A woman smiles while cooking.

Recovery for substance users looks different for every person, but the end goal is the same: having a healthy mind, body, and soul. Part of caring for your overall health is having healthy nutrition. This might mean giving up harmful substances and fueling your body with nutrients that support your healing. Here’s how certain substances affect the body and tips to stay healthy and on track during nutritional recovery. 

How do different substances affect your body?

Here are some commonly used substances and how they affect your body.


Overconsumption of alcohol is one of the leading causes of nutritional deficiency due to the effect it has on the liver and pancreas. It causes the body to limit the absorption of vitamins B1, B6, and B12. With a lack of Vitamin B, the person may feel cold or lethargic and experience headaches, dizziness, or shortness of breath. In extreme cases, it can cause anemia, diabetes, hypertension, or serious nervous system damage. 


Though stimulants like Adderall are sometimes used to treat conditions like ADHD, they also include drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Due to the nature of these drugs in increasing nervous system activity, it can reduce the user’s appetite causing weight loss, severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and malnutrition. Stimulants not only affect physical health, particularly the heart and nervous system, but they can affect mental health as well. Overuse can result in feelings of confusion or issues with solving problems. 


Many people who use marijuana experience the “munchies,” or the urge to eat even when you aren’t necessarily hungry. During these periods, users typically make poor dietary decisions that result in weight gain and a higher risk of diabetes. More dangerously, those who overuse marijuana can have higher cholesterol, diabetes, or heart disease. Marijuana also can affect parts of the brain that deal with memory, connectivity, and attention.


These types of drugs, like Xanax and Valium, are used to treat mental health disorders like anxiety, panic disorder, and depression, offering a calming or tranquilizing effect. However, overuse of these drugs can cause serious nutritional deficiencies including magnesium, vitamins D, C, B, potassium, and calcium.


Other than the illicit drugs categorized as opiates, this category also includes prescription painkillers. When these drugs are overused, they can affect the gastrointestinal system and cause users to eat fewer meals or even skip them entirely. This lack of nutrients can cause constipation, diarrhea and vomiting, imbalances in electrolytes, and extreme dehydration. 

Helpful tips and additions to a recovery food plan

Noting the above side effects of commonly used substances, here are some tips for getting your health back on track while recovering:

  • Establish regular mealtimes: Establishing a schedule for your meals will ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs to be healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Consistency helps regulate your blood sugar and allow your ody to properly digest the food you’re consuming.. 
  • Flexibility: Though it may seem like a set food plan would be most beneficial for someone in recovery, it can actually lead them right back where they started, causing irritability, unhappiness, and even relapse. While following a schedule can be helpful, as mentioned above, be flexible in your food choices so you can still enjoy your meals and find a healthy balance.
  • Nutrient-rich food: An effective food plan should be clear about what types of foods should be in each meal so the person is getting the nutrients they need. The foods should be targeting the person’s current deficiencies in order to obtain good health. It’s important to know how the substance you’ve consumed has affected the body in order to understand the deficiencies you mightbe experiencing. Foods full of those nutrients, coupled with supplements, if necessary, will be the best route for getting your health back. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse and looking for recovery assistance, Wellspring Center of Prevention is here to help. We can assist you in finding a treatment facility, make referrals through our Self-Help-Tool, and set you up to talk with one of our professionals. To do so, call us at 732-254-3344.  


  1. 1
    Jeff Brown on September 13, 2022

    I learned this in Smart Recovery and it’s oh so true even after 3 years sober I still am following a balance meal plan and pushing this plan forward where I volunteer.

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