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The effect of wellness and nutrition on addiction and recovery
Wellness and nutrition can affect vulnerability to addiction, and can support or hinder recovery.
Health promotion activities can foster brain and other physical changes that support recovery and assist with management or prevention of cravings. Treatment and prevention can incorporate health promotion along with other tools.
Essential information is outlined below, while additional resources are available in the Library; see Success Stories at the bottom of the page for examples of how treatment and prevention programs have incorporated wellness activities with benefits for people with whom they work. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) has a Wellness Initiative where many resources are available.
People make change in different ways:
- Add something rather than take something away - crowd out less healthy foods or behaviors by adding more healthy ones, but don't focus on the removal of any
- Remove items from the environment
- Make change all at once or bit by manageable bit
- Learn about staff's cultural norms and preferences around food, body image, and individual preferences in creating programs
Remember: A tool that is generally considered health-promoting might work differently for a specific person, because everyone has unique combinations of health conditions, metabolism, social and physical environments, ethnic/cultural/personal history.
Elements of health and wellness
Wellness and health are variously described as feeling good, with vitality and a sense of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Since 1948, the World Health Organization has defined health as "complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity"* Thus, the promotion of health involves positive feelings in multiple elements of life.
*Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
SAMHSA's initiative involves 8 Dimensions of Wellness: Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical, Environmental, Financial, Occupational and Social. They are organized in a wheel of overlapping circles, reflecting how these dimension are interconnected:
People experiencing substance use disorders are at risk of poor physical health and mental health conditions, as well as poor nutrition
People with substance use disorders are more likely to have mood & anxiety disorders and are also more likely to have a history of trauma.
People with mental health conditions are two times more likely to have a substance use disorder, and mental health conditions may lead people to self-medicate with substances.
Substance use may lead to symptoms of mental health conditions, and substances can change brain function. For example:
marijuana can emulate symptoms of psychosis
alcohol can emulate dementia
if use results in a fall, brain trauma can result
Mental health conditions may lead people to self-medicate with substances.
Nutritional status can be compromised before or due to substance use:
The lifestyle of a person experiencing addiction often compromises food intake or quality for substance-seeking behavior or money
Co-morbid conditions can compromise nutrition
Drugs of abuse complicate absorption, digestion and functioning of nutrients
People going through withdrawal sometimes experience carbohydrate cravings which can in themselves lead to weight gain.
Prevalent US lifestyle and Standard American Diet (SAD) present challenges to maintaining brain and other health, such as:
- Compromised Nutrition (particularly too much sugar & carbohydrates, lack of nutrients)
- Lack of Sleep
- Lack of physical activity
- Little social activity and being alone most of the time
- Heart disease, diabetes, other health problems
- Some medications, or improper use of them
- smoking increases the chance of relapse to other drugs a person is trying to reduce or quit
- while traditional advice has often been to quit alcohol and illicit drugs first and leave nicotine for a separate quit process, it can be better option to just go through withdrawal for all drugs at once.
Addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease, so it is reasonable to increase protective factors.
Nutrition: people need resources with tips for shopping, label reading, and recipes as well as eating out, so they can choose:
whole foods rather than processed foods for nutrients and fiber
essential fatty acids (brain health and decrease inflammation; reduce relapse)
increased plant-based foods
appropriate levels of vitamins D and B, and folic acid
appropriate nutrition for any other aspect of their or their family's health - for example, pregnant women might need more information about the postive impact folic acid and amino acids on babies' brain development, older people or people with additional physical health conditions or allergies/sensitivities might need specialized advice
- Movement - dance, exercise, activity and not being sedentary
- Yoga in particular
- can be addictive, sometimes even designed to be addictive
- lack many nutrients which are in whole foods
- often contain significant portion of synthetic ingredients with little or no nutritional value
Nearly 60% of calories consumed by average Americans come from 'ultra processed foods'*
Fewer than 30% of calories come from whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods.*
*(BMJ Open as cited in the Tufts Health Newsletter, June 2016).
In this environment, everyone can use some guidance on how to read food labels and make choices when they eat, particularly people seeking to prevent, treat or recover from an addiction.
US Sugar consumption
- Sugar has many forms and many names
- 80% of food items in the country contain added sugar
- US residents consume an average of 130 pounds of sugar per person every year