June 19, 2017

Nutrition and substance misuse


Alcohol and other drug use impacts the human body in many ways. One of the most significant of these is the influence they can have on our desire for food, and the resulting negative impacts that this can have on a person’s overall health status.

Different substances impact and affect our appetite in different ways.

Stimulants such as tobacco, caffeine, cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine affect the levels of dopamine in the brain, higher levels of dopamine reduce appetite, by making the body feel like it is satisfied.1

It’s not only stimulants that impact appetite, many people who over-consume alcohol (a depressant) also experience low appetite. This is because alcohol is high in calories, and over-consumption can ‘trick’ the body into thinking that is has already eaten.2 Cannabis can have the opposite effect, increasing appetite, and reducing feelings of ‘fullness’, which can result in weight gain.3

It is also important to consider that with the all-encompassing nature of drug dependence, behaviours such as eating healthily, can be deprioritised in people’s lives.4

The use of substances not only impacts the type and amount of food that we consume, it can also reduce our nutritional status. Substance misuse can place a significant amount of stress on organs and functions within the body. This stress can lead to a loss of nutrients, and can negatively impact functions such as digestion, which is the primary way our bodies access nutrients.5 6

These factors can lead to ongoing malnutrition in people suffering from drug dependence.

This is a significant outcome – as nutrition can be a key factor for some people in managing drug dependence. Being well nourished can assist some people with the management of conditions that may drive people to over-use substances e.g. chronic pain, mild anxiety and depression.7

Good nutrition can also reduce both the short and long-term impacts of dependence on health outcomes. For instance, maintaining good nutritional status while experiencing dependence can help individuals reduce short-term damage to vital organs and systems in the body. In the long- term, good nutritional habits can help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardio-vascular disease, the risk of which may be increased for those who have experienced long term dependence on alcohol, tobacco and methamphetamine.

  1. 'Nutrition and addiction – can dietary changes assist with recovery?' vol. 9 (2). M, Grotzkyj-Giorgi. 2, 2009, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 9.
  2. Ibid
  3. 2. Association Between Use of Cannabis in Adolescence and Weight Changes in MidLife. Jin, Lexie Zhiyan, et al. 1, s.l. : PLoS One, 2017, Vol. 12
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  7. 'Nutrition and addiction – can dietary changes assist with recovery?' vol. 9 (2). M, Grotzkyj-Giorgi. 2, 2009, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 9.

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