The dopamine fix is hard to overcome. It’s that little chemical reaction in your brain that allows you to feel happy and pleasured in response to certain stimuli.
It may happen when we drink a cold glass of chardonnay or our favorite beer, gamble, have sex, and yes, it also helps us stay addicted to whatever vice we have. It can become harder and harder to satisfy it as time passes. So, what does dopamine have to do with how your diet affects your ability to beat addiction? Let’s find out.
Holistic Treatment for Addiction
In addition to the traditional treatment for alcohol and drug addiction, today’s treatment centers look at how genetics play a part in addiction as well as how biochemical imbalances contribute to the anxiety and cravings people often experience with alcohol or drugs. When combined with genetic mutations, these imbalances can interfere directly with addiction treatment and recovery.
Addiction Affects Diet and Proper Nutrition
Addiction harms the body in two different ways: the substance itself affects the body, and that in turn leads to a negative lifestyle that includes a poor diet with irregular and unhealthy eating habits. When an addicted person neglects proper nutrition, it will negatively affect the body’s well being.
An addicted person may:
- Fail to eat since their appetite is suppressed, or they may forget to eat altogether.
- Make poor food choices or none at all since their limited funds go toward supplying their addictive substance(s), leaving little left over for healthy food.
- Binge after they come down from a high.
- Increase the loss of nutrients from vomiting and diarrhea.
Chronic alcohol abuse, for example, interferes with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from foods due to damage to the stomach lining and damage to the pancreas. This organ helps us to absorb fats and keeps our blood sugar appropriately balanced. Too much alcohol combined with lack of nutrients can lead to alcohol-induced pancreatitis which is life threatening if not immediately treated.
The other damaged organ associated with this type of addiction is the liver, which helps remove harmful toxins from the body.
Many who are chronically addicted to alcohol have deficiencies in some key nutrients including zinc, and several B vitamins especially B6. Depleted zinc causes a loss of taste and smell plus it is has links to depression, apathy and irritability, all common problems for addicts.
These contributing factors slow down the natural production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. As a result, these depleted nutrients can lead to anemia and neurological problems as well.
Other complications of excessive alcohol consumption and poor nutrition are high blood pressure, diabetes, liver damage, seizures, malnutrition, and a shorter life expectancy.
The Dopamine Effect
Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that promotes happiness and reduces stress. The more a person indulges in an addictive substance, the less dopamine there is in the brain. In conjunction with an unhealthy diet and lack of protein, the amount of dopamine continues to decrease. This can leave the addict with less dopamine receptors in the brain and blunted pleasure, requiring more ways to satisfy the cravings. The brain cannot do it any longer by itself.
Beat Addiction with Nutritional Therapy
Proper nutrition is essential for recovery since it gives the body energy and what its immune system requires to fight off infections and disease. One of the first challenges is to replenish B vitamins. Holistic treatment centers will incorporate whole foods into the diet with grains and protein to reduce sugar swings. If a person’s blood sugar crashes, their body will respond by wanting a boost, which will often trigger intense cravings.
To beat addiction, nutritional therapy includes avoiding processed and sweetened foods or drinks. Keeping blood sugar balanced is a crucial factor to reduce cravings to a minimum. Complex carbs like grains, fruits, and vegetables should be 50 – 55% of all consumed calories.
Turkey, red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, and beans must be included in a new healthy diet, and these particular foods contain the amino acids needed to make dopamine in the brain.
The benefits of a better diet include an improved mood and memory, a strengthened immune system, increased energy, and reduced risk for disease. Improving diet and nutrition are playing a much larger role in many addiction treatment programs and services today.
Improved physical health and repairing the biochemicals in the body only help to complement the traditional addiction therapies. The totality of managing stress, improving nutrition, and dealing with the biochemical parts of alcohol or drug addiction will serve to improve the addict’s ability to beat addiction.
If you, or someone you know, needs counseling, structure or assistance with alcohol or drug addiction, contact Dr. Jeff Blixt.