The journey of addiction recovery from drugs or alcohol is a lifelong process, involving the revitalisation of mind, body, and spirit. A pivotal, yet sometimes overlooked component of this journey is restoring our nutritional well-being.

Addiction can cause individuals to neglect nutritional health, leading to long periods of improper eating habits and malnutrition. Therefore, taking the right steps and integrating nutritional healing into our daily routines is an incredibly important part of the overall recovery journey.

This guide will discuss the important role of nutrition in addiction recovery, offering insights and strategies to rebuild and maintain nutritional health, thereby supporting a robust and long-lasting recovery journey.


How Addiction Affects Nutrition

Whilst it’s no secret that nutrition can be heavily impacted by addiction, how it is affected will ultimately depend on the individual and what substance is involved.

Alcohol can contain many empty calories, and many individuals who abuse alcohol often neglect proper nutrition, opting instead for the caloric intake provided by alcoholic beverages. This can certainly lead to malnutrition and a host of other health issues.

Drug addiction can also severely impact nutritional intake and health, though, as mentioned above, the specific effects can vary depending on the substance used.

For example, opiates, such as heroin and prescription medications, can indeed cause significant gastrointestinal problems, including constipation and nausea, which can hinder proper food intake and nutrient absorption.

Stimulants, on the other hand, (e.g. cocaine) can suppress appetite, leading to insufficient caloric and nutritional intake. Over time, this can lead to noticeable, unplanned weight gain or loss, malnutrition, and other health issues.

Cannabis is a substance that can have the complete opposite effect of stimulants, increasing our appetites and leading to the consumption of unhealthy, high-calorie foods. This may potentially contribute to an unhealthy diet.


Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Addiction

People who are in the process of overcoming addiction usually face various nutrition-related issues. This is mainly because addictive substances mess with healthy eating habits and the body’s ability to take in good stuff from healthy food too.

Firstly, many who are recovering addicts, especially those with drug and alcohol addiction, are often low on Vitamin B1 or Thiamine. Not having enough of this can lead to severe health problems, including confusion, coordination troubles, and memory problems.

Secondly, shortages of Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid are common too, mostly because of our poor eating habits and the harmful effects of substances on our ability to absorb these vitamins. A lack of these vitamins can cause tiredness, weakness, and issues with thinking and reasoning.

In addition to the above, Calcium and Vitamin D are often also common deficiencies, which are usually caused by not getting enough sunlight and not eating enough foods that contain calcium (e.g. dairy, edamame and sardines).  This can cause weaker bones, potentially increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Beyond vitamins and minerals, many who are recovering from addiction may have gone long periods of time without enough of the basic food components, such as proteins, which can make healing slower and weaken the immune system.


The Role of Nutrition in Recovery

Proper nutrition can play a significant role in the recovery process, as a balanced and healthy diet, can help restore physical health and mitigate the adverse effects of substance abuse, contributing to overall well-being and reducing the risk of relapse.

A balanced diet is pivotal in the recovery journey, serving as the cornerstone for physical and mental well-being. It is integral in reinvigorating the body, repairing damaged cells, and restoring vitality.

Let’s take a closer look into the significance of various macronutrients.

  • Essential carbohydrates – carbohydrates serve as the body’s primary energy source. To maintain a balanced diet, particularly for those with a lower activity level, it is imperative to monitor carbohydrate intake to avoid excess.
  • Protein – indispensable for the body’s recuperative processes, facilitating cell growth and repair. It is instrumental in regenerating skin cells and other tissues, and insufficient intake can hinder our body’s natural healing abilities.
  • Healthy fats – often underestimated, are essential for numerous microbiological processes within the body, and it’s another source of energy. Consuming an adequate amount of healthy fats is essential to meet nutritional needs and ensure the body has the necessary resources for recovery.
  • Water – makes up a substantial portion of the human body. Water is involved in almost every physiological process, including digestion, absorption, circulation, and temperature regulation, so it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated.


If you struggle with unhealthy eating habits, it may be worth considering nutritional supplements to ensure that your micronutrient intake is within a healthy range.

Micronutrients are vital substances that our bodies need in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy. They include vitamins and minerals, which help with many jobs in our bodies. For example, keeping our bones strong and our immune system working well.

Unlike macronutrients (as we discussed earlier – proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and water), micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts, but they are still critical nutrients very important for our health, development, and well-being.

