‘You are what you eat’ is a maxim with which we are all familiar.
The adverse effects of our fast food and processed food diet are well documented. Healthy eating is vital to us all but is especially relevant to addicts. Most addicts have poor diets and appetites.
Alcohol addicts also may have damaged the stomach, pancreas and liver and are unable to absorb nutrients properly. Supplementation may be required (see the neurobiology section) but a balanced diet is equally important.
In many ways it is just as important what you do not eat as opposed to what you do. A varied diet rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals is essential for recovery. We provide wholesome, healthy, appetising food. Eating healthily does not have to be a chore!
Whilst a full analysis of dietary requirements is beyond the scope of this article, there are important points to stress. A high protein diet is provided, chicken, fish, eggs, pulses, etc. feature in our meals.
Complex carbohydrate is provided; the use of refined white flour and refined white sugar is discouraged. Brown rice, wholemeal bread and limited amounts of brown sugar are offered. The consumption of healthy fats (omega 3 and 6) is vital to the efficient working of the nervous system. An adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, essential for neurotransmitter synthesis, is provided by serving a variety of fresh green leafy vegetables.
Alcohol addicts have a definite need for a balanced diet. It is still poorly recognised that up to 90% of alcohol addicts have increased sugar sensitivity which results in hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
Sugar promotes the release of beta-endorphins which boost self-esteem, increase pain tolerance, and promote a feeling of well-being. Sugar boosts serotonin levels, alleviating depression and creating peace of mind, optimism, creativity, and sound sleep.
Conversely low sugar and low beta-endorphin causes a sense of low self-worth, feelings of isolation, tearfulness, and depression; low serotonin causes impulsive behaviour, depression, aggression, and lack of concentration.
These symptoms are typical of the ‘dry drunk’ syndrome, commonly seen in recovery. In fact, irritability, cravings, mood swings, exaggerated response to minor stresses and insomnia are almost taken for granted in recovery
These symptoms can be combated by alcohol and sugar. Why then do we not encourage sugar intake? The answer is that this is a quick fix with major drawbacks. Excess blood sugar causes the body to pump insulin into the blood stream to lower the levels. Blood sugar then falls too low (hypoglycaemia) and the body pumps adrenaline and cortisol into the blood to raise sugar again.
These wild swings in blood sugar levels cause wild swings in behaviour which can eventually deplete the adrenal hormones resulting in adrenal ‘burn-out’, depression, exhaustion, and ultimately suicidal thoughts.
The aim of our dietary plan is to encourage as much stability in blood sugar as possible. This is achieved by encouraging low glycaemic index foods, replacement of white flour and refined sugar with unrefined carbohydrate.
Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day. Porridge is an excellent source of slow-release carbohydrate. In addition, mid-morning and afternoon healthy snacks help to keep blood sugar constant, heightening wakefulness and well-being. This diet, along with a reduction in stimulants, such as caffeine, lessens stress on the adrenal glands.
Healthy fats (omega 3 and 6) are essential for proper nervous system function. This can be derived from good nutrition, particularly fish and fish oils along with olive oil and oily vegetables, cheese, and yogurts. Flax seeds and flax seed oil are particularly rich in omega 3. Fruit, providing it does not contain too much sugar is an excellent source of Vitamin C and a plentiful supply is offered.
In general, fried foods, rich in saturated fats are avoided. Instead, brown rice and boiled potato, sweet potato and root vegetables are preferred. Snacking on convenience foods is discouraged. We try to provide a varied, balanced, healthy diet but we do bear in mind that for some people changing life-long habits can be difficult. We encourage but do not demand!
How can we help?
It’s very common for us to see clients of ours who have come to us for support with an addiction, to have neglected their nutritional requirements as a result of drugs or alcohol. Long-term health problems are very likely to occur when essential vitamins and minerals haven’t been consumed in such a long time.
Of course, our main aim as a drug and alcohol rehab centre is to help people recover from their addiction, however many people underestimate the power of nutritional support and how much this can aid recovery.
Whilst delivering our carefully selected psychological and well-being therapies, we will also ensure that all of our clients receive essential nutrients in their daily meals so that their bodies can begin to replenish what was once neglected.
Even after you’ve left our rehab centre, we will continue to support your long-term recovery. Not only through ongoing counselling or cognitive behavioural sessions, but also through a balanced diet plan which is included in your aftercare programme.
All of our clients will receive a completely free aftercare programme for the first 12 months after leaving our treatment centre. The first year can be the most challenging as you adapt your new behaviours into your way of life, it’s also the time where you’re most likely to relapse, so having a structured aftercare plan in place is essential to continuing your progress.
If you have poor nutrition, particularly whilst recovering from an addiction to alcohol or drugs, then this could influence a psychological relapse which in turn could result in a physical relapse where you’ve fallen back into old habits.
By maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, you’re much more likely to have a positive mindset which is crucial when you’re recovering from addiction, particularly when you return home. Our consultant nutritionist will be on hand to educate you on the importance of nutrition and how you can achieve this.
If you have anymore questions, please call us on 01923 369 161 or text HELP to firstname.lastname@example.org.