Diet for Alcohol Abuse Recovery
Last Updated: February 15, 2023
A struggle with alcohol impacts many aspects of a person’s life. One of these areas is diet and nutrition. Drinking too much can lead to severe nutrient depletion, creating symptoms that can make detox and recovery more difficult. Eating a healthy diet and supplementing with vitamins as needed can help correct some of the damage from drinking. A healthy diet can help to set the person’s body up for recovery.
Effects of Alcohol Addiction on Diet
Nutrient problems are common in people who struggle with drinking. Most people who drink too much get at least half of their calories from alcohol. In many cases, the person may be so focused on drinking that they make poor food choices or do not eat enough. This cycle can be reinforced by the way the brain, especially the midbrain, responds to drinking. Although it is mostly known for playing a role in motor control, the midbrain can also increase cravings for drinking and stop the desire to eat. Over time, the body will work through its nutrient stores, but will not have enough new nutrients from food to work properly.
Other ways drinking can harm nutrient status include:
- Poor nutrient absorption
- Impaired digestion
- Problems with the body’s ability to use nutrients when they are available
- Less nutrient storage in the liver
- Direct damage to the stomach and liver
- Creating a greater need for certain nutrients like folate and thiamine
- Abnormal loss of nutrients in urine and feces
Diet During Alcohol Recovery
A diet of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats is important in alcohol recovery. This kind of diet will give you the vitamins and nutrients you need to build up your body’s stores.
Carbs for Alcohol Recovery
Carbs include fiber, grains, starches and sugars. The best carbs are called complex carbs and break down slowly as you digest them. This provides your body with a steady source of energy to avoid swings in blood sugar. When carbs are high in fiber, they may also help reduce alcohol cravings. Healthy carbs include:
- Whole-grain rice like brown rice and wild rice
- Grains like amaranth, millet, oats and spelt
Healthy Fats for Alcohol Recovery
Fats are a nutrient that are very dense in energy. They play a role in cell function throughout the body and help you absorb many other nutrients. Although some fats are unhealthy, others are good for you. In particular, omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats can have health benefits. Healthy fats are chock-full of fatty vitamins to replete your nutrient stores. Healthy sources of fat include:
- Peanut butter
- Fatty fish like salmon or sardines
- Nuts, especially walnuts
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Oils like olive or canola oil
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Protein for Alcohol Recovery
Protein is the building block for muscles and tissues. Because many tissues are harmed by drinking, getting enough protein can help fix the damage. Protein is contained in many healthy foods like:
- Red meat, chicken and turkey
Avoiding Caffeine and Sugar in Alcohol Recovery
An alcoholic drink can spike your blood sugar levels, creating a short-term burst of energy. However, once you start to detox from alcohol, your body is suddenly not getting those spikes of sugar. Your blood sugar levels may, therefore, be much lower in recovery. Because many people who struggle with drinking also have poor nutritional stores, when they enter detox they often have symptoms like:
- Low mood
- No energy
Some people try to make up for these symptoms by increasing their intake of sugar and caffeine. However, experts recommend you avoid doing this. The central reason for these symptoms is poor nutrient stores, which is not fixed by empty calories from sugar and caffeine. In addition, you can become dependent on sugar and caffeine, switching a problem with drinking to a problem with sugar and caffeine. Having too much sugar and caffeine in the diet can also lead to symptoms or issues like:
- Feeling tired
- Being anxious
- Having hormonal problems
- Gaining weight
Fluids for Hydration
Dehydration is a common side effect of drinking. When you drink, the alcohol stops your brain from making a chemical called antidiuretic hormone, or ADH. The main effect of ADH is to prevent you from losing too much water. Therefore, ADH stops you from urinating too much. But when you have been drinking, the brain stops making ADH. This leads you to urinate more frequently and become dehydrated.
Although staying hydrated in recovery is important, you should ask your doctor how much water is safe for you to drink. Certain health problems like heart disease can have an impact on how much water you can safely drink.
Vitamins and Minerals
Low levels of vitamins and minerals are common in chronic drinking. Because harm to the stomach and liver from drinking can make it harder to absorb vitamins and minerals, a person in recovery may need to take supplements. Common deficiencies from chronic drinking include:
- Vitamins A, D, E, and K: Because drinking harms fat absorption, levels of these fatty vitamins are often low in people who drink.
- Vitamins in the B-family: Alcohol hurts the absorption of many vitamins in the Vitamin B family. Many of these vitamins are available in a single Vitamin-B complex supplement, so you will not need to take separate pills for each of them.
- Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine
- Vitamin B2, also known as niacin
- Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine
- Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin
- Folate: Liver problems from drinking can cause low levels of folate. Folate absorption may also be harmed by drinking.
- Minerals: Due to alcohol-related vomiting, diarrhea, GI bleeding and overall nutrient problems, low mineral levels are common in chronic drinking. Common mineral deficiencies include:
Balanced Diet for Alcohol Detox
A balanced diet of healthy, natural foods is important as you enter recovery. Avoiding processed foods and excess sugars can help stabilize your blood sugar and improve your overall health. Processed foods also put a burden on the liver, which may already be harmed from chronic drinking. In addition, since you are at risk of having nutrient deficiencies because of drinking, it is crucial to build up those stores to stay healthy. To accomplish this, experts advise a diet of 45% carbohydrates, 30% healthy fats and 25% protein.
- Henninger, Maura. “A Holistic Approach to Health in Early R[…]: Diet and Nutrition.” Huffington Post, June 27, 2012. Accessed September 1, 2019.
- Prescrire International. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: How to Pred[…]iagnose and Treat It.” February 2007. Accessed September 1, 2019.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Alert.” October 1993. Accessed September 1, 2019.
- Medici, Valentina; Halstead, Charles H. “Folate, Alcohol, and Liver Disease.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, November 8, 2012. Accessed September 1, 2019.
- Choi, I. “Psychiatric Implications of Nutritional […]encies in Alcoholism.” Psychiatry Investigation, 2005. Accessed September 1, 2019.
- Gordon, B. “Choose Healthy Fats.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, August 6, 2019. Accessed September 1, 2019.
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