Nutritional Strategies For Managing Addiction and Recovery

Cindy Wilson Thumbby Cindy Wilson
BS, Dietetics and Nutrition

Nutritional strategies can play an important role in addiction recovery by supporting physical and mental health, reducing inflammation, and repairing nutrient deficiencies. This article will explore different nutritional strategies that can be used to support addiction recovery, along with scientific studies that provide evidence for their effectiveness.

nutritional strategies for managing addiction and recovery

Impact of Addiction on Appetite and Eating Habits

Addiction can have a significant effect on your appetite and eating habits. Long-term exposure to illicit substances and alcohol leads to chronic stress, which increases serum cortisol levels and other stress hormones, causing increased appetite and overeating.

Your brain’s reward and motivation systems are altered during addiction, making you more susceptible to cravings and compulsive behaviour. Since the brain is accustomed to the rush of dopamine, it gets when using the substance; it seeks alternative ways to get dopamine when the substance is not around. Therefore, cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods are common in people with addictions.

Link Between Substance Abuse and Malnutrition

There are a lot of ways in which substance abuse can cause malnutrition. Addiction involves the dysregulation of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. Their synthesis requires the use of essential nutrients for different body functions.

Various nutritional deficiencies have been linked to addiction and, in some cases, even shown to be a contributor to addiction development and progression. For example, deficiencies in vitamin B1 and B3 have been associated with alcoholism, while low levels of magnesium have been linked to opioid addiction.

Addictive substances can seriously impair the absorption and metabolism of certain nutrients. For instance, chronic alcohol addiction affects your ability to absorb and metabolize vitamins B1, B6, and folic acid(B12).

Some stimulant drugs like cocaine and amphetamines can suppress appetite and increase metabolism leading to weight loss and malnutrition. They also cause dehydration, which impairs various bodily functions.

In addition, addiction can also disrupt the body’s natural hunger and satiety signals, leading to irregular eating patterns and craving for unhealthy foods that are low in nutrition.

Role of Specific Nutrients in Addiction and Recovery

Specific nutrients play a crucial role in addiction recovery. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to changes in neurotransmitter levels, which might contribute to addiction development and progression.

Here are some specific nutrients that play an important role in addiction and recovery:

Omega-3 fatty acids:

These essential fatty acids are important for brain health and can help reduce brain inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies have shown that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may improve cognitive function and mood in people with addiction.

Amino acids:

Amino acids like tyrosine and tryptophan are used for the synthesis of neurotransmitters that are involved in addiction and mood regulation. Their supplementation may help reduce cravings and improve mood in people with addiction.

B vitamins:

B complex vitamins are water-soluble vitamins essential for carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism and are even more critical for proper brain function. Supplementation with B vitamins, particularly Thiamine(B1), has been linked to a reduction in the risk of relapse and improvement of cognitive function in people with addiction.

Vitamin D:

Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk for substance abuse and addiction. Supplementation with vitamin D may improve mood and reduce the risk of relapse in people with addiction.

Nutritional Strategies for Managing Addiction

Nutrition is one of the main weapons that doctors and rehabs like United Recovery CA use to combat addiction. These are some of the nutritional strategies that are proven to help manage addiction.

Hydration and Water Intake

These are some of the ways you can keep yourself hydrated and prevent dehydration.

1.       It is important to intake at least 8 cups or 64 ounces of water per day. So, drink enough water.

2.       Avoid sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks, as they can lead to dehydration and exacerbate withdrawal symptoms. So, opt for water and other sugar-free drinks.

3.       Limit caffeine and alcohol intake because they both contribute to dehydration and should be consumed in moderation.

4.       Incorporate water-rich foods that support hydration. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of water and provide important vitamins and minerals.

Balanced Diet with Whole Foods

Here are a few ways to practice a balanced diet to manage addiction.

1.       Incorporate whole grains like rice, quinoa, oats, and whole meat. They are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre and can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce cravings.

2.       Increase fruit and vegetable intake. Aim for a variety of colors and types to ensure a range of nutrients.

3.       Focus on lean proteins like fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, and legumes. They provide amino acids that are essential for the production of neurotransmitters and can help improve mood and reduce stress.

Avoiding High-Sugar and High-Fat foods

Limiting processed food helps improves outcomes in addiction recovery. Processed foods, such as those in high sugar, salt, and fat, can contribute to inflammation and exacerbation of withdrawal symptoms.

