions. This is the body craving a quick and easy source of energy. Reintroducing the body to natural sources of vitamins, and staying away from too much sugar will be key in your recovery.

When you start your recovery from substance abuse and addiction – whether it involves opioids, cocaine, meth, or alcohol – addressing nutritional deficiency will be one of the first and most important steps. It is important to know that even though the first stages of detox and rehabilitation are tough, the severity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be reduced greatly with proper nutritional therapy.