Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery and its Effects on the Body

Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery and its Effects on the Body

Its very simple, substance abuse effects body functioning. Drug use can lead to long term physiological effects that can not only be acutely harmful, but can also result in chronic problems. The use of drugs is not the only issue. It is all the harmful behaviors that come along with substance abuse that tend to make matters worse.

Substance abuse harms the body in two distinct ways: via the effect of the substance itself and via negative lifestyle changes, such as irregular eating habits and poor dietary intake. For example, infants who were exposed to alcohol while in the womb often have physical defects and mental disabilities. In this case, the growing fetus has deficits both directly caused by the substance crossing the placenta and indirectly due to inadequate nutrition of the mother while she was drinking.

Recovery from substance abuse involves many different components, including:

  • Proper organ functioning
  • Assuring mental well being
  • Proper metabolism

A huge factor in the healing process is proper nutrient supply. Nutrients are essential not only for energy, but it also helps fight off infection and helps keep the immune system strong. 

Though it is clear that substance use in general is not healthy, like anything else, different substances have different effects on the body. In this article we will discuss a few of the more popular drug categories and how they each can affect body functioning.


Which Drugs Are Opiates? This category includes:

All of these affect the gastrointestinal system. One of the main symptoms associated with opiate use is constipation. When one withdraws from opiates classic symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

The danger here lies primarily in a depletion of valuable nutrients and electrolytes. This includes imbalance in the amount of:

  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Calcium

Electrolytes are important for a variety of things, including proper cardiac, or heart, functioning.

To combat the severity of these symptoms, one should eat meals that are balanced (i.e. proper amounts of vegetables, grains, fats, and proteins). A high fiber diet with things such as whole grains, beans, peas and vegetables is advisable due to constipation associated with opiate use.


Out of all the drugs utilized in the US, alcohol is the major cause of nutritional deficiencies. The most prominent deficiencies include the following:

  • Pyridoxine or Vitamin B-6
  • Thiamine
  • Folic Acid

An inpidual lacking in these nutrients may develop anemia which is a low blood count, for women a deficiency in folic acid can cause poor pregnancies, and vitamin B deficiency can also cause neurological problems. Lack of thiamine (B1) in particular, can lead to Korsakoff's syndrome. It is important to understand that it is not necessarily the alcohol that cause the disorder, but the effect of alcohol of the absorption of nutrients that is damaging.

Alcohol damages the liver and pancreas in particular. These two organs are necessary for detoxification and processing (liver) and the pancreas effects blood sugar and absorption of fat. If these two organs are not working properly, one can have an imbalance of fluids, calories and electrolytes.

Permanent damage can take place in the form of cirrhosis which is:

  • Liver damage
  • Diabetes
  • Seizures
  • Malnutrition

Liver damage can also result in decreased clotting factors, which means an inpidual has the chance of bleeding unnecessarily. Women also have an increased risk for osteoporosis and may require calcium supplementation.


Use of these drugs can lead to a decrease in appetite and weight loss which will eventually lead to malnutrition. As the name implies, stimulants stimulate the body thereby causing many users to stay awake for unhealthy periods of time. This can range from one night of missed sleep to being awake for days at a time. This may result in dehydration and subsequent electrolyte imbalance. One should return to a normal, balance diet which may be difficult given the abuse the body has suffered especially if there has been severe weight loss.

The Marijuana Munchies

Marijuana can increase appetite, which, in chronic users can lead to being overweight. For these inpiduals it is probably best to cut back on sugar, fat and overall caloric intake.

Nutrition and psychological aspects of substance abuse

When people feel better, they are less likely to relapse. Since balanced nutrition helps improve mood and health, it is important to encourage an improved diet in people recovering from alcohol and other drug problems. Inpiduals recovering from substance abuse have just given up a huge part of their life and for this reason, it is better for these inpiduals to focus on not using again as opposed to putting all their energy into a drastic diet change.

How to Incorporate a Healthy Diet into Recovery

Perhaps the most important thing for prior substance abusers to remember is routine. For instance, regular meals throughout the day are recommended. An increase in proteins, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber are highly recommended. Due to the irregularity of diet that tends to accompany substance abuse, most inpiduals will needs to supplement diet with vitamins and minerals. As every inpidual is different, it is recommended that recovering addicts meet with a dietician. A trained professional can then develop a plan that is specific to the person’s needs. The vitamins that are most often lacking include zinc, vitamins A and C and most of the B vitamins.

Keeping Your Sugar Steady Can Decrease Cravings

As many drug addicts do not eat regularly, they may forget what it feels like to really be hungry. Not eating steadily can cause a fluctuation in blood sugar levels which can lead to feelings of unsteadiness throughout the day. For a recovering addict, these feelings may be interpreted as drug cravings which could lead to one using. This is yet another reason to keep a steady and healthy intake of food.

The Importance of Water

Dehydration is common for substance users and it is very important to emphasize the need for fluids during and in between meals. As an appetite can return during recovery, it is important to emphasize fluid intake as well as proper food consumption. For all the reasons discussed prior, it would be detrimental to recovery for an inpidual to begin eating the high calorie foods with little to no nutritional value due to all the abuse the body has already endured. Drinking water will help the body to absorb nutrients which is something most of these inpiduals are lacking.

Substance abuse recovery is a difficult road to follow. Good nutrition is something that can help to make that road a little easier to walk down. Encouraging healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle, is something concerned loved ones can do to help ensure the people in their lives stay clean.

Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN

Gable, R. S. (2004). "Comparison of acute lethal toxicity of commonly abused psychoactive substances" (reprint). Addiction 99 (6): 686–696.
Kolb & Whishaw: Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology, 2003, pages 473-473
Mathias, R. (1998) Prenatal Exposure to Drugs of Abuse May Affect Later Behavior and Learning. Nida Notes. Volume 13, Number 4.
“Stimulants” Accessed April 20th, 2008.

Topic Discussion

  1. Addict

    I was thinking of my country of birth, South Africa, and how ppl don't really give thought of how alcohol affects their lives, families and marriages....a lack of education, and a notion that a true man can handle his alcohol. If ppl become alcoholics, they are not exercising enough far from the truth about addiction and the chemical components thereof. Sadly, too many families have non emotionally present parents due to this fallacy.

  2. Addict

    Drugs are crummy

  3. Addict

    I would like to tell everyone who is just trying to get out of drugs. I would want to wish them good luck and I would like to wish you to pick a great doctor to be able to help you overcome these drug cravings. In gods will, I hope you all get better and wish that god will forgive you all.

  4. Addict

    Drugs like marijuana are the things that I wish were never discovered or produced. Maybe there are some cases it can give benefits but most of the time, it can harm especially our health. If we cannot resist addiction, we should avoid involving ourselves to these addictive things.

Leave a comment


To protect the integrity of our site all comments are reviewed prior to being shown, we apologize for the small delay, but this brings a better experience for our readers. SPAM & rude comments are not tolerated. Using the 'Connect with Facebook' option will get your comment up faster!

Contact A Substance Abuse Counselor

We help people take the first steps toward getting help for their drug and alcohol usage and having drug-free lifestyles. To contact an alcohol/drug abuse counselor, please call 1-800-591-6474(Info iconWho Answers?).

Socialize with us
Close Icon

Where do calls go?

Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Additional calls will also be forwarded and returned by a quality treatment center within the USA.

Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) for your visit will be answered by a licensed drug and alcohol rehab facility, a paid advertiser on

All calls are private and confidential.