Substance use can take a toll on a person’s body and mind in a wide range of ways. Nutritional deficiencies are common among people who have struggled with addiction, not only because of how drugs and alcohol impact vital organs, but also because of the dietary choices a person in active addiction is likely to make. One study found that up to half of people in detox had significant nutritional deficiencies, and this is considered to be a potentially low estimate.

Addiction and Nutrition

At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we take a holistic approach to treating addiction and supporting recovery. This includes utilizing nutrition to help the people we treat live the healthiest lives possible. By understanding how certain drugs can create nutritional deficiencies, people in recovery can make informed decisions to help their bodies get what they need from food and nutritional supplements.

The Impact of Nicotine

People don’t always think of tobacco when they are considering the health impact of various drugs on their bodies. It can be easy to forget that even though nicotine is legally available, it is still a dangerous and addictive substance. Regular ingestion of tobacco and related products can lead to deficiencies of the following:

  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

These particular deficiencies can increase the risk of developing:

  • Eye disease
  • Problems with the nerves in your feet, hands, and spinal cord
  • Anemia
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Scurvy

If you develop nutritional deficiencies related to smoking, your symptoms might include:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain in your bones and muscles
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Mood changes
  • Sexual problems

The Impact of Alcohol

Alcohol is another drug that people sometimes fail to recognize is a dangerous and addictive substance. Consuming high volumes of alcohol over an extended period of time can lead to the deficiencies of the following:

  • Vitamin A
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Amino acids
  • Zinc

These particular deficiencies can increase the risk of developing:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Eye problems
  • Damage to the liver, nerves, and brain
  • Poor bone health

If you develop nutritional deficiencies related to alcohol, your symptoms might include:

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle loss
  • Night blindness
  • Poor sense of taste and smell
  • Fatigue
  • Poor immune system response
  • Gastrointestinal issues like gas, constipation, and diarrhea

The Impact of Opioids

Most people recognize that opioids are detrimental to a person’s health, but they may not realize exactly how they rob the body of the tools it needs to function properly. The nutrients people who misuse opioids are most likely to be lacking include:

  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Folate

These particular deficiencies can increase the risk of developing:

  • Colon cancer
  • Liver problems
  • Decreased bone mass
  • Skin diseases
  • Dementia

If you develop nutritional deficiencies related to opioids, your symptoms might include:

  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating

The Impact of Stimulants

For people who misuse stimulants, the greatest nutritional problem comes from not consuming enough food or water. 

This can lead to:

  • Dehydration
  • Insufficient electrolytes
  • Tooth problems
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Changes in heart rate

Their symptoms might include:

  • Difficulty chewing
  • Weight loss
  • Brain fog

How to Correct Nutritional Deficiencies Related to Addiction

What was put into a person’s body previously can lead to issues, and what they put into their body now can help to correct those issues. Knowing what substances a person used before tells us what their bodies need most now:

  • Nicotine – lots of fruits and vegetables, especially ones that are high in Vitamin C, such as broccoli, green peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and strawberries. Also, consult a doctor about starting a vitamin C supplement.
  • Alcohol – eat small meals at regular intervals that include whole grains, dairy, protein, and healthy fats. Talk to your doctor before starting any nutritional supplements, especially Vitamin A.
  • Opioids – lots of protein and fresh or frozen fruits to replace sweets. Talk to a doctor about probiotics and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
  • Stimulants – drink water instead of caffeinated beverages. Eat a well-balanced diet with sufficiently sized portions of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and dairy.

Long-Term Nutrition

Even after a person in recovery has given their body time to heal and addressed nutritional deficiencies, they must continue to make dietary decisions that promote sustained recovery. These include:

  • Maintaining consistent mealtimes
  • Ensuring proper carb intake to promote stable blood sugar and mood
  • Consistently taking amino acids to keep dopamine and serotonin levels stable, regulate emotions, and reduce cravings
  • Consuming correct amounts of dietary fats to fight depression and inflammation
  • Maintaining hydration to help with mental health and decision-making

When the focus turns to food and diet, it may become important to avoid the possibility of addiction transfer (sometimes called cross addiction) from drugs to food. This can be done by developing coping skills to manage stress, difficult emotions, and interpersonal conflict. Ongoing therapy can help ensure progress in these areas. 

At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we believe that successful treatment and recovery require treating the whole person, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Nutritional support is just one of the ways we help the people we serve to rebuild their lives after addiction.