Maintain a Well-Balanced Diet in Aftercare

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How Does Substance Abuse Affect Appetite & Nutrition?

Alcohol and other drugs might offer short-term pleasure, but chronic substance abuse can inflict tremendous amounts of damage on the body.

With regard to the first point, someone addicted to or physically dependent on alcohol or other drugs will exhibit compulsive behaviors related to finding and using their substance of choice.2 They often don’t have the time, attention, or resources available to think about eating healthy meals or to care if they have had enough water to drink due to their focus on drug or alcohol abuse.

Alcoholics may consume too many calories from the substance itself and not enough from healthy foods, which often results in nutritional deficits and dehydration.3 Deficiencies of vitamins like B1, B6, and folic acid are very common in people who drink excessively and can lead to hematologic disorders and permanent brain damage.3

Chronic alcohol use can also result in inflammation of the upper gastrointestinal tract (esophagus and stomach) and damage to other organs important for processing and absorbing food, including the pancreas and liver.3 Due to the harm caused by alcohol, the body may be unable to properly balance calories, proteins, fluids, and electrolytes.

The brain is greatly affected by substance use and addiction as well. Drugs and alcohol directly disrupt the normal release and absorption of neurotransmitters, and since the production of these chemical messengers is dependent on an adequate supply of certain nutrients to begin with, substance related malnutrition can additionally impair healthy and balanced neurotransmission.4

There is no doubt alcohol and other drugs negatively impact your appetite and nutrition. Because of this, your mission is to limit the impact by eliminating drug use as quickly as possible.

Making Positive Changes

Making the decision to enter treatment and begin on the road to recovery can be quite daunting or overwhelming, but it is the best choice you can make for your health and happiness. Professional addiction treatment is the safest way to begin recovery and the surest way to establish a long-term abstinence.2


Inpatient treatment programs allow for a separation of the individual from their previous using environment so that they may focus on their recovery in a drug-free, highly structured atmosphere. Inpatient rehab is very beneficial because the person can begin making positive changes without being distracted by environmental drug triggers or stressors.

Not all rehab programs offer the same services, so it’s important to do your research when looking for a program that’s right for you. Many facilities understand the importance of diet and nutrition during addiction recovery. These treatment programs may provide diet and nutritional education to their patients. They will likely have a nutritional counselor on staff, who understands the needs of people in recovery, and will create an individualized nutrition plan based on the patient’s needs and health. By learning about the duration and intensity of the substance use, they can identify possible nutritional gaps and direct the person towards foods that will restore and improve on their previous level of health and well-being.

These programs serve nutritious, balanced meals and encourage healthy snacking during the resident’s stay. Sometimes these programs employ gourmet chefs who can provide delicious and upscale meals as well.

healthy food

Eating a healthy diet in rehab is easy because patients do not have the ability to shop for treats, overindulge in unhealthy foods, or stop at the nearest fast food restaurant. The rehab staff controls all aspects of diet and food options to establish a successful recovery.

Some people in recovery might find the idea of healthy food and drink unappealing as they have previously focused on calorically dense and convenient foods. At this point, it will be key to keep in mind that drugs offer immediate gratification but long-term distress while healthy foods promote long-term health and happiness.

Rehab establishes a solid foundation for recovery and support for your transition towards healthy eating, but it will be your duty to continue the positive lifestyle after treatment ends. Ideally, your rehab will connect you to nutritional aftercare, such as a nutritional counselor, that can check on your diet plan outside of residential treatment.

Post-treatment Nutrition

So, your diet was completely managed by program staff while you were in rehab, but now that you are back home, the decisions are all yours. Will you return to your previous state of poor nutrition, or will you follow the healthy patterns created for you during rehab?

By receiving step-down treatment on an outpatient basis, you can meet with a team of therapists, case managers, and physicians with the goal of combining relapse prevention skills and balanced diet to maintain your abstinence while living at home.

Individual, group, and family counseling sessions are helpful to identify and address people, places, and situations that encourage substance use and poor self-care.2 Medications can be an important component of long-term recovery. If treatment medications are indicated, they can reduce the unwanted impact of cravings, depression, and anxiety to leave you in a position to make better recovery choices.2

the right diet

Outside of professional treatment, available options like support groups and sober living facilities offer encouragement and fellowship from others with similar experiences who are all working towards healthier lifestyles.2 During meetings, these people can suggest tips and coping skills for relapse prevention and lasting sobriety.

People in recovery can misinterpret hunger as drug cravings.1 Substance use and relapse can result from this confusion, so working with people to differentiate your hunger from drug cravings can produce a safer and longer recovery.

Beyond diet plans, you can also improve your physical health by getting the right amount of quality sleep, since sleep can help repair some damage.1 Something as natural as sleep can improve your recovery outcomes.

Sticking to Your Plan

Making a change can be challenging, but the positive impacts of a healthy diet are so beneficial. To avoid a backslide towards old habits, you’ll need to devote a significant amount of attention and energy to your new plan.

Being honest about the challenges you face is a wonderful way to make your plan more successful.

These are problems most people experience when changing their diets, so you will want to minimize their influence. It’s true that many

eating the right food

For example, many people utilize food prep as a way to stick to their plan. With food prep, you buy large quantities of healthy foods to save money and prepare multiple meals at once to cut down on overall cooking time.

To combat the resistance from family members, get them involved in the shopping and cooking process. Once they take part in the activity, they can begin to appreciate your mission. The people in your life can also help by keeping you focused and accountable for your healthy eating.

Adding physical activity can be another way to maintain your diet plan and your recovery.

Becoming drug-free is the perfect occasion to investigate and revise all aspects of your physical being. By eating healthy foods, you can help reverse the damage inflicted by drugs and alcohol while boosting your resources to fight back against addiction and prevent future relapse.

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
Author, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of American Addiction Centers is made up of credentialed clinical reviewers with hands-on experience in or expert knowledge of addiction treatment. Read More
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