In this installment, we’re going to briefly talk about some of the impacts of addiction and substance misuse on our bodies. Nutrition is an important issue to me, especially because I see so few people in the addition and recovery field talking seriously about it. It’s the reason I am (slowly) creating the Rediscovery Wellness program to address total wellness.
Malnutrition is a condition caused when our bodies don’t get all the nutrients necessary to maintain optimum health. Millions of people in the United States are malnourished, not because they don’t get enough food, but because what they eat doesn’t supply their body with what it needs to operate efficiently. This is how someone can be simultaneously obese and malnourished. If your diet is lopsided with processed foods high in sugar, salt, and fat, it’s likely that your body is not getting much benefit out of what you eat.
Malnutrition is surprisingly common in the general population, but especially so among substance users who typically don’t eat well as a group, because many substances actively deplete the body of key nutrients. Alcohol, for example, is said to cause deficiencies in as many as 10 key vitamins and minerals. This is why I place such a high priority on encouraging better eating habits in the people I work with, which is a challenge on its own because so many of my people are living on the streets when we get started.
Some of the many ways malnutrition can negatively impact the body include: muscle cramps, muscle loss, loss of bone density, loss of cognitive (brain) function including speech and memory, increased risk of illness and infection, increased recovery time from illness and infection, anemia, increased cramping and menstrual issues, depression and anxiety, vision loss due to glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration, breathing difficulty, increased risk of hypothermia, decreased sex drive and decreased fertility.
Research tells us that tobacco use puts us at an increased risk for heart disease, lung disease, and some forms of cancer. Alcohol misuse increases the risk of heart, liver, and pancreas issues and some cancers. Inhalants can cause bone marrow, kidney, and liver damage, and even hearing loss. Methamphetamine can lead to permanent heart damage, convulsions, tooth and gum disease, and more. Cocaine is linked to heart attack, stroke, and increased vulnerability to infection. Substance use in general is known to impair judgement and leave many users more susceptible to sexual assault, HIV, and other STIs.