Chronic substance abuse can alter the body’s ability to maintain proper nutrition. Substances like alcohol, opioids, stimulants, and other illicit drugs change how a person’s body accepts nutrients, which in turn affects the person’s overall mental and physical health. That’s why when a patient checks into a substance abuse rehab, they not only need to get sober, they need to retrain their body to accept nutrients correctly again.
While counseling is a key part of substance abuse recovery, the right nutrition and diet are a large part of it as well. Your dining program can play an important role in patient recovery. Providing excellent nutrition to those recovering from substance abuse indicates to potential patients and families that you operate a high-quality rehab center.
What Role Does Nutrition Play in Recovery?
Substance abuse can lead to poor nutrition because sometimes the person isn’t eating during the day while using or if they are eating, they aren’t consuming nutrient-rich foods. Certain nutrient deficiencies can lead to depression or anxiety. And, according to the Center on Addiction, people who abused alcohol or drugs were up to 11 times as likely as those who didn’t to have had eating disorders.
That’s why good nutrition is essential to recovery. When a person is getting proper nutrients, their mental and physical health will improve. Depending on the substance, recovery and proper nutrition can vary from patient to patient. Your dining team should be educated on what each person requires and understand which types of meals will help with recovery. For example, those going through opiate withdrawal might experience diarrhea and vomiting, which may lead to a lack of nutrients. These patients need a well-balanced, high-fiber diet to assist in recovery and alleviate these symptoms.
Alcohol abuse can lead to conditions like cirrhosis, hepatitis, or alcohol-induced pancreatitis. Patients with cirrhosis typically have several micronutrient deficiencies. One of the most common deficiencies is zinc. A zinc deficiency can cause people to develop metabolic abnormalities. Other common micronutrient deficiencies in cirrhosis patients include magnesium, vitamin B1/thiamine, vitamin B2/riboflavin, vitamin C, and niacin.
Stimulants, like crack and cocaine, can reduce a person’s appetite while they’re using. This can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration. Regular meals and lots of fluids are important to their recovery.
Many substance abuse patients may have skipped meals entirely when they were using drugs or alcohol. That’s why one of the biggest ways your dining program can play a role in recovery for all of these patients is through structured mealtimes. Set times for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks can help people start to build healthy eating habits again.
Food as a Mood Booster
When patients are malnourished and not feeling their best, they may be tempted to turn back to drugs and/or alcohol to feel better. But we know that a well-balanced diet can improve a person’s mood. For example, many healthy foods can increase the body’s serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can have a positive effect on mood, sleep, and behavior. Foods high in carbohydrates can lead to better serotonin production.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that can boost mood. Drugs and alcohol can increase dopamine activity, but so can the right foods. It’s important to educate patients on what foods can make them feel better. For example, foods that increase the body’s dopamine production include cheese, meats, fish, nuts, and lentils.
The Importance of Education
A high-quality behavioral healthcare community will not only have a good dining program but will also provide nutritional education and counseling. You built a great, structured environment to encourage recovery, but when patients check out, they’re basically on their own. They won’t have your team checking on them throughout the day, cooking healthy meals, or reminding them to eat three times a day.
Studies have found that nutrition education is crucial for substance abuse treatment programs and can improve treatment outcomes. Patients need to learn what makes a good diet, how to make nutrient-rich foods for themselves, how to create shopping lists, and how to navigate the grocery store well after they leave your behavioral healthcare community.
We also think it’s important to educate substance abuse patients on their career options once they check out. At the communities we work with, Culinary Services Group offers nutritional education to patients, as well as vocational training. This means that we provide residents with in-kitchen training to prepare them for a career in food service once they leave your care to help them get back on their feet.
Are You Emphasizing Nutrition in Your Recovery Programs?
If you need help when it comes to making sure your dining program assists with patient recovery, we’re the experts. Culinary Services Group works with behavioral healthcare clients and drug and addiction rehabilitation centers across the country to make sure meals are meeting patients’ nutritional needs. We see ourselves as a partner in the wellness and recovery of your patients.
Check out this video to learn more:
And if you’d like to learn more about how we can improve the dining program at your behavioral healthcare community, contact us here, or come see us in person at NatCon20. We’ll be at the conference in Austin, TX from April 5-7. See you there!