How Diet and Body Chemistry Affect Addiction

How Diet and Body Chemistry Affect AddictionAddiction is a psychological condition that occurs in response to how drugs affect the brain’s neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine, serotonin and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). Drugs mimic the effects of these transmitters either by enhancing their effects or keeping them in the brain for longer than normal. With regular use the brain comes to rely on the drug to affect the neurotransmitters, and without the drug the addicts experience cravings and depression.

Diet and Addiction

A relatively new approach to addiction treatment focuses in how certain foods affect neurotransmitters by reducing cravings and the depression associated with withdrawal. For example, many addictive drugs reduce the amount of glutamine, a precursor to GABA, which promotes relaxation. Levels of glutamine and GABA can be increased with the amino acid N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) found in nuts and seeds. A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that giving NAC to cocaine addicts significantly reduced their cravings for the drug. A similar study found that NAC also helped treat gambling addiction, reducing the desire to gamble in 80% of test subjects, compared to the 28% who were given a placebo.

Addicted brains typically have low levels of serotonin, which causes depression. Serotonin receptors in the brain are the target of anti-depressant drugs like Prozac and Zoloft. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in meats, brown rice, nuts, fish and milk.

Psychiatrist Phillip Cowen of Oxford University found a direct correlation between dietary levels of tryptophan and depression. More tryptophan in one’s diet can reduce depression, while less can increase it. Tryptophan can also reduce depression in addicts in detox, thereby making it easier to quit. It can also fight sleeplessness, a withdrawal symptom.

Diet and Recovery

In addition to restoring the balance of neurotransmitters, a healthy diet can go a long way to promote health during recovery. With improved health recovering addicts will feel better both physically and mentally, they will sleep better and experience less depression, thereby making it far easier to face the challenges of recovery.

In the book Nutrition in Recovery, the various authors recommend a healthy, balanced diet during addiction recovery by suggesting the following activities:

  • Eat three meals and three snacks a day
  • Avoid sugar and caffeine
  • Eat whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Limit your intake of red meat
  • Take multivitamin/mineral plus B supplements with meals

If recovering addicts follow these suggestions, they may beat detox with minimal health consequences.

Help with Diet and Addiction Recovery

If you would like to speak to someone about diet in addiction and recovery, or if you would like help finding treatment for drug addiction, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you have and to help you find treatment.