Please note that, whilst it’s incredibly important to maintain proper nutrition during addiction recovery, if you’re considering taking supplements, seek a consultation with a medical professional or qualified nutritionist.

Everybody is different, so these trained professionals can accurately assess your need for supplements and determine the correct dosage. This ensures your body receives the right nutrients in the right amounts.

Essential Vitamins For Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

  • Vitamin C – Antioxidant properties and can contribute to the elimination of toxins in the body, potentially aiding in general wellness.
  • Selenium – An antioxidant that plays a role in DNA synthesis and protection against infection and damage. Adequate selenium intake is important, and the appropriate amount should be determined based on individual dietary intake and health conditions.
  • Zinc – Essential for various bodily functions, including metabolism, immune function, and cell repair. Substance abuse can indeed impact zinc levels, which can, in turn, affect vital organs, such as the liver.
  • Chromium – Involved in carbohydrate metabolism and the regulation of blood glucose levels.
  • Calcium – Essential for the central nervous and immune systems, among other functions. Substance abuse and excessive caffeine intake can disrupt calcium balance in the body. So, maintaining adequate levels is important for our health.
  • Iron – Healthy iron levels are required for transporting oxygen in the blood, supporting energy metabolism, and maintaining optimal brain function. Individuals in recovery from substance abuse may have poor nutrition, including iron deficiency. This is particularly true if substance abuse has led to a lack of balanced nutrition, gastrointestinal issues, or blood loss.
  • Vitamin B12 – Important for nerve function, the formation of red blood cells, and DNA synthesis. A deficiency can lead to anaemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and poor memory. People recovering from addiction may have a B12 deficiency due to poor diet, malabsorption issues, or liver damage, and may benefit from supplementation.


Physical Activity and Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

In the context of addiction recovery, maintaining a balance between regular physical activity and proper nutrition can be really valuable.

Exercise has been known to act as a positive coping mechanism, providing a natural and healthy way to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression that often accompany recovery.

Proper nutrition, on the other hand, plays an integral role in repairing the physical damage that addiction may have caused. Consuming a well-balanced diet with adequate nutrients helps restore physical and mental well-being, boosts energy and immune function, and reduces the risk of relapse.

These healthy habits also help in establishing a routine, a sense of normalcy, and a focus on self-care, which are essential aspects for those in recovery. Integrating enjoyable physical activities and nutritious food choices into daily life helps individuals in recovery to regain control, rebuild their lives, and work towards a more positive and healthy future.


Tips For Improving Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

Below, you’ll find useful advice for improving your own nutrition and addiction recovery now that you are living your life in recovery:

Start Learning About Nutrition

If nutrition is a subject that’s entirely new to you, try to take it slow and learn in a way that engages you.

For example, watch YouTube videos, follow nutritional experts on social media, and read blogs or books about nutrition. This doesn’t mean you need to become an expert, but it does mean you need to invest time in learning about nutrition.

Get Into the Habit of Looking at Food Labels

To avoid poor-quality foods and focus on high-quality foods, it’s essential you can read food labels. Sometimes, it’s really not that obvious, and some food packaging is designed to make us believe it is a healthy option – even though it is not!

Food labels reveal the calorie content of foods you intend to eat, and the various nutrients and quantities of those nutrients contained in the food. If you cannot understand the information contained within food labels, you will be unable to avoid certain foods.

Avoid Caffeine and Sugar

Caffeine stimulates our sympathetic nervous systems, which can cause feelings of anxiety. Sugar has also been linked to causing feelings of anxiety, along with mood swings.

There will likely be a little sugar or caffeine within many types of drinks and food groups. But we recommend trying to limit your intake as much as possible to protect your mental health in addiction recovery.

Find Healthy Foods That You Like

We don’t all have the same taste in foods, so try to find meals that you actually enjoy eating. This will make forming good eating habits and a consistently nutritious diet much easier! Remember, balance is key, so make sure you’re getting enough of everything in a way that’s delicious for you.

Try Keeping a Food Journal

Some people may find it particularly useful to keep a food journal. These can be purchased online, in-store or at the supermarket.

Food journals allow you to track what you are eating and when. Do not use a food journal for weight loss, particularly when you are new to recovery. Instead, use a food journal to ensure you are eating healthily.

Contact Us For Advice Today

We hope you’ve found our guide to nutrition in addiction recovery useful. If you have any questions or queries, please call us today on 01253 847 553.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: September 28, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.