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The Influence of Diet in Alcohol Withdrawal Recovery



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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism takes a major toll on the human body. Recovering from alcohol abuse is a gradual process, and nutrition is one of many issues that require attention.

The first stage of the recovery process involves detoxification. Detox can be an uncomfortable and difficult process for patients experiencing alcohol addiction and dependence. The goal of detox is to help flush out the toxins so your body can start functioning naturally without the effects of addictive substances. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) experienced by recovering patients during this stage can vary in symptoms and intensity from person to person. It can last anywhere between a few days to a week, and in some patients, it can be much longer. While we focus on getting rid of the toxins in our body, it is also important that we maintain a healthy diet during detox. Since our body responds according to what we put into it, a balanced diet can have a huge impact on our recovery journey and reduce the risk of relapse.

How Alcohol Affects Our Body

During heavy alcohol abuse, we tend to neglect our bodies of a good and healthy diet.

  • We consume less food. 
  • Choose foods that are less nutritious or skip meals.
  • Increase the speed at which our body uses up energy.
  • Increase the loss of nutrients through vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Damage our gut so that it can’t absorb the nutrients in food properly.

Malnutrition during AUD shows up in several ways. In the short term, it can cause you to have:

  • A weaker immune 
  • Dental issues
  • Digestive problems
  • Skin conditions
  • Changes in the way food tastes.

The long-term effects of malnutrition caused by AUD will include:

  • The risk of brain damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Nerve damage
  • Liver disease
  • Heart issues
  • Pancreas problems 
  • Certain types of cancer

Considering how food influences the way the brain functions. When our body isn’t producing enough neurotransmitters or if the chemicals are out of balance, we can suffer from anxiety, stress, depression, fatigue, and insomnia. And as a result, cause extreme neglect and damage to our physical and psychological health.

These problems need to be identified and treated during the recovery process by a team of health care professionals during your stay at a rehabilitation facility. Inpatient rehabilitation facilities provide treatment for alcohol use disorder by providing effective management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms through medically assisted detoxification programs, therapies, and counseling. They also provide their patients with education on nutrition and relapse prevention to help them navigate the world outside. 

At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we support those who are seeking recovery do just that. Our effective, evidence-based treatment programs provide comprehensive, integrated care to help heal your body and mind during your recovery process. 

The Influence of Diet in Alcohol Withdrawal Recovery

The Effects of a Good Diet During Detox

Eating may be the last thing you’ll want to think about during alcohol detox, but it’s a vital part of the recovery process. Alcohol has a direct connection to your body’s inability to metabolize certain nutrients, so it’s crucial to feed your body with the nutrients it requires to heal properly.

During the first 12 to 48 hours of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, people may experience symptoms that include diarrhea, loss of appetite, and vomiting. These symptoms can affect nutrient intake, electrolyte balance, and fluid preservation in the body.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can prolong alcohol withdrawal symptoms and lead to malnutrition and dehydration. The body cannot properly heal without the right amount of nutrients.

It may be difficult to eat any food during the initial stages of your detox, but as your alcohol withdrawal symptoms improve, it’s important to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of food from all food groups to replenish nutritional deficiencies.

Diet During the Initial Stage of Detox

During the initial stage of the detox process, you’ll likely be told that first and foremost in importance is water. Hydration is important in general, but especially when experiencing alcohol withdrawal syndrome. As the body adjusts to less fluid intake than normal, make sure to drink plenty of fluids to help your body get rid of alcohol toxins and rehydrate.

In addition to increasing your water intake, you can also have:

  • Soups and Liquids 

Eating solid food during the initial stage of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be difficult. So don’t force yourself to eat any heavy meals, even if they are healthy. Instead, focus on eating soups and other liquids to give your body some level of sustenance. Make sure they contain plenty of vegetables and lean sources of protein, such as beans, poultry, or fish. You can also have teas, ice pops, gelatin, fruit, and vegetable juices to continue giving your body adequate nutritional support.

  • Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Many people with AUD have a variety of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Alcohol inhibits your body from effectively absorbing nutrients, including vitamins B. This vitamin is crucial for converting food into usable energy and is imperative for healing during detox. Vitamin B1 ensures proper brain function, reduces brain fog, memory problems, and fatigue. The lack of B1 vitamins can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder associated with confusion, vision changes, and hallucinations. Other vitamins you might need will include vitamin B3 and vitamin B5.

