Alcohol and Nutrition

We do not usually think about the connection between alcohol and nutrition.  It is common knowledge that excessive alcohol intake can damage the liver. But this is only one of the countless negative health implications of alcoholism. Yet, in my experience, most people seem to have the perception that cirrhosis of the liver is the major, if not the only, consequence of alcoholism. Of course cirrhosis of the liver is a serious concern when evaluating the health of heavy drinkers, and often leads to death for many life-long alcoholics. In no way should that be downplayed. However, perhaps because of this perception, many of our clients — along with their friends and family members — are surprised to learn that malnutrition is just as serious and damaging when it comes to alcoholism. Educating our clients about healthy eating is not just an added bonus to the therapies we offer, it is a vital component of addiction recovery. This is especially important when it comes to alcoholism, because alcoholics tend to replace food with liquor. That’s why we were so happy to see an article on this very issue in this week’s Atlanta Blackstar. Here are a couple of particularly informative excerpts:

“…nutritional changes account for a significant portion of alcoholism’s long-term complications, and many chronic alcoholics eventually develop severe forms of malnutrition-related illness. In addition to treatments that deal directly with their reliance on alcohol, alcoholics typically need to change their nutritional habits during their recovery. Researchers also now know that maintenance of good nutritional habits can help decrease the risks for a future alcohol-related relapse.”

“…alcohol is poisonous to human beings, and in significant amounts it will degrade the normal function of your liver and a number of other organs involved in nutrient processing. Because of its effects on these organs, alcohol directly or indirectly causes a variety of nutritional disruptions, including degradation of your ability to properly process dietary fats; depletion of your supply of most major vitamins; and depletion of your supply of essential minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron. In chronic alcoholics, serious or severe nutrition-related problems can ultimately manifest as a contributing factor in liver damage, or as a main factor in pancreatic inflammation or permanent brain damage.”

“…During recovery, experts at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report, alcoholics with identified cases of malnutrition do best when they combine avoidance of alcohol with a dietary program that addresses any nutritional deficiencies.”

Certain psychological disorders may be genetically linked.


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