Last Updated: February 15, 2023
Chronic heavy drinking can cause a person to become deficient in many nutrients. Alcohol abuse often leads to undereating or a loss of appetite, and it can cause people to make poor food choices. Further, it damages the liver and other digestive organs while also disrupting gut bacteria, which impairs the absorption of nutrients. The nutritional deficiencies that result from alcohol abuse can worsen anxiety and cravings, making detox and sobriety more difficult.
Nutrition plays a critical role in the road to recovery. Replenishing vitamins and minerals by eating the right foods can help ease withdrawal symptoms, repair damaged organs, improve gut and mental health, boost immunity and ultimately increase the chances of a successful recovery.
What Is Alcohol Detox?
When a person stops drinking, chemicals in their brain suddenly become unbalanced. Alcohol slows down communication between the brain and the nervous system, so the brain compensates for alcohol’s presence by producing extra stimulants. Without the presence of alcohol, the nervous system is suddenly overactive, which causes the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol detox can be done by tapering alcohol consumption gradually or stopping all at once. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on factors such as how long a person has been drinking, the amount a person was drinking and physiological factors like body size and age.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
The length and severity of the alcohol detox process can vary widely from person to person. Withdrawal symptoms can start within a few hours of decreasing or stopping alcohol intake. The most common symptoms are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Alcohol cravings
Depending on the severity of the abuse, these symptoms can resolve within a few hours to a few days without treatment.
Moderate to severe detox symptoms like hallucinosis, seizures or delirium tremens can start within one to two days of stopping alcohol intake and may last for three to four days. Because everyone reacts differently to the detox process, symptoms may last longer in rare cases.
Is It Safe to Detox From Alcohol at Home?
Professional alcohol withdrawal treatment programs are the safest place to detox, as they allow a person to be closely monitored during the withdrawal process. However, detoxing at home is possible with approval from a doctor. People who are likely to experience only mild symptoms may get approval from their doctor to detox from alcohol at home. Always consult a doctor before starting an alcohol detox.
The biggest risks of alcohol withdrawal are associated with more severe symptoms, such as seizures, hallucinations and delirium tremens. Delirium tremens can cause disorientation, rapid heartbeat, severe agitation, high blood pressure and fever. This condition can be fatal because it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the body and nervous system. Someone who could be experiencing delirium tremens should get medical help immediately.
Another risk of detoxing at home is that if more severe symptoms develop, a person may be too disoriented to call for help. Detoxing under medical supervision is the safest way to prevent and treat the more severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal.
Best Foods for Alcohol Detox
Eating a balanced diet that replenishes nutrient deficiencies can help a person manage withdrawal symptoms and improve the likelihood of a successful recovery. During recovery, a person should focus on drinking plenty of fluids with electrolytes and eating vegetables, fresh fruits, complex carbs, lean proteins and healthy fats. They should also be supplementing their diet with additional vitamins and minerals.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables have a high water content and can help with hydration during a detox. They’re also a good source of the nutrients that people recovering from alcohol abuse need, such as vitamins A, B, C, calcium, potassium and fiber. If a person is experiencing nausea or vomiting symptoms, fresh or frozen fruit can be blended into a smoothie that may be easier to tolerate. Berries, citrus, melon and peaches are good fruits to eat during a detox because of their high water and vitamin content.
Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are some of the most nutrient-dense foods to eat during a detox. The fiber in greens helps keep blood sugar levels steady, which can reduce irritability, anxiety and cravings.
Whole grains are high in fiber and B vitamins that can ease the symptoms of withdrawal. The complex carbs found in whole grains help stabilize blood sugar, which reduces irritability and anxiety. Carbs and B vitamins are also involved in the production of serotonin, which can improve mood and decrease cravings. Quinoa, brown rice, oats and whole wheat products are good whole grain options during a detox.
Foods That Are High in Vitamins
The richest sources of vitamins and minerals are whole, fresh foods, such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats and whole grains. Nuts, seeds and beans are also high in several vitamins and minerals. In the early stages of recovery, when a person is most depleted of nutrients and may not be able to tolerate eating a variety of foods, a daily multivitamin supplement can help make up for deficiencies.
Additional foods that can help during alcohol withdrawal include:
- Healthy fats: Unsaturated fats help the body absorb nutrients and reduce inflammation. The omega-3 fats found in salmon, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds also help stabilize mood and improve brain health.
- Proteins: Protein repairs tissue and rebuilds muscle that may have been lost during prolonged alcohol use. Protein also stabilizes blood sugar, which can reduce cravings. The amino acids in protein form brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which affect mood, digestion and sleep. If solid food is not appealing due to nausea, broth is a good source of protein and electrolytes.
Vitamins for Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Chronic alcohol use also affects the absorption of nutrients, so someone who has been drinking heavily may become deficient in calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and vitamins A, B, C, D and E. Eating foods rich in these vitamins and minerals can help replenish deficiencies, ease withdrawal symptoms and allow the body to heal and recover faster.
Alcohol Detox Drinks
Detox drinks are designed to help the body flush out alcohol. They are sometimes thought to reduce the need for medical treatment during detox. However, the body is constantly flushing out toxins like alcohol, regardless of what foods you eat or drink. Buying or making a special “detox” drink is not likely to speed up the detox process or provide any benefit other than hydration.
The ingredients commonly used in detox drinks include lemon, lime, ginger, watermelon, beets, leafy greens, chia seeds and other nutritious foods. These are all good foods to eat during a detox because they are high in vitamins and minerals, but there isn’t much evidence that they affect the natural detox process.
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Foods To Avoid on an Alcohol Detox Diet
Many foods can help ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, but certain foods can be detrimental to the healing process. Excess sugar, caffeine and processed foods can increase anxiety, cravings and the likelihood of a relapse.
It’s common for a person to crave sweet foods during a detox because sugar mimics the effects of alcohol on the brain. Small amounts of sugar from fresh fruit are OK, but excess refined sugar can cause cravings, fatigue, anxiety and brain chemical imbalances. Sugar can also become a replacement addiction for people in recovery. Fresh and dried fruits that contain vitamins and fiber are the healthiest way to satisfy a sweet tooth during the recovery process.
Moderate amounts of coffee have been shown to help protect against liver disease, but caffeine is a stimulant. Consuming too much can overstimulate the nervous system, causing anxiety, headaches and irritability. Caffeine also disrupts digestion and sleep, which are important for a healthy recovery. It’s best to limit coffee to no more than two cups a day, or drink decaf coffee and herbal tea to control caffeine intake during recovery.
Sugary cereals, hot dogs and deli meats, frozen meals, packaged snacks, baked goods and other heavily processed foods provide very few nutrients. They are usually high in inflammatory ingredients like saturated fats, refined sugars and preservatives that the liver must filter out of the body. Eating fresh, nutrient-dense foods replenishes nutrient stores, reduces inflammation to promote faster healing and avoids taxing the liver during the detox process.
Alcohol Detox Center Near Columbus, OH
The Recovery Village Columbus Drug and Alcohol Rehab offers a full continuum of care, ranging from medical detox and inpatient rehab to outpatient services and long-term aftercare. By providing successful medical detox and comprehensive care, our evidence-based rehabilitation programs can lead you or a loved one toward a life of lasting sobriety.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.