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Nutrition Tips & Diet When Recovering from Teen Alcohol Abuse

Dietitian talking to a teen girl who is in alcohol recovery    

If you are a teen struggling with drinking, alcohol likely impacts many areas of your life. In particular, you may have noticed that drinking has an impact on your diet and nutrition. If you drink too much, you are at risk for low nutrient levels. In turn, these low levels can make detox and recovery harder. If you eat healthy food and take vitamins, you can correct some of the damage to your body from drinking and set yourself up for recovery.

Alcoholic Malnutrition

Many people who drink heavily have low nutrient levels. In fact, most people who struggle with alcohol get at least half of their daily calories from drinking. Sometimes this is because the person makes unhealthy food choices, or because they are so focused on drinking that they do not eat enough. The brain reinforces this unhealthy cycle. A part of the brain called the midbrain can increase alcohol cravings and give you a poor appetite. If you drink and do not get enough nutrients, over time the body will exhaust its nutrient supply and be unable to replenish it. Malnutrition results from this cycle.

Drinking can also cause low nutrient levels in other ways like:

  • Harming nutrient absorption
  • Impairing digestion
  • Creating roadblocks to the body’s ability to access nutrients
  • Reducing nutrients stored in the liver
  • Damaging the stomach and liver
  • Causing the body to need more folate and thiamine than normal
  • Getting rid of too many nutrients in the urine and feces

Alcohol-Induced Vitamin Deficiencies

Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals are common if you drink heavily. It can be harder for your body to absorb vitamins and minerals due to damage to the stomach and liver from drinking. For this reason, supplements may be needed. Some common deficiencies in people who struggle with drinking are:

  • Fatty vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E and K are fatty vitamins whose levels are often low in people who drink a lot. Doctors think a big reason for this is that drinking interferes with absorption. Since these vitamins are fatty, their absorption is also harmed.
  • B-family vitamins: Many vitamins in the B family have a hard time getting absorbed if you drink. Luckily, these vitamins are often available in a Vitamin B Complex supplement, so you can take one pill to raise your levels of all of them. B-family vitamins include:
    • Vitamin B1, or thiamine
    • Vitamin B2, or niacin
    • Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid
    • Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine
    • Vitamin B12, or cobalamin
  • Folate: Your folate levels may be low due to liver problems from drinking as well as poor absorption.
  • Minerals: Heavy drinking causes low mineral levels because of vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding and overall low nutrients. Mineral levels that are often low when you drink heavily include:
    • Calcium
    • Iron
    • Magnesium
    • Zinc

Nutrition Tips for Early in Recovery

A healthy diet can set your body up for success in recovery. It is important to eat natural foods and avoid processed foods as much as you can. By avoiding processed foods and sugar, you can stabilize your blood sugar levels. Further, processed foods can harm the liver, which may already be damaged from heavy drinking. Natural foods can also help build your nutrient stores. Experts recommend that when you quit drinking, you should have a diet of 45% carbohydrates, 30% healthy fats and 25% protein.

  • Hydrate!: It is easy to lose too much water when you are drinking. Drinking stops your brain from making a substance called anti-diuretic hormone, or ADH. This chemical prevents you from losing too much water and getting dehydrated. To do this, ADH stops you from passing too much urine. However, when you drink, your brain stops making ADH. As a result, you pass more urine and can become dehydrated. Making sure you are getting enough water can help reverse the dehydration.
  • Load up on Smoothies, Stews, & Soups: Smoothies, stews and soups are a great way to work vitamin-packed vegetables into your diet. Especially if you have not been eating well while drinking, this can be a way to gently reintroduce your stomach to healthy foods.
  • Choose Fermented Foods for Gut Health: Foods that are naturally fermented will often say so on the grocery store label. Foods that naturally ferment have probiotics to help your gut. Common fermented foods are kimchi, kefir and some pickles.
  • Include Complex Carbs: Complex carbs are a healthy form of carbohydrates, or carbs, that slowly break down when digested. This slow breakdown gives your body a reliable energy source so that you have the fuel you need while avoiding blood sugar spikes. When you pick high-fiber complex carbs like vegetables, your alcohol cravings may also be lessened. Some healthy carbs are:
    • Fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Beans
    • Brown rice
    • Wild rice
    • Grains like amaranth, millet, oats and spelt flour
  • Keep Snacks Around: Because your body is used to spikes in blood sugar from drinking, you may feel very tired while you are in recovery. Your body is sluggish because you are not getting the sugar you used to. Eating healthy snacks like fruit and nuts can help to increase your energy and help your blood sugar.
  • Include Calcium-Rich Foods: Besides planning for your long-term sobriety, it is important to plan for your long-term health. Because drinking can contribute to unhealthy bones, you should make sure you are getting enough calcium. Most of your bone strength develops when you are young, so by keeping your bones healthy, you are avoiding problems when you are older. Calcium-rich foods include:
    • Dairy products
    • Dark green leafy vegetables
    • Calcium-fortified foods and drinks
  • Limit Sugary Foods: Drinking increases your blood sugar levels over the short term, giving you a spike of energy. But when you quit drinking, you may feel tired because your body is no longer getting those bursts of sugar. It can be tempting to eat sugary foods to compensate for this. However, since your nutrient status may be poor because of drinking, it is important to eat healthy foods and not fill up on empty calories. Further, you can start to become dependent on sugary foods, trading a problem with drinking for a problem with sweets.

Adopt a Lifelong Nutrition Plan

Eating healthy foods can be hard when you are surrounded by and used to eating processed foods. However, as you enter recovery, it is important to have a lifelong nutrition plan to keep you healthy and energized without drinking. If you are a teen who struggles with drinking, with or without diet problems, contact Next Generation Village to learn more. We are experts in helping teens to quit drinking. Together, we can help you a life free from alcohol.

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