Addiction is the term used to describe an individual’s lack of control over use of a particular substance or activity to the point where they may become dependent upon it and it may become harmful.
What do people become addicted to?
Many people tend to associate the term addiction with alcohol and drugs, and though these are among the most common forms of addiction, a person can potentially become addicted to anything from sex or junk food through to gambling or computer games.
It is very unlikely that anyone would take up an activity with a view to intentionally becoming addicted, and some individuals are able to regularly use substances and engage in activities without any problems.
However, others will find that they begin to become dependent on these substances or activities to get through their everyday lives, and this is a signifier that what was once just a habit has now developed into something more serious.
There is no known scientific reason as to why addictions develop, though it is worth noting that many addictions such as that of alcohol, drugs and nicotine, change the way we feel on both a physical and mental level, and this factor in part could be responsible for creating a strong desire to repeat.
Similarly, activities such as gambling and sex both involve extreme highs, which again, could fuel a desire to repeat the behaviour. Even when these activities are no longer fulfilling, often they have already progressed into a habit which is difficult to break.
Individuals who are addicted to a substance will usually find that they become dependant on it to some degree, and preventing themselves from having it could trigger a set of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Generally, the more we take something the more tolerant and used to it the body becomes until we need to begin using larger and larger amounts more frequently in order to obtain the same effects.
An individual who becomes dependant on substances such as alcohol, drugs and nicotine will be causing significant damage to their organs, immune system, nervous system and brain and if this continues long term the consequences can be severe.
If left to continue untreated for a long period of time, an addiction to alcohol can eventually result in major nutritional deficiencies and health concerns. Alcohol is actually an anti-nutrient, which has been found to deplete a number of vitamins, amino acids and essential fats within the body, as well as disturbing the control of blood sugar.
In addition to this, we also know that alcohol causes damage to both the pancreas and the liver, both of which are essential for keeping the body in good working order. The pancreas ensures that blood sugar and fat absorption are regulated whilst the liver detoxifies harmful substances; both important functions that are needed for making sure fluids, calories and electrolytes are kept in balance.
Alcoholism has also been linked with a variety of other health concerns, from high blood pressure and stroke, through to internal bleeding, diabetes, inflammation of the pancreas, severe malnutrition, damage to the nervous system, and posing a possible risk of birth defects to unborn babies.
Drugs have been being used for centuries in order to change the way we feel. Whether it is legal drugs used for medicinal purposes such a pain relief, through to illegal substances that are taken to obtain a 'high' or 'mind altering experience'. Whatever the reason, if a person's use of drugs becomes uncontrolled then they may find that it becomes difficult to stop, even if they are experiencing negative side effects.
Opiates and Opioids are drugs which are derived from the Opium poppy plant. They include heroin, morphine and codeine and are commonly used for their pain killing and euphoric effects. Drugs such as these effect the gastrointestinal system and withdrawal can trigger side effects such as diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, all of which could lead to nutrient deprivation and electrolyte imbalances.
Other drugs that notably effect nutrition are stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, both of which can bring about a loss of appetite, malnutrition and weight loss.
How might a nutritionist be able to help me?
Although it may not seem like the most likely of aids for a drug user, in some cases a good diet may be able to help substance abusers through their withdrawal period, helping the body to recover from some of the long term damage that has been done.
The body is thought to begin its detox from the moment you decide to stop taking drugs/alcohol/nicotine, and making it through this detox stage can often prove difficult. Once your body has passed this point, though it will not be rebelling against the lack of drugs anymore there will still be build up inside the body caused by long term substance usage.
Consulting a qualified nutritionist could be of benefit to individuals who are wishing to overcome their substance abuse and regain optimum health. A nutritionist will review each individual's case before forming a personalised nutrition programme, beginning by gathering in depth information about medical history, lifestyle, eating patterns, habits and addiction.
This process allows the nutritionist to then work with you to formulate a programme, which will be tailored to you and appropriate for your needs.
The programme itself may contain meal plans, food, drink and snack ideas, foods to be avoided, and potentially an exercise regime or suggestions for those wishing to get back into good physical health.
Foods to assist recovery
When thinking about addiction recovery, good nutrition is not the first solution that comes into the mind of most addicts. Although nutrition alone cannot eradicate an addiction, nor can it prevent side effects caused by withdrawal, what it could do is assist recovery, improve the likelihood of success and minimise the side effects of withdrawal and the addiction itself.
A body going through the healing process has a number of different requirements in order to do so successfully, and good nutrition is relatively high up the list. Eating the right foods and ensuring your body has plenty of the vitamins and minerals it needs could help to speed up recovery by making sure the body has what it needs to restore or maintain energy, lift mood, and help keep the organs functioning at optimum level.
Though each person will have a different set of requirements and therefor their own unique nutrition programme, diets for those recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction commonly include complex carbohydrates to replace simple sugars and sugar substitutes.
Other common components of a diet for an individual recovering from substance abuse could include:
- Wholegrain for plenty of fibre and important nutrients such as potassium and magnesium.
- Fruit and vegetables which could help to reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as ensuring the body has a good mix of nutrients which will help to reduce any withdrawal related shakes.
- Protein, which provides fibre, minerals, vitamins and good fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and unsaturated), all of which will help to stabilise heart rhythms and to ease any inflammation.
- Water levels should also be kept topped up. Though you don’t necessarily have to drink eight litres every day to reap the benefits, water will help to flush out toxins from the system, including your kidneys which often bear much damage as a result of addictions.
Foods you could avoid
As well as upping your intake of certain foods to aid recovery, there are also certain foods some experts recommend that you avoid whilst in the recovery period.
As with most things in life, drinking caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea are fine in moderation but drinking too much during recovery can bring about issues such as sleeplessness, irritability, restlessness and anxiety, none of which are going to be beneficial in helping you to overcome your addiction.
Energy drinks which contain caffeine are equally as bad, and you may be advised to avoid these even if you are feeling as though you need a pick me up.
If you are tempted to have a coffee or drink an energy drink for a boost then you could try to opt for a healthier alternative instead.
If you are interested in finding out more about how good nutrition could help you overcome or recover from an addiction, a nutritionist may be able to provide you with further guidance and support.