One study shows that high-sugar and high-fat diets can lead to the dysregulation of the dopamine system in the brain leading to an increase in craving for drugs, as well as a decreased ability to experience pleasure from natural rewards such as food.

Incorporating Protein-Rich Foods

One study shows that participants who consumed a high-protein diet had reduced cravings and were more likely to remain abstinent compared to those who were on a standard diet. Another study in the journal “Addiction” titled “A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of a High-Protein Diet in Opioid-dependent Patients.” shows that a high-protein diet was instrumental in battling opioid addiction for individuals in recovery. It lowered the relapse rate and improved mood significantly.

So, focus on protein-rich foods like fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, and legumes.

Using Dietary Supplements

The usage of dietary supplements is proven to help manage addiction. Following are some of those you can incorporate to help manage your addiction and recovery.

1.       Multivitamins: A comprehensive multivitamin can help address nutrient deficiencies that may be common in individuals with addiction. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc can contribute to mood imbalances and worsen withdrawal symptoms. A high-quality multivitamin can help support overall health and reduce cravings.

2.       Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are important for brain health and can help reduce inflammation. Studies have found that supplementing with omega-3s can improve mood and reduce cravings in individuals with addiction.

3.       L-theanine: L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea that has been found to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. It may be useful in managing withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety.

4.       N-acetylcysteine (NAC): NAC is an amino acid that has been found to reduce cravings and improve mood in individuals with addiction. It works by increasing levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

Restoring Nutrient Deficiencies and Repairing Physical Damage

Nutritional strategies that support the repair of this damage may include consuming foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, that help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) may also be useful in supporting the repair of physical damage.

Eating Nutrient-Dense Foods

Nutrient-dense foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are important for reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. In addition, consuming foods that are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce cravings, which are common symptoms of withdrawal.

A study found that participants in a 12-week nutritional intervention program that emphasized nutrient-dense foods had a significant reduction in substance use and reported improvements in mood and overall quality of life.

The Benefits of Healthy Fats

Healthy fats, such as those found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados, provide important nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fats. These nutrients have been shown to reduce inflammation, support brain health and function, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Adding Healthy Fats to Your Diet

Some strategies for incorporating healthy fats into the diet include adding nuts and seeds to salads or oatmeal, cooking with olive oil or coconut oil, and incorporating fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel into meals. Avocado can also be used as a healthy fat source in smoothies or as a topping on toast or salads.

Even if you have dietary restrictions, there are still many options for incorporating healthy fats into the diet. For example, flaxseeds and chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can be added to smoothies or oatmeal. Coconut oil can be used as a substitute for butter in baking, and nut butter can be used as a spread on toast or as a dip for fruits and vegetables.

Using Probiotics and Fermented Foods

Probiotics can help improve gut health, support the immune system, and even have potential benefits for mental health. Some common probiotic strains include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. It’s important to note that not all strains of bacteria have probiotic benefits, so it’s important to choose a high-quality probiotic supplement or food that contains specific, researched strains. Here are a few examples:

1.       Lactobacillus rhamnosus: This probiotic strain has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms in mice and improve the gut-brain axis, which may be beneficial for individuals recovering from addiction.

2.       Bifidobacterium bifidum: This strain has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve gut health in both animals and humans, which may be helpful in addiction recovery.

3.       Lactobacillus acidophilus: This probiotic strain has been shown to improve the gut barrier function and reduce inflammation in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, which may be beneficial for individuals recovering from addiction who may have gut issues.

4.       Streptococcus thermophilus: This strain has been shown to reduce anxiety-like behavior in mice and improve gut health by reducing inflammation.

5.       Bifidobacterium longum: This probiotic strain has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety-like behavior in mice and improve immune function.

Fermented foods that contain probiotics can also be a good source of beneficial bacteria. Examples of fermented foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.


While addiction can be a challenging journey, incorporating healthy nutritional strategies can be a powerful tool in the recovery process. With the right support and resources, it is possible to overcome addiction and achieve long-term health and wellness. Remember that every step towards a healthier lifestyle is a step in the right direction, and seeking professional help and guidance can make a significant difference in your journey toward recovery.

About Author

Cindy Wilson Thumb
BS, Nutrition & Food Science | Connect with on LinkedIn
Cindy Wilson

Hello, I am Cindy, and this a website where I inspect everything related to nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. I have a BS in Dietetics and Nutrition (Kansas State University) and have completed a dozen specialty courses related to nutrition, biochemistry, and food science. I am open to learning more, but foremost I would like to share all my knowledge with you.

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