Leveraging Nutrition to Heal From Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Because substance use tends to interfere with the ability to provide the body with necessary nutrients, substance use disorder (SUD) and malnourishment commonly coincide. For those with SUD, malnourishment can hinder recovery, as their bodies may not have the resources needed to heal. Practicing good nutrition, however, can help advance recovery from SUD by improving both physical and mental health. 


Nourishing the body means eating a balanced and varied diet that adequately supplies the body with nutrients. Nutrients are compounds, such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. They allow the body to carry out vital functions, including cognitive, metabolic, and immune system processes. When a person is malnourished, they’re more at risk for health problems. 


Individuals struggling with SUD often neglect to provide their bodies with adequate nourishment, which tends to lead to deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. This neglect to nourish their bodies may be due to:

  • Changes in brain chemistry: Substance use can alter brain chemistry in ways that cause people to feel less interested in food, make it difficult to recognize their hunger cues, and feel less motivated to eat. 
  • Financial struggles: Those with SUD may not have the money to purchase healthy, nutrient-dense foods. 
  • Difficulty managing emotions: SUD can evoke high levels of stress and volatile emotions that can interfere with a person’s ability to plan and prepare healthy meals. 
  • Anxiety and depression: Individuals with SUD often also struggle with anxiety and depression which can disrupt healthy eating habits. 
  • Prioritization of drug-seeking behavior: Those with SUD may spend most of their time, energy, and resources obtaining and using substances, which can leave little motivation to care for themselves and nourish their bodies. 


Substance use can also lead to gastrointestinal problems that can further contribute to malnourishment. Some examples of the digestive issues that often result from substance use include:

  • Direct toxicity: Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to inflammation and damage.
  • Decreased blood flow: Certain drugs, such as opioids, can decrease blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract. This can reduce the nutrient supply to this area, cause damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and lead to ulcers or other digestive problems.
  • Changes in gut microbiome: Substance abuse can also alter the balance of bacteria in the gut, which can lead to digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.


Practicing good nutrition by choosing foods from a variety of food groups and eating consistently according to one’s hunger cues can help replenish essential nutrients that were depleted during substance use. In doing so, a person can advance their recovery by:

  • Restoring physical health: Providing the body with necessary nutrients gives it the resources it needs to heal. 
  • Stabilizing mood: Proper nutrition can help improve mood stability by regulating blood sugar levels, which can play a powerful role in progressing through early recovery. 
  • Reducing any cravings: Eating a diet high in nutrients can help regulate dopamine levels, which can help temper the urge to use substances.
  • Improving cognitive functioning: Substance use can negatively impact brain processes, such as memory, concentration, and attention. Eating a nutrient-dense diet can improve a person’s ability to carry out mental tasks.


In addition to physical health, practicing good nutrition can have a powerful impact on mental health, such as by:

  • Boosting mood: Nutrient-rich foods contain vitamins and minerals that can help regulate emotions and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Increasing energy: Eating a balanced diet can provide the body with the energy needed for daily activities.
  • Bettering sleep: Poor nutrition and dehydration can contribute to sleep disturbances. On the other hand, eating foods high in nutrients can improve the quality and duration of sleep.
  • Reducing stress: Nutrient-dense foods can help regulate the stress hormone cortisol and curtail inflammation caused by stress.
  • Promoting healthy social interaction and opening up new hobbies: Focusing on nourishment can promote social connections by encouraging individuals to enjoy food together. It may also lead to an interest in new pastimes, such as gardening and cooking. 
  • Encouraging self-worth: Practicing good nutrition can encourage and reinforce a commitment to self-care, while also promoting a healthy sense of self-esteem, which can result in improved emotional health and positive self-image.


Some strategies for incorporating good nutrition into your daily life include:

  • Choosing foods from a variety of food groups. Eating a well-rounded diet by choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats, can help ensure that you are getting all the essential nutrients your body needs.
  • Not skipping the protein: Essential for repairing and maintaining the health of body tissues, protein, such as turkey, chicken, beef, and legumes, has been linked with increased dopamine levels.
  • Staying hydrated. Drinking water is a crucial part of good nutrition. When you’re hydrated, your body is able to function correctly.  
  • Avoiding processed foods: Processed foods often have excess amounts of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats that can interfere with healing. Do your best to choose foods that are free from additives.
  • Listening to your body: Reintroduce yourself to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, as well as the foods that make your body feel good. Everyone’s nutritional needs are unique, and early recovery can be an ideal opportunity to begin to get to know your own.


At Wasatch Crest, clients dine on a carefully curated menu of handcrafted, healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That way, their bodies and minds are well-nourished and ready for lasting recovery. Reach out to learn more about our substance use disorder treatment programs in the Wasatch Mountains.

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