One of the very first things to become noticeable in someone with a substance use disorder is a progressive decrease in health. This is because there is a direct correlation between nutrition and addiction, which is also connected to the amount of damage the body gets while a person continues with the addiction.
More people should pay attention to this correlation between nutrition and addiction because it is one of the earliest telltale signs if a person has a substance abuse issue, and as such, could be the indicator that an intervention could be needed.
How Badly Does Substance Abuse Affect Nutrition?
Depending on what substance is being taken, the damage derived from the side effects could be neurological, behavioral, or mostly physical.
Most substances, however, tend to affect how the body can process food and get the needed nutrients from it.
Certain substances, such as methamphetamines or stimulants, tend to suppress a person’s appetite. Chronic use of such substances will severely affect a person’s health as the person refrains from eating properly.
In other instances, substances could have a heavy sedative or hypnotic effect on the people taking them, making them sleep most of the time. This also affects nutrition as they are unable to eat properly as well since they are only awake or conscious for a few hours each day.
People who have a chronic substance abuse disorder tend to isolate themselves from others as much as possible. This is particularly true for those who are already manifesting side effects that are difficult to conceal.
As such, eating properly or eating at places where nutritional food is available might no longer be an option. This leaves only food that could be bought at convenience stores or fast food, both of which could hardly be considered nutritious alternatives. In many cases, people who suffer from heavy addiction only subsist on sweets and small food items that they can get without calling attention to themselves.
Malnutrition is practically guaranteed in people with a substance abuse disorder. This is even true with those who have a substance dependency and still binge eat when they could. This is because the food items they choose are not necessarily the ones they need.
In many cases, malnutrition contributes greatly to the acceleration and aggravation of whatever damage the body is already undergoing from chronic substance abuse. The damage done is mostly on one or more major organs of the body.
Abused substances lead to one form of damage or another to the body, this is a fact. Depending on the type of substance, the damage could be manifested as a gradual impairment of the organ’s function, or the complete shutdown of its processes, much like what happens when a person’s liver gives out from too much alcohol.
Other than the liver, other organs that tend to be damaged the most from substance abuse include
- Circulatory system (heart and blood vessels)
- Central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves)
- Respiratory system (nose, lungs, and trachea)
- Digestive system (mouth, stomach, esophagus, liver, and intestines)
- Excretory system (kidneys, bladder, and urethra)
- Endocrine system (hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, and adrenal glands)
- Reproductive system
- Lymphatic & immune system (lymph nodes and vessels, white blood cells)
Getting drunk almost always translates into either vomiting afterward, feeling ill the morning after, or both. Vomiting and frequent urination from a night of heavy drinking are why people feel terrible the following day. The dehydration that results from severe loss of bodily fluids from drinking gives people a hangover, and it could be more serious than most people think.
Dehydration not only adds to the nutritional problems caused by alcohol by making people vomit and urinate more than usual but flushing out vital fluids could send the body into shock, which could be life-threatening.
How Dangerous is Alcohol to a Person’s Nutrition?
drunk alcoholic lain business man drinking whiskey from the bottle and glass depressed wasted and sad at home couch in alcohol abuse and alcoholism conceptOne of the greatest dangers of alcohol abuse is that it is extremely detrimental to a person’s ability to receive nutrition. This is due to two reasons:
This is a sad reality demonstrated by many homeless people who also abuse alcohol. Most people on the street would rather use whatever money they have to buy cheap liquor or alcohol from convenience stores than buy a decent meal. This already deprives them of the most basic of nutrients taken from food.
As a consequence of being drunk most of the time, chronic drinkers also tend to be asleep or lack enough consciousness to be able to get a decent meal. This further pushes them down the path of malnutrition.
There is a potentially lethal condition known as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, which is a severe Thiamine deficiency that leads to progressive cognitive function degeneration and death. This condition is largely attributed to severe thiamine deficiency and is also associated with chronic alcohol drinkers.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that an estimated 80% of people who have an alcohol abuse disorder either cannot absorb thiamine from the food they eat or cannot retain it enough to process it. This syndrome is made up of two parts: Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome.
