Importance of Nutrition in Alcohol Recovery
Eating a healthy diet is important for all of us, but even more so for those recovering from an alcohol use disorder. Alcoholics represent the largest population with treatable nutritional deficiencies and many who suffer from alcohol abuse are more likely to make poor food choices while drinking…selecting alcohol over food given the choice.
Quite often, we associate our nutrition status with our weight when in actuality, one can be normal weight and still be malnourished, especially when addiction prevents our bodies from receiving the proper nutrients to support adequate health. We may look good on the outside, but it’s quite the opposite on the inside. Alcoholics may consume an adequate amount or even an excessive amount of calories, but may still get very little nutrition. The calories that their bodies receive from the alcohol are processed and used differently than the calories from food. The body will use the calories derived from the alcohol first, in an effort to eliminate this toxin from the body. This results in the calories from food being stored as fat, as they are not needed for immediate energy.
Nutrient deficiencies are a virtually inevitable consequence of alcohol abuse, not only because alcohol replaces food, but also because it directly interferes with the body’s absorption, storage, mobilization activation and metabolization of nutrients making them ineffective, even when they are present. The excessive and chronic consumption of alcohol has the ability to inhibit the natural breakdown of nutrients by decreasing the secretion of certain digestive enzymes. It may also be responsible for damage to the cell lining of the stomach and intestinal tract.
Due to a prolonged and excessive amount of alcohol, essential vitamins and minerals required for optimal health are available in less than adequate amounts. Commonly seen deficiencies in the alcoholic population are Vitamin B1 (thiamin), B12, B6, folate and Vitamin A. Additionally, their intake of the minerals Magnesium, Selenium and Zinc are often impaired along with lower levels of sodium, potassium, phosphorus and calcium. These deficiencies can lead to a wide range of symptoms including chronic depression and fatigue, lack of appetite, cognitive impairment, amnesia, dementia, neuropathies and tissue damage to the brain and other organs such as the liver and pancreas.
Patients who receive nutritional therapy report fewer cravings and a higher recovery rate. As such, here at Destination Hope, we feel it is important to identify and treat the nutritional deficiencies associated with alcoholism to avoid long term complications. This is achieved with nutrition supplements and tailoring a healthy diet for each client that includes a variety of nutrient rich whole foods.
~Andrea Morganstein MS, RDN ,LDN, CDCES
Andrea Morganstein MS, RD, LDN, CDCES, is our dietician at Destination Hope in Fort Lauderdale FL. Andrea works with our clients to tailor nutrition and diet plans that suits their needs within a few days of entering treatment. She works with our chef and clinical plan to support the treatment process and return our clients to health and nutritional balance.