Relapse & Recovery From Substance Abuse: Dietary & Nutrition Changes for Success

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Relapse and Recovery

The number of individuals battling drug addiction and alcoholism continues to increase. Despite the problem, the success rate in treating addiction is dramatically low. Nationally, only 15% of people who enter into an inpatient treatment program remain sober for a period of two or more years. In New York State this success rate is only 3%. Despite these low statistics, the approach to treatment has not changed in decades. Therapeutic approaches most commonly address the mental and emotional damage that a person has endured. They encourage people to make lists of consequences as well as people they have hurt in the process of their addiction. They are meant to build a level of spirituality and acceptance to how powerful their addictions are. Where most treatment strategies fail is in addressing the physical state of their body’s existence due to substance abuse. Recovery cannot be complete without addressing the mental, emotional and physical aspects of the body during the process.

A person living in a world of substance abuse suffers from significant nutritional deficiencies. These problems result from individual’s dietary behaviors as well as the body’s inability to absorb and utilize nutrients as a result of the poison. Substance abusers tend to go days without eating, binge on nutrient poor foods, and consume large amounts of sugar and caffeine. As they enter into recovery, these behaviors are not perceived as a priority. The person may stop using toxic substances, however they still tend consume large amounts of sugar and caffeine, skip meals and/or binge. These behaviors cause drastic spikes in a person’s blood sugar level, leading to cravings, mood swings, depression, anxiety and fatigue. These are specific feelings that most commonly lead to relapse. Recovering individuals expect these feelings to diminish the longer they remain sober. However, if dietary behaviors are not addressed, people remain in this state long into sobriety triggering emotional states that lead to relapse.

There have been treatment programs in the Mid West that have taken a nutritional approach to battling addiction. Their programs implemented an intense nutritional therapy regimen along with the mental and emotional steps of traditional program. After a five year study, their success rates leaped to 80%. People identified feeling “good”. They shared that they no longer suffered from cravings, nightmares, insomnia, depression or anxiety.

Dietary changes do not require an individual to go on a diet, eat organic, be a vegetarian or count calories. It also does not demand a person to drastically change their daily lifestyles. It literally means implementing small changes into a person’s lifestyle over a period of time. This could be eating more frequently throughout the day in order to better balance blood sugar levels. It could be making sure that you eat at least a piece of toast for breakfast or drink water with every meal. These nutritional steps are outlined in the next article (part 4) of this series. You can feel ‘good’ in recovery if all elements of the person (mental, emotional and physical) are addressed.


Food for Recovery, written by Joseph D. Beasley, M.D. and Susan Knightly.

This post is part of the series: The Role of Nutrition in Substance Abuse, Addiction and Alcoholism

This article series addresses how dietary behaviors expressed during drug and alcohol abuse/addiction causes significant problems that lead to relapse. The series discusses these specific problems as well as offers dietary tips that have proven to improve the chances of long term sobriety.

  1. The Nutritional Impact the Body Endures During Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
  2. Nutritional Impact and its Consequences During Drug Addiction
  3. Relapse and Recovery - Success by Changing Your Diet
  4. 5 Tips on How to Eat When Recovering from Substance Abuse