Korsakoff syndrome, also known as Korsakoff psychosis is characterized by memory loss for recent events (short-term memory loss), varying degrees of confusion, and confabulation, which is the tendency to make up facts to fill in gaps in memories.
Wernicke encephalopathy, the other half of this syndrome, is characterized by varying degrees of confusion, apathy, development of difficulty in walking, development of eye problems such as involuntary eye movements (nystagmus), and partial paralysis of the eyes. Of the two components of this syndrome, untreated Wernicke encephalopathy may lead to a coma and even death.
How Dangerous are Opiates/Opioids to a Person’s Nutrition?
Other than compromising a person’s nutrition by dampening their appetite to the point that they barely eat at all, opiates and opioids are known to cause severe stomach and digestive issues in people, and this persists even during medical detox when the person experiences withdrawal symptoms.
Apart from starvation, opiates and opioids could put people in danger of severe dehydration, mainly due to the vomiting and diarrhea that it gives people. In severe cases, this could lead to the depletion of whatever little nutrients a person might have, and the loss of bodily fluids could lead to severe electrolyte imbalance and even death by dehydration.
How Dangerous are Stimulants to a Person’s Nutrition?
Stimulants like methamphetamine practically kill the urge of a person to eat. This is why people who binge on stimulants typically look like they suffered from drastic weight loss. Continued deprivation of food could lead to a serious case of malnutrition and complications arising from starvation.
Apart from not eating, a person could also suffer a significant shock to the system because on top of the starvation, people who binge on stimulants also tend to sleep less, if at all. This combination could cause the body to practically shut down.
How Dangerous is Marijuana to a Person’s Nutrition?
Most would think that marijuana would not be a danger to a person’s health or nutrition because those who binge on marijuana are known to eat a lot. What many do not realize is that the danger lies in the quality and quantity of the food eaten by chronic marijuana users.
Most people who indulge in marijuana binge on either junk food or sweets and for people who tend to develop diabetes, this is a major concern. Junk food and sweets will not provide the daily needed nutrients of a person, and would only serve to hasten any other condition that could arise from overconsumption of these food types.
How is Malnutrition from Addiction Treated?
Part of the rehabilitation process is making people understand how important health is. An integral part of health is nutrition, which is one of the first things people lose when they get into substance abuse.
This is why people in rehab are taught how to lead a healthy lifestyle as part of their therapy. The combination of clean living and healthy eating will serve to give people a sense of well-being that could significantly help them in maintaining a drug-free and alcohol-free lifestyle once they complete rehabilitation.
Proper nutrition will also help in dealing with the damage done by substance abuse on the body. which is a far better way of doing it than relying on mostly chemical-based supplements.
Let Eagle Creek Help You Back to a Healthy and Addiction-Free Life
It is never too late to take care of yourself, and this is particularly true for those who have sadly fallen into bad habits, such as illicit substances and alcohol. Getting back into a habit-free and healthy life guarantees that you have a life to get back to, and this is something that we work hard to help people with here at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery.
Let’s talk about stepping back into a life free of worry, self-harm, and dependence. Let us help you get your life back.
Kendall Maloof is the clinical director at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has held multiple leadership roles before settling here at Eagle Creek. Kendall received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2016. Her career in mental and behavioral health began in 2014 when she took up internships in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors. She interned at multiple reputable companies, such as The Living Success Center and 449 Recovery in California.
In 2019, Kendall became the clinical director of Sunsets Recovery for Woman, a dual diagnosis program in southern California. Kendall is a natural leader. She has an incredible ability to problem solve and stay calm in any situation. Kendall never fails to show up when she is needed, and her calm demeanor makes her team and clients feel at ease. Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery is proud to have Kendall as our clinical director.