When a person enters a rehabilitation program to overcome an addiction to alcohol or drugs, their primary focus is ending their fixation on the intoxicating substance. However, many rehabilitation programs are offering help from clinical specialists like dieticians and nutritionists, so the people in recovery can learn skills to improve their long-term health too. When a person has a focus on healthy habits, the new habits reinforce their commitment to sobriety and positive lifestyle changes.
Benefits of a Nutritionist in Treatment
- Overcoming and preventing malnutrition
- Normalizing mood
- Reducing cravings
- Managing weight
- Social support for long-term health improvements
Dieticians and Nutritionists in Rehabilitation
There are many benefits that nutritionists can offer people overcoming addiction in a rehabilitation program. When a person begins working with a nutritionist or dietician, this clinical professional will evaluate the individual’s existing health, including weight, body mass index, and nutritional deficiencies. Then, the nutritionist will help the person create a long-term strategy to eat healthier. This can include several steps, like learning how to evaluate nutrition on a restaurant’s menu, learning how to cook at home, and developing better food shopping habits.
Improved nutrition helps people in recovery maintain their sobriety, so many rehabilitation programs are adding nutritionists and dieticians to the clinical care team. Benefits from working with a dietician or a nutritionist in recovery include:
- Overcoming and preventing malnutrition: Intoxicating substances like alcohol or narcotics change hydration levels and the balance of vitamins and minerals in the body. Malnutrition and dehydration can cause long-term health problems, when left untreated. For example, opioid addiction can cause constipation and vomiting, leading to dehydration, and alcohol reduces thiamine, which is an important B vitamin, and that can lead to a condition called wet brain. Many people who struggle with stimulant addiction rapidly lose weight, which can cause osteoporosis and other physical problems. Additionally, damage to major organ systems like the stomach, pancreas, liver, and kidneys can reduce the body’s ability to metabolize food, and that can lead to nutrient deficiencies.Eating properly is essential for people recovering from addiction. Learning to balance proteins, fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals will help the person improve their physical health, both in treatment and once they exit the program. Habits involved in healthy eating can also prevent long-term health issues related to malnutrition.
- Normalizing mood: Imbalances in nutrition also lead to imbalances in neurotransmitters; without proper nutrient support, the body is not able to produce replacement neurotransmitters as quickly. The person may experience prolonged withdrawal symptoms due to amino acid deficiencies, for example. When a healthy diet with a focus on consuming healthy proteins is part of detox and rehabilitation, the body is aided in producing its own neurotransmitters, helping to replace brain chemistry stimulation from intoxicating substances.Additionally, some medical research indicates that a focus on balancing dietary fat can improve mood by reducing inflammation. Insulin can trigger blood sugar levels and stimulate the production of tryptophan and other calming neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Reducing cravings: Cravings are a symptom of addiction. Even when a person has learned to cope with cravings in different ways, they may continue if the body is not properly nourished. The brain cannot function without appropriate protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral intake, so it may compensate by inducing cravings for drugs or alcohol. The American Dietetic Association has stated that balancing nutrition helps to reduce cravings. In conjunction with psychotherapy and other treatments, nutritional management helps people overcome lingering symptoms associated with addiction. A study that created a nutritional program for a veterans’ substance abuse program showed that abstinence rates in an alcohol use disorder treatment program improved among participants who joined a nutrition program.
- Managing weight: Often, people who are recovering from addiction to substances like methamphetamines or cocaine have lost a great deal of weight. During rehabilitation, they may be encouraged to gain weight, which means eating more calories; however, without the assistance of a nutritionist or dietician, the person may not have the knowledge necessary to eat healthy foods and gain weight in a sustainable way. In fact, many people become overweight once they leave rehabilitation, because they do not know how to eat regular meals or maintain a balanced diet. With the additional guidance of dieticians and nutritionists in rehabilitation programs, people overcoming addiction can learn how to find and prepare healthy foods, so they maintain a healthy weight.
- Social support for long-term health improvements: Social support is a cornerstone of rehabilitation programs. When a person who is overcoming addiction works with a professional dietician or nutritionist, they not only have expert advice to help them recover from their addiction, but they also have a knowledgeable person on their team who wants them to improve their long-term health. This care and encouragement can bolster the benefits of psychotherapy and other treatments in rehabilitation.