The Many Negative Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is a substance that can have a permanent, detrimental impact on the people who become addicted to it. Not only can it damage relationships, reputations, and careers, but it can also create permanent havoc in the bodies of people who chronically use it, by way of nutritional deficiencies that are experienced as a side effect of alcoholism.
Alcohol provides calories, but not the rest of what a body needs to keep going. It can also strip the body of vitamins and nutrients that are ingested. This is why, at Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we place a high degree of emphasis on proper nutrition during recovery.
How Alcohol Creates Deficiencies
Science has known for decades about the detrimental nutritional impacts of alcoholism. According to a study published in the Journal of Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research in 1986, alcohol can affect the body’s access to important vitamins and nutrients in a variety of ways:
- Intake – A person who does not regularly consume a healthy, diverse diet won’t have access to the building blocks their body needs.
- Absorption – Vitamins and nutrients may be lost through vomiting and diarrhea before the body can make use of them.
- Storage – In order to process alcohol that has entered the body, the liver and other organs may use up stores of important vitamins and nutrients.
- Metabolism – The organs that would normally process specific vitamins or nutrients may be damaged by prolonged alcohol abuse and no longer able to do the work they were designed to do.
- Activation – An inability to flush used or unneeded substances from the body can lead to a buildup of enzymes in places like the pancreas.
Common Deficiencies and Related Issues
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers a more in-depth look into how nutrition helps the body to run properly, how alcohol can create nutritional shortages, which deficiencies are most likely to occur in people who struggle with alcoholism, and the impact of those deficits.
- Folate – inability to make/repair DNA properly or produce red blood cells
- Vitamin B6 (and other B vitamins) – poor wound healing and cell maintenance, loss of appetite, fatigue, sleep issues, weakness, irritability, and depression
- Thiamine – neurological issues such as memory loss and impaired movement
- Vitamin A – can lead to night blindness, poor wound healing, and cell maintenance
- Vitamin C – poor wound healing and cell maintenance, scurvy
- Vitamin D – poor wound healing and cell maintenance, musculoskeletal pain syndromes (such as fibromyalgia), depression and other mood disorders, loss of bone density, decreased immune function
- Vitamin E – poor wound healing and cell maintenance
- Vitamin K – can create issues with bleeding because blood cannot clot properly
- Calcium – bone disease
- Magnesium – fatigue, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, osteoporosis
- Iron – iron toxicity, anemia
- Zinc – night blindness, skin lesions, poor appetite, depression
- Omega-3 fatty acids – anxiety, relapse, suicidality, fatty liver
The good news is that many of these deficiencies can be addressed through abstaining from alcohol use, proper nutrition, and taking dietary supplements. At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we recommend that people recovering from alcoholism talk to their doctor about supplements that help the body rebuild:
- Multivitamin with Vitamin A, zinc, and Vitamin C – to replace amounts lost during alcohol abuse
- B-complex vitamin – to replace amounts lost during alcohol abuse
- Vitamin D – to replace amounts lost during alcohol abuse
- Omega-3 fatty acids – to replace amounts lost during alcohol abuse
- Taurine – to help the body get rid of the toxic byproducts of alcohol and decrease withdrawal symptoms
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine – may improve memory in abstinent alcoholics
- St. John’s Wort – highly effective for mild to moderate depression and is the most widely used antidepressant in Europe
The Mayo Clinic also has some recommendations for diets that can combat certain dietary deficits resulting from alcohol abuse:
- Folate rich foods:
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta, and rice
- Fruits and fruit juices
- B-12 rich foods:
- Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals
- Milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Red and white meats and shellfish
- Vitamin C rich foods:
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Sweet peppers
Our partners at Valley Recovery Center also have some suggestions for foods that support recovery by providing vitamins and nutrients that may be needed for the body to function properly or by combating the effects of withdrawal and cravings.
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we promote a whole person approach to recovery, including the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of all guests.