Mental Health | 4 min read

How Healthy Eating Can Help You Stay Sober

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On September 4, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On February 11, 2019

how healthy eating can help you stay sober
Reading Time: 4 minutes

For those recovering from substance abuse and addiction, getting the body back to a healthy state of homeostasis can prolong life and help mitigate the side effects and cravings associated with ceasing drug use. Eating healthy is a solid approach toward regaining your physical and mental equilibrium and can aid the detox process and your journey toward wholeness.

Persistent drug and alcohol abuse negatively affects the body’s condition in multiple ways. Some substances block the body’s ability to properly process vitamins and minerals, meaning that vital nutritional components – such as potassium and niacin – are passed through the system without having an opportunity to work. Certain drugs, such as opiates, also tend to elevate blood sugar levels, resulting in the user developing stage-two diabetes or even lapsing into a diabetic coma.

With many substances, there also exists the side effect of dehydration. Without adequate fluid levels in the body, vital systems cannot receive the needed support. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, infrequent urination, and dizziness. Acute, devastating symptoms arise as a response to lowered blood volume and a lack of electrolytes, resulting in a lack of oxygen, seizures, and kidney failure. Substances that are particularly prone to causing dehydration are alcohol and amphetamines.

Replenishing the body’s supply of fluids and nutrients is a vital part of successful addiction recovery, and the experience of treating yourself well through mindful eating can result in a healthy, lasting change in a lifestyle perspective.

Physical Benefits of Healthy Eating

When choosing foods to best support your recovery from your drug of choice, consider what your body has been lacking due to your substance abuse. Certain substances affect certain bodily systems more than others, and determining your specific nutritional deficits is a good start. In some cases, it may be beneficial to undergo a blood panel procedure with your medical provider. Blood tests can reveal deficits and excesses in your current condition and can provide a road map for your new nutritional goals. Some of the vital nutrients, and their benefits in aiding recovery, are listed below:

  • Niacin: A niacin deficiency can result in skin irritation, diarrhea, and mental confusion. Alcohol is a specific culprit in reducing the body’s supply of niacin, but other substances reduce this nutrient, as well. Proper levels of niacin result in better metabolism, a better functioning nervous system, and more antioxidants to fight off damaging free radicals within the body. Niacin is not stored for long within the body, so a regular supply is necessary. Foods that can be incorporated into a niacin-rich diet include fish, chicken, beef, and pork. For vegetarians, foods such as peanuts, avocados, mushrooms, and potatoes can supply this nutrient.
  • Potassium: Potassium can conduct electricity within the body. The presence – or absence – of potassium affects the ability of the body to transmit signals to nerves and regulate fluid levels. A lack of potassium can result in weakness, muscle cramps, abdominal issues, and heart palpitations, which are the acute symptoms of opiate withdrawal. In addition, potassium can remove excess sodium from the body, resulting in reduced hypertension. Foods rich in potassium include many fruits, cooked spinach and broccoli, eggplant, and cucumbers. Mushrooms and potatoes also make another appearance in this category.
  • Vitamin D: Not only is vitamin D vital for forming strong bones and a healthy immune system but lack of it has also been implemented in cancer development. This nutrient works by assisting cells in communicating properly. A deficiency in vitamin D can result in frequent illnesses, fatigue, muscle pain, and even depression. Getting a healthy dose of daily sunlight is the primary way to replenish the vitamin in your body, but certain foods can also assist. Foods rich in vitamin D include dairy products, egg yolks, and fish.
  • Thiamin: Thiamin is one of the essential B vitamins. It helps the body to regulate sugars and contributes to healthy heart and muscle function. However, unlike with other nutrients, the presence of adequate levels of thiamine is not discernible through a blood test. Symptoms of a lack of thiamin include poor memory, poor sleeping habits, poor reflexes, and muscle cramps. These symptoms also tend to be present during withdrawal from addictive substances. The primary way to add more thiamin to your body is to eat whole-grain foods, such as bread, rice, and oatmeal.

Psychological Benefits of Healthy Eating

In addition to the physical benefits, a healthy diet is increasingly considered a vital part of maintaining our psychological health. As mentioned, nutrients within a healthy diet can directly assist in relieving the negative psychological experiences often present during withdrawal and recovery. Emerging studies also indicate that, in addition to the specific anxiety and depression relieving effects of some vitamins and minerals, choosing to follow a healthy diet may improve mental health overall.

The psychological effect which can arise from a focus on healthy eating can be its reward. This “food-mood connection” suggests that those who eat nutritious food regularly experience more peaceful and positive emotions throughout their day. In addition, energy gained from nutrition-rich foods is better sustained, as well, and is free from the crushing effects experienced with sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants. So, not only are those who eat healthy happier, but they also have more daily energy to devote to their recovery.

As experiencing negative thoughts and emotions is a primary risk factor in relapse, promoting psychological wellness through engaging in healthy eating can be an important safeguard. Successful drug treatment programs will do well to incorporate this nutrition focus into their holistic recovery approach. Many guiding resources are available online for those seeking to improve their nutritional habits on their own.

Ascendant offers drug and alcohol addiction treatment in New York. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and seeking a drug or alcohol rehab center near you, give us a call today to learn more about our process and programs. We are here for you.

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Amanda Stevens


Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. Read more

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