Substance abuse damages on the user’s life in so many areas: personal, professional, financial, and physical. Relationships suffer as the addict chooses drugs or alcohol over time with friends and family. Careers end because of neglected work obligations and poor overall performance. Finances suffer as the user spends money on drugs and alcohol instead of bills. Physical health declines from poor nutrition, exposure to toxic substances, and even disease. Because substance abuse affects all aspects of a person’s life, it is important to look for holistic drug rehabs when looking for a treatment program. Holistic recovery programs will treat the entire person, psychological as well as physical, rather than focusing on just one aspect of the disease. Holistic rehab may include traditional approaches, such as therapy and counseling, as well as supplemental therapies such as Reiki, meditation, and yoga. One important part of holistic drug rehab is nutritional therapy, which focuses on improving the addict’s physical health by restoring vitamin levels to optimum levels.
Substance Abuse and Nutrition
Alcohol and drug abuse can have a long-term impact on an individual’s health. Different substances affect the body in different ways, but here are some problems typical of addicts:
- Poor diet or failure to eat: Many addicts will choose substance abuse over food, leading to a complete failure to eat or eating foods of poor nutritional quality.
- Malnourishment: Over time, poor diet or failure to eat cause the body to deplete its resources so that the individual lacks important vitamins and nutrient. Malnourishment may also arise from the body’s inability to absorb nutrition because of damage from substance abuse.
- Overeating: Some addicts may eat too much while using drugs or alcohol, leading to obesity and all the health conditions associated with it.
- Organ damage: Substance abuse may damage the liver, kidneys, stomach lining, pancreas, and intestines. These organs are involved in absorbing nutrition, so damaging them can lead to malnutrition.
- Immune system damage: Alcohol and opiates can suppress the immune system, making the user more susceptible to infectious disease.
- Disease: Drug and alcohol abusers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex or sharing needles, putting them at higher risk for diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.
In addition to these broad areas, specific substances are known to cause specific problems:
- Alcohol: Long-term alcohol abuse impacts the stomach, pancreas, and liver, which can cause a variety of deficiencies and related complications. When these organs are damaged, they can no longer properly digest food and absorb nutrients. The most common deficiencies are folic acid, thiamine, and vitamin B6. Over time, these deficiencies can cause anemia, neurological problems, and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which can lead to severe learning and memory problems. The damage to the digestive tract can also cause conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, pathogenic bacterial overgrowth, fungal intestinal infections, and acid reflux.
- Opiates: Withdrawal from opiates such as heroin, morphine, Oxycontin, and Vicodin includes days of excess sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and nutrient loss.
- Stimulants: Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines cause the user’s entire body to speed up; the individual will often stay up for days at a time, in constant activity. At the same time, stimulants suppress appetite, so the user will not eat for extended periods. This combination of constant activity without eating can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, electrolyte imbalance, and dehydration. Over time, malnutrition is known to cause muscle wasting, immune system suppression, impaired wound healing, and cardiac rhythm disturbances, among other problems.
Can Nutrition and Vitamins Aid in Recovery?
Proper nutrition plays an important role in recovery from substance abuse and is key to holistic recovery programs. Learning to eat a balanced diet, and supplementing any areas of nutrient deficiencies, can help the entire body heal. Reversing malnutrition can bolster the immune system, repair damaged organs, and leave the individual feeling more energetic and upbeat. These improvements reduce relapse rates and increase the chances of maintaining sobriety. Rather than trying to go it alone, seek out a holistic rehab that can provide a nutritional counselor. An experienced counselor can work with the patient to determine any nutrient deficiencies and create a dietary plan tailored to his or her needs.
Case Study: Stu
Stu is a 38-year-old alcoholic in recovery who hopes to help other recovering alcoholics by sharing his knowledge and experience. Stu believes that nutritional therapy, specifically niacin supplements, played a crucial role in his healing after years of alcoholism. He began drinking at the age of ten, and he did not stop for 25 years. Stu decided to change his ways after waking up from a serious bender bleeding from the nose, mouth, and ears. Depressed and alone in his apartment, he had been drinking for three or four days straight, never leaving his apartment, passing out wherever he happened to be sitting at that moment. When he woke up, he would immediately start drinking again. After a few days, he woke up severely dehydrated, so much so that his lips were cracked and bleeding, his nose was filled with dried, caked blood, and blood was running from his ears. This was the wake-up call that Stu needed to stop drinking.
After so many years of alcoholism, Stu’s entire body was suffering, so he began by researching nutrition and how it could help him. One supplement that he read about was niacin, which may play a role in depression and anxiety. Niacin deficiency has been linked to depression, perhaps because it is a precursor in the body’s pathway for producing serotonin, a “feel good” neurotransmitter. The body normally converts tryptophan to niacin, and niacin to serotonin; if either tryptophan or niacin levels are low, the body will fail to produce enough serotonin, which may lead to depression. Niacin may alleviate anxiety, from which many alcoholics suffer, because of the way it acts in the brain. Here, niacin binds to the same cell receptors as benzodiazepines such as Valium, Klonopin, and Xanax, so niacin supplements may provide similar results as these strong medications.
There are two types of niacin supplements available, and from his research, Stu feels that one, nicotinic acid, is superior to the other, niacinamide. In his opinion, niacinamide fails to produce the same healing results as nicotinic acid because the brain does not recognize niacinamide as a form of niacin. Therefore, the body will continue to act as if there is a niacin deficit even in the presence of niacinamide, so no therapeutic effect will be achieved. He believes that this version of niacin is a cheap alternative mainly used as an additive in foods such as bread and cereal.
When Stu took his first dose of niacin, he felt the results immediately. His whole body flushed red, and within ten minutes, he fell into a deep restful sleep. Since then, he has continued to use niacin as part of a holistic approach to recovering from alcoholism. Stu’s testimony illustrates the potential for the utility of vitamin therapy as a part of holistic rehab. If you or someone you love is searching for a holistic rehab program, call our toll free number today. We can find the treatment program that is right for you.