Addiction isn’t a modern problem that’s rooted in societal flaws. It isn’t something weak people deal with. In fact, despite the stigma, addiction is a disease.
See, addiction is a very human problem that’s existed since the dawn of mankind. While we’ve recently made new discoveries involving addiction – and there’s certainly been more attention on the topic as a result of the troubling and growing opioid crisis in the U.S. – there’s nothing new about it. And despite the fact that people have struggled with addiction for centuries, recovery is still an uphill challenge that many people lose.
If you define a relapse as the recurrence of symptoms that require additional medical care, 40 to 60 percent of recovering drug addicts experience relapses. If you simply define relapse as the recurrence of symptoms, it’s believed that rates are much closer to 85 percent.
With all of the developments in modern medicine, how is it that official relapse rates can be so high? How can such advanced methods of treatment only work for a short period of time?
The answer to these questions may be found in the approach to treatment. In many settings, treatment specialists and healthcare professionals focus on treating the disease (and the disease alone), when addiction alone can’t be isolated. In order to properly address the disease, the entire body must be targeted during treatment.
When recognizing the role of the body in recovery, there are lots of different aspects to emphasize. However, one of the more integral components is diet and nutrition.
The Relationship Between Nutrition and Addiction
In most cases, poor nutrition and substance abuse go hand in hand. Each issue aggravates the other and leads to a cycle of abuse and poor decision making. Nutritional imbalances intensify drug and alcohol cravings, while drug and alcohol abuse increases the likelihood of eating poorly. When combined together, poor nutrition and addiction can lead to serious depression, anxiety, and other physical symptoms.
However, the relationship between nutrition and addiction isn’t a one-way street. By improving diet and nutrition during the recovery process, addicts can lower their risk of relapse and increase their chances of leading a healthy and fulfilled life.
Eating Right During Recovery
Proper diet and nutrition plays a role in both the initial stages of detoxing and the long-term recovery process.
“By the time addicts seek help, many are malnourished, in part because they haven’t been eating well and in part because addiction wreaks havoc on the body’s ability to absorb nutrients,” Jeanene Swanson writes for Addiction.com. “The type of malnutrition can depend upon the substance being abused. Opiate addicts, for example, often show deficiencies in calcium, vitamins D and B6, and iron, while cocaine addicts generally have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids.”
Understanding this, many treatment centers are now developing meal-planning strategies that take nutritional deficiencies into account. But what about outside of clinical settings? How can recovering addicts eat right and set themselves up for success?
For starters, it’s best to ditch heavily processed foods and focus on fresh, whole foods that provide optimal nutrition.
“Salt should also be avoided if possible,” Resurgence Behavioral Health advises. “Sticking to fresh vegetables, instead of canned vegetables is best. When a person eats whole foods, medications to help them wean off addictions can work better. The healthier the body is, the more capable it is of fighting off addiction and disease.”
Another benefit of eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is that it increases fiber intake. In addition to ensuring the digestive system functions properly, fiber regulates blood sugar. This leads to fewer mood swings and spikes, which helps keep addicts on course.
One thing recovering addicts need to avoid is replacing their addictions. A lot of people in recovery use sugar or caffeine to help them “feel” something, but this will ultimately lead to unhealthy crutches (and likely a full-blown relapse). The goal is to totally supplant addiction by maintaining healthy dietary habits that address total body health from the inside out.
Healing the Body With Food
One of the body’s most incredible attributes is its ability to heal itself. When an addict focuses less on behavioral modification and more on setting their entire body up for success, they’re able to maximize bodily functions and focus on real, long-term healing.
Water, fruits, vegetables, protein, multivitamins…these are the staples of sustainable addiction recovery. When combined with other natural elements like exercise, meditation, and social support, proper diet and nutrition often mean the difference between freedom and relapse.
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