Generally speaking, it’s wise to eat a healthy diet of nutrient-dense whole foods, emphasising green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, lentils, legumes, whole grains, berries, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and olive oil. Such diets have been shown to reduce risk of chronic disease and increase life expectancy. If you’re recovering from an alcohol use disorder, a healthy diet is even more important and your recovery may even depend on it. Here’s why.
Heavy Drinking Often Leads to Malnutrition
Alcohol damages the lining of the intestines and impairs the absorption of nutrients, especially B vitamins, which help your body convert food into energy. The more you drink, the worse this problem gets. This is one reason why many medical detox centers will give you IV fluids with vitamins when you’re first admitted. In addition to poor nutrient absorption, any addiction may cause you to neglect healthy food in favor of a diet mainly composed of cheap, convenient food like fast food and snacks. Or you may not eat enough at all, getting most of your calories from alcohol. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can put you at risk for many health problems, but repairing those deficiencies with a healthy diet will mitigate many of the risks.
Heavy Drinking Damages the Cardiovascular System
Drinking significantly increases your risk for cardiovascular problems, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and cardiomyopathy. These risks are significantly higher if you’ve also used stimulants such as cocaine along with alcohol. A healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, has been shown to effectively lower your risk for heart disease.
Heavy Drinking Causes Weight Gain
People are not generally aware how many calories are in alcohol, and anyone with an alcohol use disorder is not likely to care about the calories. A glass of red wine may only have about 125 calories, but if you drink a few glasses every evening, that really adds up. And if you have an alcohol use disorder, you likely drink much more than that. As a result, many heavy drinkers can find themselves both overweight and undernourished. Typically, people lose weight pretty quickly after they stop drinking because they’ve cut our a huge source of calories. However, not everyone automatically loses weight and some people actually gain weight. Carrying that extra weight can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and pain in your joints and back. Eating a healthy diet with reasonable portion sizes can help you maintain a healthy weight, reducing your risk of obesity-related diseases.
Heavy Drinking Causes Hypoglycemia
By many estimates, more than 90 percent of people with alcohol use disorders have chronically low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. The pancreas reacts to alcohol in much the same way as it reacts to sugar, by secreting insulin, which lowers your blood sugar. You can end up with chronically low blood sugar even after you quit drinking and that can cause a number of problems. First, hypoglycemia itself is not pleasant. It can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, irritability, aggression, and fainting. Many people mistake symptoms of hypoglycemia for protracted withdrawal symptoms and the feeling of not being quite right for months after quitting can make sobriety more difficult.
Second, people with low blood sugar often try to compensate by eating sweet snacks to raise their blood sugar. This strategy has several drawbacks. First, it can lead to a replacement addiction. Sugary snacks also boost dopamine, which may also be low early in recovery. Unfortunately, this means that snacking can also be addictive and many people find after quitting drinking that they develop a sugar addiction to replace it. This can lead to obesity and all the problems that go along with it.
Eating sugary snacks is also only a temporary solution. You feel better for a few minutes, but then your insulin spikes and your blood sugar crashes again, leading to a rollercoaster of blood sugar levels. A much more sustainable solution is to eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein and fiber. These help keep your blood sugar levels more steady throughout the day, helping you avoid crashes.
Diet Has a Significant Impact on Mental Health
Many studies have found that what you eat impacts many aspects of your mental health, including concentration, memory, and mood. Unhealthy foods high in sugar and omega-6 fats can cause inflammation in your brain, making you feel achy, lethargic, and irritable. On the other hand, healthy foods, especially foods high in antioxidants, fiber, and omega-3 fats can improve your mood and cognition. Omega-3 fats are especially important because they are anti-inflammatory and they are used to insulate the neurons connecting different parts of your brain.
Heavy Drinking Increases Your Risk of Cancer
One often neglected risk of heavy drinking is that it increases your risk of cancer. Everything along your digestive tract, including your mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and colon are at risk. If you also smoke, you are at greater risk of mouth or throat cancer than if you only drank or smoked. When alcohol is metabolized, it produces a carcinogenic byproduct called acetaldehyde. Concentrations of acetaldehyde are highest in the liver, where most of the alcohol you drink is processed, and in the colon, where bacteria produce it as a byproduct of digestion. A healthy diet can help undo some of this damage. A diet high in antioxidants such as leafy green vegetables, berries, especially blueberries, and green tea can help reduce your risk of cancer.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction or mental illness, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use cutting-edge treatment modalities, including TMS and CBT to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.