Dietary habits in early recovery can be the difference between staying clean and relapsing.
As the opioid epidemic combined with a rise in illegal drug abuse spreads across the country, effective substance abuse treatment services and inpatient recovery options are needed more than ever before. Since the Affordable Care Act has made these services mandatory coverage, a much sharper lens has been focused on what is being offered and its success rate. As the founder of Nutrition In Recovery, David Wiss, MS, RDN, does not understand why the critical role of good nutrition in early recovery is being largely ignored by rehabs and sober living facilities. In long-term recovery himself, David intimately knows how challenging the struggle to restore personal health can be after the damage done by addiction.
Whether a client resides in a low-cost, no frills sober living home or a fancy, ultra-expensive Malibu rehab, it is highly doubtful that their nutritional needs are being addressed. Given the fragile nature of early sobriety as the body slowly begins to recover from a toxic state of chemical abuse, good nutrition can play an essential role in keeping someone in early recovery on the right track. Why wouldn’t recovery professionals want to give their clients this added support in their battle to achieve sustainable sobriety? Yet, time and time again, David sees this pivotal element of biological recovery being ignored. At one clinic, David had to change the name of his group from “Nutrition In Recovery” to “Self-Care in Recovery” because the insurance company rejected nutrition as an acceptable modality of treatment.
As David explains, “We live in tricky nutritional times. I do not have all of the answers. What I do know is that we can use nutrition for empowerment, rather than disempowerment. We can teach people in early recovery how to eat for nourishment rather than simply for ‘reward’ (stimulating dopamine activity). This practice can slowly rewire the brain, change the palate, and prepare the individual for a lifetime of wellness. Treatment outcomes should be much higher than they are, thus we need to address the biological aspects of addiction. This includes brain chemistry, hormones, and gut bacteria—all of which are profoundly impacted by what we eat. Sitting around all day in talk therapy groups with zero focus on nutrition is a major injustice to clients. The neurobiology of addiction demands more attention and action.”
Instead of promoting a lifetime of wellness that begins in early recovery, most rehabs and sober livings simply give their clients practically whatever they want to eat within their food budget. Although the reasons behind such indulgence are profoundly different when you compare a low-end sober house to a high-end rehab, the results are essentially the same. Clients end up wanting the sugar high that mirrors the feelings of their past addictions—the dopamine rush—as opposed to embracing the good nutrition that can help save their lives. This frequently looks like consuming several energy drinks and sweetened coffee beverages per day.
For more information on why it’s important to focus on good nutrition during a person’s recovery, check out the rest of the original feature article Why Do Rehabs Neglect Good Nutrition? over at The Fix.