The Role of Diet and Nutrition in Alcohol Detox

Nutrition is important for helping your body heal, whether you’re recovering after surgery or are in an alcohol detox program. Just as prolonged illness can take a toll on the body, addiction is no different. One study showed that about 74 per cent of drug addicts were diagnosed with a nutritional deficiency. Meanwhile, over 60 per cent suffered from malnutrition. Not only does this affect both physical and mental functions, but it also complicates the detox process. So, it’s worth taking a look at how a balanced diet and proper nutrition affect your alcohol detox.

Effects of Addiction on Appetite

A dangerous effect of alcohol consumption is that it prevents your body from getting the nutrients it needs for essential functions. So, let’s look at how alcohol abuse affects your appetite and long-term health:

Poor Nutrition

Alcohol is full of empty calories that aren’t converted into glycogen, and when consumed excessively, it acts as an appetite suppressant. As a result, you end up going hungry for extended periods, which contributes to deficiencies and hypoglycemia.

Weakened Immune System

Your immune system requires a steady supply of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to function optimally. Heavy drinking impairs the body’s ability to absorb and metabolize these nutrients. And when your immune system isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, your body is more susceptible to infections.

Liver and Kidney Damage

Alcohol abuse damages the liver by causing a build-up of fats. Over time, the liver can lose its ability to regenerate, causing serious and permanent damage. Excessive alcohol consumption also disrupts hormone levels responsible for controlling kidney function. And since alcohol is a diuretic, it contributes to dehydration, which leads to impaired function and a higher risk of kidney disease.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Chronic alcohol abuse can cause gastrointestinal issues such as leaky gut syndrome, intestinal inflammation, and irritable bowel syndrome.

The Impact of Nutrition on Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity refers to your brain’s ability to build new connections and rearrange old ones. This process usually occurs after a change in your environment or in response to a disease or injury. One example of neuroplasticity is when you develop an alcohol tolerance because chemical activity in the brain’s reward circuit adapts to the presence of alcohol.

But as alcohol makes these changes to the brain, it also impairs neuroplasticity, making it much harder for you to go back to being sober. Studies indicate that alcohol addiction reduces connectivity between different parts of your brain. As a result, going back to healthy levels of neurotransmitter activity becomes much more difficult.

That being said, proper nutrition replenishes neurotransmitter levels in the brain and improves neuroplasticity. Complex carbohydrates help produce serotonin, amino acids are necessary for dopamine production, and Omega-3s increase neurotransmitter uptake and enhance receptor function.

Balanced Nutrition Supports Detox

During medically supervised detox, you remove all traces of alcohol and addictive substances from your body. This step is important before starting the treatment process because it allows you to build a healthy foundation. However, you can experience some uncomfortable side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. This includes digestive problems like constipation and diarrhoea, nausea, and fatigue.

Balanced Nutrition Regulates Dopamine

Prolonged alcohol abuse artificially manipulates dopamine levels and reduces dopamine receptors. Over time, this can lead to low dopamine function, and it’s worsened by poor eating habits that don’t provide your body with the necessary protein.

The body needs amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to create dopamine. Eating a high-protein diet during detox can help increase your body’s dopamine receptors and balance its natural dopamine levels. This means eating protein-rich foods like chicken, eggs, and salmon, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables like apples, oranges, beets, and tomatoes.

Reversing Nutritional Deficiencies

When undergoing detox, it’s recommended to follow a personalized meal plan based on your nutritional deficiencies. Because of alcohol’s effect on appetite, many people undergoing detox have some form of nutritional deficiency. But that’s not all: alcohol also impairs the digestive system’s ability to absorb important nutrients.

Take zinc deficiency, for instance, which is common among people struggling with alcohol addiction. When you’re getting a majority of your calories from alcohol, you’re less likely to eat foods containing zinc. But even when you do eat foods containing zinc, heavy alcohol consumption reduces the gut’s ability to absorb it. At times, these deficiencies exacerbate addictive behaviours. In this case, low levels of zinc are associated with higher rates of irritability and low mood, which increase your risk of relapse.

Other common deficiencies are those of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. A lack of folate and vitamin B-6 slows dopamine and serotonin production in the brain. This causes increased vulnerability to triggers, as well as a higher susceptibility to impulsive and compulsive behaviours.

To effectively address these nutritional deficiencies, it’s beneficial to consider an alcohol home detox service that can provide personalized dietary guidance as part of the recovery journey.

Curbing Cravings

Due to poor nutrition, many people struggling with alcohol addiction develop hypoglycemia. When blood sugar levels drop, your brain signals you to eat something that can restore energy levels quickly. This can lead to cravings for processed foods containing excessive amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats. However, the subsequent sugar crash can result in symptoms like low mood, fatigue, and irritability, all of which increase the risk of a relapse.

Eating balanced meals containing complex carbohydrates helps reduce the chances of experiencing a sugar crash. Not only does this keep cravings at bay, but it also helps alleviate anxiety.


Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to significant nutritional deficiencies and affect the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients. Some of the effects of alcohol include liver and kidney damage, a weakened immune system, and gastrointestinal issues. Adopting a balanced diet can help support detox by improving neuroplasticity, reversing deficiencies, and curbing cravings. That’s because nutrients like complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, Omega-3s, amino acids, and zinc are crucial for producing neurotransmitters and restoring the brain’s chemical balance.

Jason Shiers
Author / Jason Shiers / Dip.Psych MBACP
Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.

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