As consuming solid food during this stage of detox is difficult, make sure to replenish these deficiencies through supplements. Consuming plenty of A, D, E K, and B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and folic acid are essential during the early stages of detox.

Implementing a Balanced Diet

After the initial stage of severe withdrawal symptoms is overcome, and you feel like you can finally have something more than liquids to eat, introduce meals slowly. Since your body hasn’t yet adjusted to digesting food, it’s better to start off with small and frequent meals. During your stay at a rehabilitation center, a nutritionist will help you manage your meals, nutrition, and weight gain. 

A balanced diet for recovery should include:

  • Complex carbohydrates (50% to 55% of the calories you consume)
  • Food that is rich in calcium, two to three cups per day.
  • Food with high vitamin B content
  • Moderate protein (15% to 20% of calories), two to four ounces twice a day. 
  • Fat choices (30% of calories)

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates help stabilize blood sugar levels while also providing vitamins, minerals, and fibers. As this food takes longer to digest, they provide you with energy for a long time. 

Food that has complex carbohydrates include:

  • Legumes
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Bread
  • Pasta

Fruits and vegetables are also rich in complex carbohydrates. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, dietary fiber, folic acid, and potassium. While eating fruits and vegetables can help alleviate the severity of withdrawals, it can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes.

Calcium-Rich Food

Calcium is important for healthy teeth and bones. It also plays a crucial role in the health and functioning of nerves and muscle tissue. Calcium deficiencies caused during AUD can be addressed through consuming food such as:

  • Dairy products
  • calcium-fortified beverages
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Calcium-rich nuts such as Brazilian nuts and almonds

Food Containing Vitamin B

AUD inhibits your body from effectively absorbing nutrients such as vitamin B, which is crucial for converting food into usable energy. Common detox foods that contain B vitamins include:

  • Eggs 
  • Nuts
  • Salmon 
  • Broccoli 
  • Asparagus 
  • Romaine lettuce 
  • Fortified whole grains

Proteins Low in Fat

Many patients in detox will have a decreased appetite or simply be turned off by food. But foods high in fiber will help them feel full. Proteins with low-fat content are ideal because they positively affect mood and energy, leading to less chance of a relapse. Such foods include: 

  • Fish  
  • Lean beef
  • White-meat poultry

Fat Choices

Incorporating healthy fats into our diet can help the body absorb vitamins and nutrients better. Healthy fat sources can provide essential fatty acids that can help prevent numerous health problems such as depression and anxiety while also helping to support neurotransmitter functions. Healthy fat choices include: 

  • Olive oil 
  • Coconut oil 
  • Flaxseed oil 
  • Avocado 
  • Butter 

While we focus closely on the type of food that we should include in our diet to help us overcome our alcohol withdrawal syndrome, we must not forget to discuss the type of food we should avoid during this stage.

Foods to Avoid During a Detox 

During detox, your body craves nutrients, but not all food can help you heal. There are certain types of food that are best avoided, especially the ones that are filled with “empty calories.” These types of food provide little or no nutritional value. 

Common foods with empty calories include: 

  • Cookies 
  • Sodas  
  • Pizza

While the food that is abundant in protein or vitamins has numerous benefits, sugary products contain very little to no nutrition. You may crave unhealthy foods high in sugar during your detox process. But eating sugary products in place of healthier food options can result in vitamin deficiencies, which could cause additional stress on the body.

Another type of food that should be avoided during detox is caffeine. We all love our coffee but drinking coffee during your detoxification process can hinder and extend your recovery progress. Drinking coffee can cause rapid heart rate, restlessness, and shakiness. It can also cause headaches, dizziness, heart problems, and dependency.

Overcoming withdrawal symptoms isn’t easy, but implementing a balanced diet can significantly help lessen the detox period. However, it is important to note that diet alone cannot address the complications of alcohol dependence and addiction. To overcome AUD, patients require a combined treatment at inpatient care, outpatient treatment, and aftercare therapy. 

If you wish to overcome your alcohol use disorder, remember to choose a treatment program that includes nutritional assistance and behavioral change as part of their recovery program. 

At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we provide our patients with specialized treatment for alcohol detox, which includes medically assisted treatments and assistance in dietary management to help alleviate the risk of complications.  Let’s speed up your recovery and ease your transition to a newly sober life. 


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