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Nutritional aids for recovery

September 25, 2012
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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 During treatment and in early recovery, when individuals often are being asked to process many changes in their lives simultaneously, programs have to strike a delicate balance when encouraging patients to implement tools for a healthier lifestyle.

An improved diet, possibly aided by nutritional supplements, clearly constitutes an important goal in regaining overall health, but efforts in this area sometimes can be met with patient resistance or utter hostility. Also in some cases, individuals have suffered so much physical damage in the throes of their addiction that their progress must occur incrementally, as they might not be able immediately to derive full benefits from standard supplements or other nutritional guidance.

Addiction Professional asked two individuals who offer nutrition guidance to substance use patients in diverse settings to discuss their perspectives on nutritional support, including the use of supplementation.

Two goals

Victoria Abel, founder and director of the Center for Addiction Nutrition, offers nutrition therapy to patients at the addiction treatment facilities Decision Point Center and Pia’s Place in Arizona. She says she keeps two objectives in mind when considering recommendations of supplementation for patients: inroads in healing damage from past substance use (she considers doses of vitamins C and E and possibly amino acids as useful here), and then maintenance efforts that could help individuals lessen the severity of cravings and stay sober.

At the same time, Abel remains mindful of patient attitudes about supplements that could prove counterproductive. “The perspective of, ‘I take a multivitamin, so therefore I don’t need to take care of my nutrition—that’s frightening to me,” she says.

She adds, “There has to be a balance. You’re wasting a lot of money on supplements if you’re not balancing it with good food.” Unfortunately, she says, she generally doesn’t see an emphasis on either diet or supplementation in addiction treatment and recovery planning, at a time when by contrast interest in anti-craving medications and other pharmacological treatments seems to her to be soaring.

Abel employs nutrition assistance as part of an overall health strategy, and says it works well to consider dietary changes and supplementation simultaneously as opposed to sequentially. But oftentimes patients must start with relatively basic goals as they emerge from a period where their bodies endured significant damage from heavy substance use and lack of attention to overall health.

“Sometimes I might just say, ‘Let’s start with [eating] breakfast every day,’” she says. She adds that many of the patients with whom she works know a great deal already about nutrition and supplements, but have struggled to put any of the knowledge into practice lately because addiction derailed them.

Abel says it is not possible to say that one regimen of supplements will work for every patient. Coming up with a strategy requires a close look at each individual’s blood work and how the person is processing various nutrients.

In addition, a program might have to address any immediate-term health concerns a person is experiencing. Someone with a damaged gastrointestinal tract might have to take liquid forms of vitamins as opposed to tablets or capsules. Changes in diet usually can relieve the constipation that is so common with individuals in early recovery.

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