Last Updated on August 27, 2021
Recovery from alcohol use disorder can be a long and complex process, and very different from individual to individual. But one aspect of addiction recovery that people often overlook is the role of nutrition.
Can restoring crucial vitamins, minerals, and amino acids help you overcome alcohol cravings, and the gruelling symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome? Ria Health recently sat down with Chris Scott of Fit Recovery to discuss the relationship of addiction and nutrition. Here’s some of what Scott had to say about nutrition for recovering alcoholics.
Does Alcohol Cause Nutritional Deficiencies?
To begin with, it’s well known that alcohol interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients1. Small amounts of alcohol may not have a big impact on your nutritional health. But many chronic, heavy drinkers struggle with significant nutrient deficiencies. And, as Chris Scott puts it, “These nutrient deficiencies don’t tend to go away.“
The long-term physical consequences of this may seem obvious, but nutrition in recovery can affect your mental health as well. The amino acid L-glutamine2, for example, not only plays an important role in the immune system and intestinal health, but also in the functioning of your brain—including some of the chemicals that regulate anxiety and depression.
“To give you an idea of how much glutamine you would need from natural food in order to quash alcohol cravings in early recovery: You’d have to eat between 10 and 20 steaks! … I’ve had people take as much as 20 to 25 grams of L-glutamine to find their sweet spot for ridding themselves of alcohol cravings.”
How does L-glutamine help in recovery?
“[L-glutamine] is a precursor for GABA, so it can help with relaxation. GABA is the primary calming neurotransmitter in your brain. So, L-glutamine, vitamin B6, and magnesium all help to restore GABA levels.
“[L-glutamine] also helps to repair the gut. A lot of people have leaky gut [syndrome] that can linger for years after quitting drinking. L-glutamine goes into the digestive tract and can help increase the stability of the wall, so you absorb other nutrients better. And it can also be converted into glucose in the brain without causing a corresponding insulin spike.”
Hypoglycemia is a common issue among heavy drinkers, and can often lead to intense sugar cravings in recovery. Chris Scott continues:
“In inpatient rehab I was drinking 1 or 2 liters of soda every day for about 2 weeks, and then I would crash and feel horrible. Once I found L-glutamine I was able to switch almost seamlessly to LaCroix [and other sparkling water beverages].
“… That’s just one nutrient, and a range of things that can be helped with it. … There are 15 to 30 basic nutrients that people can do trial and error with for biochemical repair.”
Why Is Nutrition Important in Recovery?
Restoring your body’s nutrient levels after quitting alcohol can benefit both your physical and mental well-being, and make it easier to stay sober long-term. This can include helping you overcome some of the chemical imbalances caused by alcohol more quickly. Chris Scott continues:
“I’ve had people join my online course who have been sober for 2 years. … However, they still have post-acute withdrawal3. Post acute withdrawal typically, it’s said, can last for up to a year while your brain rewires after you quit an addiction. The problem is it can actually last much longer.
“The primary symptoms of post acute withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, and depression. And anhedonia is a big one—that means pleasure-deafness, lack of motivation. That’s caused most often by endorphin deficiency, which can be helped with supplementing with DL-phenylalanine—particularly the D-phenylalanine, which helps to increase natural endorphin levels4.
“So, there are a bunch of different things that can help people—even if they quit a long time ago—if they still struggle with these maladies that they might not recognize result from drinking.”
Nutrition, Recovery, and Mental Health
In summary, restoring your body’s nutrient balance after quitting alcohol can contribute to greater stability in recovery, and make it easier to stick with sobriety. But the bottom line, no matter your approach, is that caring for your whole self as you overcome addiction is crucial to lasting success. Chris Scott again:
“I’ll just say, real quick, that I quit hundreds of times before I finally quit. I often say I failed hundreds of times and I only succeeded once, and that was the last time I succeeded! So, that’s the good news.
“But, in all of those attempts to quit, the reason I didn’t stay quit was that I had either intense anxiety, depression, or insomnia that brought me back to alcohol. And if I had known that there was a way besides alcohol to put an end to those things, even if it would have taken a few months, I think I would have waited, and tried to see if — you know, it would have kept me going a little bit longer, knowing that my entire life wouldn’t consist of white-knuckling, forever.”
Ria Health offers well-rounded support for the entire recovery process, from weekly recovery coaching, to medications that reduce cravings—all from an app on your smartphone. Learn more about how we can support you to stick with sobriety for the long haul.