Addiction Professional Magazine Dec. 2011

by Victoria Abel MA. MNT.

The problem of chemical addiction has become an epidemic in the United States. In 2007-2008, approximately 9% of all people over the age of 12 are abusing alcohol and/or illicit drugs (SAMHSA, retrieved July 28, 2010). Though there are decreases in some areas, with the increased stress of economic failure as well as a decrease in the overall health of the American public, it is predicted that these numbers with increase ( Methods of treatment such as 12-Step and psychotherapy have extremely positive impacts, however these methods alone can have a relapse rate of over 85% (Matthews-Larson, 1992).


Treating the body as a whole, rather than just treating the disease, can increase addict's chances at not only recovery but a healthy life.

Addiction Nutrition is the science of diet and health directly related to helping those who suffer from chemical and process addictions. Though relatively new to the field of addiction treatment, Addiction Nutrition is a fast growing and dynamic addition to present treatment modalities. Recognizing the role of the body in recovery through nutrition, exercise, wilderness experiences, yoga and acupuncture solidifies and validates the changes our clients are making psychologically.

Substance abuse and poor nutrition often go hand-in-hand, with one exacerbating the other. These nutrient imbalances often can make cravings for alcohol and drugs intensify and worsen depression and anxiety.

Many addicts in new recovery are suffering from depression. This form of depression is often caused by a decrease in neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. When the addict is using substances and compulsive behaviors, excitable neurotransmitters are released. This repeated rush of chemicals can ultimately cause the depletion within the brain, hence the client will struggle to feel "positive" emotions. They can also increase their anxiety and anger due to the depletion of mood stabilizing neurotransmitters.

Many addicts report increases in sugar and caffeine cravings when newly sober due to the brain's repeated exposure to mood altering chemicals. They are craving any other feeling than the discomfort that comes from detoxification and low neurochemicals.

Sugar and caffeine can sometimes be seen as less dangerous than the drugs of choice. However they can be a major catalyst to relapses. If the newly recovering client is compulsively eating sugar or drinking caffeine, the body and mind are still on a roller coaster of energy and emotion. Instead of the client eating foods that nourish the brain, the sugar demands the release of insulin and the client will get a rush, similar though less powerful than their drug of choice. When the client depends on sugar or caffeine for energy, when the body is unable to sustain the rush, they can quickly return to drugs or alcohol. Additionally, the empty calories in sugar laden foods will also continue their brains from the nutrients needed for cognitive repair, processing and critical thinking.

With proper addiction nutrition, not only can we rid the body of the toxins, but we can also decrease the new possible dependencies on sugar. People with alcohol addiction have also damaged the body's ability to absorb and utilize important nutrients like vitamin A, E and D due to the damage to the liver. This can impede their ability to break down fats and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. A whole foods diet is key for addicts in new and long term recovery.

A whole foods diet is simply summed up by author Michael Pollan- Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Overly prepared, frozen or prepackaged foods can have limited nutrients, increased sugar, preservatives and sodium as well as artificial colors and flavors. Eating a meal plan such as described below will provide almost all the nutrients humans need to survive and thrive.

Though it is impossible & irresponsible to recommend any nutritional supplementation to all people or any group of people, there are some supplements specific to helping alcoholics and drug addicts heal. A high quality multi-vitamin is always a good place to start. I often recommend a liquid food based multi-vitamin to those in new recovery. Their body may not be able to break down a capsule due to their damaged GI tract and limited enzymatic activity. Digestive enzymes are also helpful, especially for those who have experienced long term constipation from opiate use. This will regulate the bowels and speed detoxification. One specific supplement I often recommend is L-glutamine. Taken with a medical professional's supervision, L-glutamine can help a recovering addict reduce their cravings for alcohol and sugar by up to 35%. Omega 3 fatty acids are also recommended to many clients to help repair some of the damage done to tissues in the GI tract and the brain from repeated exposure to toxins. High doses of Vitamin C (up to 10,000 mg) as well as Vitamin D daily can also help heal damage done from addiction.  Working with an Addiction Nutritionist, a client can get a customized meal and supplement plan to support their long term recovery.

Proper whole foods diets along with 12-step treatment and/or therapy can support our clients in staying clean and sober and feel healthy. Addiction nutrition can also heal the damage caused to the body from addiction.

Meal plans are an essential part of recovery for clients. Using the term meal plan rather than diet can stress the long term life change that is needed rather than a short term "fix".

Sample meal plan

• ½ to 1 liter of water upon waking

• Fruit

• Protein rich breakfast- 2 organic eggs scrambled with spinach and feta, 1 slice 100% whole grain toast or gluten free toast, 1 tsp butter

• Snack- 10 almonds, 1 small apple

• Lunch- Large romaine salad with assorted vegetables, 4 oz. grilled chicken, olive oil and balsamic dressing with fresh herbs

• Snack- String cheese and carrot sticks

• Dinner- Salmon burger, steamed broccoli with 1 tsp butter, ½ cup quinoa or brown rice

• Snack- ½ cup organic cottage cheese with ½ tbsp honey and cinnamon

Continuing to drink water throughout the day (preferably NOT while eating) will keep the body hydrated and help speed detoxification.

Addiction Nutrition can be used in both outpatient and inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment nutritional counseling can be individualized and as well as group settings. Clients can meet with the nutritionist and discuss past eating habits, digestive concerns and future goals. Meal planning, shopping lists, supplementation recommendations as well as didactic groups and cooking classes

Outpatient Addiction Nutrition Therapy can also serve clients. Therapists can make recommendations to a Nutrition Therapist to be part of a treatment team. The Nutrition Therapist can meet with clients in office or even in a client's home to help set up their meal plan as well as their kitchen to set them up for nutritional success. Clients can also get recommendations on supplements to heal their body and decrease cravings that can ultimately end in relapse.

Addiction Nutrition, along with psychotherapy can have a dramatic and lasting impact when working with addictive disorders. It helps them to heal the body as well as the mind and spirit.

Victoria Abel, MA, MNT is founder and owner of Center for Addiction Nutrition. She is also an Instructor at Prescott College in the Human Development program and is a nutrition therapist for Decision Point Center in Prescott Arizona. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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