Three Ways Nutrition Improves Addiction

By Claire Dorotik-Nana

nutrition and addictionFor clients recovering from addiction, so often the primary focus of treatment is on achieving and maintaining sobriety. And while effective therapy depends on sobriety, what is often missed are the client’s nutritional deficiencies – many that can dramatically increase the chances of picking up again.

Clients can, for example, have vitamin B, folate, and iron deficiencies, all of which will lead to general feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and poor cognitive functioning. On the other hand, depleted tryptophan (an amino acid often found in milk, turkey, and dairy products) stores can lead to depleted serotonin stores, and ultimately, states of mild depression.

More often than not, clients in recovery are not aware of their deficiencies and perhaps more importantly, the ways in which they affect how they feel. Yet following an improved nutritional program – one that addresses the common deficiencies of addiction – dramatically improves the way clients feel in many ways. Here are just three:

Increased Energy

Maintaining energy relies on regulating blood sugar, and maintaining adequate vitamin and mineral stores. However, both of these things depend on one thing only – nutrition. When clients follow a nutritional program designed to stabilize blood sugar, energy levels stabilize as well, and more often than not, clients experience more consistent and reliable feelings of energy. Further, when, through a healthy dietary intake of vitamins and minerals, deficiencies are restored, the body responds through better recovery, which lies at the heart of adequate energy levels. What this ultimately means for the client seeking sobriety, is less reliance on energy shortcuts – such as amphetamines or stimulants – to boost energy, and an improved sense of well-being.

Better Cognitive Functioning and Memory

Sobriety from any drug requires a wealth of frustration tolerance, emotional containment, and the ability to override strong impulses with and even stronger set of executive functions. In short, the brain in recovery is the brain on overdrive. Yet one hallmark of clients in recovery is poor executive functioning. Often not just repeated use of drugs and alcohol but an atrophied set of executive functions lead to a less than optimal ability to tolerate the stress of achieving sobriety. However, we also know that optimal brain functioning requires an optimal supply of nutrients. Through increasing intakes of Omega-3 Fatty acid, for example, memory and cognitive functioning can be improved significantly. Vitamins E, D, and several amino acids have also shown dramatic results on improved brain functioning. What this means for the client in recovery, is not only that they can rectify nutrient deficiencies, but that their cognitive functioning – and their chance of recovery – can be dramatically improved when they do.

Enhanced Mood

An unstable mood for the client in recovery is a major risk factor for relapse. Especially when clients are new in recovery and may not have the cognitive resources to overcome the strong impulses that accompany mood swings, the result can often be turning to their drug of choice. Moreover, an unstable mood often complicates the development of the very social support that fosters recovery. Yet a stable mood is dependent on a set of neurochemicals that may not be in abundant supply for the client in recovery. Therefore, replacing and fortifying neurochemicals becomes a primary step in stabilizing and improving mood. As neurochemicals are comprised of amino acids, this requires an adequate nutritional intake of them. Through improving their amino acid profile, clients can often quite markedly improve their mood, which then ripples outward improving their recovery program, and their adjustment to sober life.

Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:

Nutrition and Addiction: Advanced Clinical Concepts is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that examines addiction from a nutritional perspective. Drug addiction is an alarming problem in America, and one that is not receiving the treatment it needs. Compounding the problem is that addiction often leads to nutritional deficiencies, which predisposes the addict to a host of related health complications. Treatment recovery programs that also offer nutritional education have been found to significantly improve three-month sobriety success rates. The first section of this course will take a look at the etiology of addiction, related neurochemical factors and physiological components. The second section will focus on the nutrient deficiencies associated with addiction, along with the resultant effects on mood, cognition and behavior. The last section – the clinician’s toolbox – will give you, the clinician, targeted nutritional interventions and exercises that you can use with your clients to not just improve their recovery rates, but their overall mental health and wellbeing. Course #21-14 | 2017 | 30 pages | 15 posttest questions

Nutrition and Mental Health: Advanced Clinical Concepts is a 1-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that examines how what we eat influences how we feel, both physically and mentally. While the role of adequate nutrition in maintaining mental health has been established for some time, just how clinicians go about providing the right nutritional information to the patient at the right time – to not just ensure good mental health, but actually optimize mood – has not been so clear. With myriad diets, weight loss supplements and programs, clients often find themselves reaching for the next best nutritional solution, all the while, unsure how they will feel, or even what to eat to feel better. On the other side of the equation, clinicians so often face not just a client’s emotional, situational, and relational concerns, but concerns that are clearly mired in how the client feels physically, and what impact his/her nutritional health may have on these concerns. For example, research into the role of blood sugar levels has demonstrated a clear crossover with client impulse control. Additionally, the gut microbiome, and its role in serotonin production and regulation has consistently made clear that without good gut health, mitigating anxiety and depression becomes close to impossible. So if good mental health begins with good nutritional health, where should clinicians start? What advice should they give to a depressed client? An anxious client? A client with impulse control problems? This course will answer these questions and more. Comprised of three sections, the course will begin with an overview of macronutrient intake and mental health, examining recent popular movements such as intermittent fasting, carb cycling and ketogenic diets, and their impact on mental health. In section two, we will look specifically at the role of blood sugar on mental health, and research that implicates blood sugar as both an emotional and behavioral regulator. Gut health, and specifically the gut microbiome, and its influence on mood and behavior will then be explored. Lastly, specific diagnoses and the way they are impacted by specific vitamins and minerals will be considered. Section three will deliver specific tools, you, the clinician, can use with your clients to assess, improve and maximize nutrition to optimize mental health. Course #11-06 | 2017 | 21 pages | 10 posttest questions

These online courses provide instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion.

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).