Nutrition for those with mental illness and addictions

Keith Kantor


A person with substance abuse is more likely to relapse when he or she is malnourished. This is why regular meals are important.

Some research suggests drug and alcohol addicts forget what it is like to be hungry and they might crave drugs instead of recognizing true hunger. These people should be encouraged therapeutically to think that they might be hungry when cravings become strong.

During recovery from substance use, dehydration is also common. It is important to get enough fluids during and between meals.

Appetite usually returns during recovery. A person in recovery is often more likely to overeat, particularly if he were taking stimulants. It is important to eat healthy meals and snacks and avoid high calorie junk foods with low nutrition, such as sweets.

In some cases if weight gain has occurred, eating foods that are nutrient dense, not calorically dense, is a strategy that can be used to avoid further weight gain, promote weight loss and most importantly prevent health related issues to increased levels of adipose tissue (body fat).

These guidelines offer a small but statistically significant effect on helping patient withdrawal from addiction while reducing symptoms of addiction.

  • Develop a meal and snack schedule and adhere to the routine daily. This will reduce cravings while keeping the body in a state of balance.
  • Aim to eat 9 to 11 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, preferably a ratio of one fruit to three vegetables. This keeps fiber intake at optimal levels, and provides vitamins and minerals in their most raw form.
  • Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. That is, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water each day.
  • Include a high-quality source of protein, a heart healthy fat and a fibrous carbohydrate at each meal. This is the most absorbable form of amino acids, which have been shown to be critical in addiction and recovery.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements might be helpful during recovery. A high quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, B-complex, vitamin D, omega 3 fish oil, and a probiotic are all recommended to take daily with meals for optimal absorption. More specific supplements and herbs can be recommended individually based on assessment and laboratory values.
  • Get regular exercise, at least 30 minutes, most days of the week.
  • Aim to get at least seven or eight hours of quality sleep per night.
  • Reduce caffeine intake and stop smoking.
  • Seek help from counselors, therapist and support groups on a regular basis.

Another important area in the use of nutrition in recovery and relapse prevention is the addition of appropriate amino acids that serve as the building blocks for powerful chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters.

These neurotransmitters, including epinephrine and nor-epinephrine, GABA, serotonin and dopamine, are closely tied to addiction behavior. With the use of various amino acids, brain chemistry can be changed to help normalize and restore deficiencies in the neurotransmitters that spur cravings that can lead to addiction and relapse.

Amino acid injections are the most potent, effective, and optimal to use during recovery.

Dr. Keith Kantor is a leading nutritionist and CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating & Drinking (NAMED) program.