Recovery, never easy or finished, gets nutritional help.
The recovering alcoholic (or drug abuser) is trying physically and mentally to get his or her life back. The substance has been slowly destroying his body and his mind. He needs mental and spiritual and health support. Once the immediate damages to the body are addressed (liver, kidney, nervous system, tremors, heart, skin, blood pressure, to name just a few), the primary treatment for physical recovery is nutritional therapy, assuming consumption of alcohol and drugs is avoided. This is done through diet and vitamin supplements. I will not attempt to cover psychological or social therapy, but will say it is almost impossible to recover from addiction without a support group of some kind.
How long before you get a normal, sober person?
It takes up to two years before the cobwebs of the mind clear up. You will see improvements before the recovering person does; he/she is still struggling. even when he appears ok to us. Sometimes damage to the body never improves, but usually the body will heal itself over time as long as alcohol and drugs are avoided. and the proper diet and exercise program are followed. Some things, like neuropathy of the feet, will take up to a year to improve or go away. The alcoholic didn't hit bottom over night, so it will take a while to get better. The longer he's been drinking, the heavier he's been drinking; the heavier the drinking, the worse the damage; the worse the damage, the longer the repair.
Nutritional therapy for a recovering alcoholic?
An actively drinking alcoholic doesn’t eat properly. By the time a person makes a decision to quit, or becomes so sick he has to quit, he or she is usually malnourished, regardless of size. In severe cases, the alcoholic may be underweight, and extremely malnourished. At the beginning, under a doctor's care, there may be B12 shots and IV's. In addition to taking multi-vitamins and folic acid, the recovering patient should pay attention to what he eats.
Like everyone, he should avoid excessive salt, sugar, fried foods, high fats, and cigarettes. He should consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins. He will continue to have mood swings which should improve over the first year. Good nutrition can help with this. too. If he's very underweight, a doctor will encourage lots of healthy snacks or mini-meals. However, the alcoholic and drug abuser have not been taking care of themselves for a long time. They are out of the habit of caring for their bodies and will need help or reminders from others in the home.
Use these items a lot:
Turkey (not for sleepiness but for emotional stability)
Bananas (very good to lessen mood swings)
Fish, especially mackerel and salmon (brain food)
Whole wheat bread, whole grain bread
Green vegetables, tomatoes, salad greens
Apples, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, melons
Grain cereals such as oatmeal, bran, shredded wheat
Milk, skim or low-fat (really good for recovering alcoholics)
Milk products, cheese
Beef occasionally, but only 4 oz. at a time
Rice, preferably brown or long grain
A person in recovery should drink a lot of water. Juices, lemonade, and Gatorade are good. Try decaf coffee and tea or sodas, but don’t overdo sodas. Caffeine just provides a different kind of high if consumed in excess. Try sugar free soft drinks or drink mixes. I knew someone fighting the strong draw back to alcohol who consumed too much coffee. His high energy and jitteriness were almost as obnoxious as his drunken, sloppy speech and behavior.
During the drinking days, exercise was neglected; the degree of neglect depends on the volume of regular drinking. Gradually work into an active life to help the heart and lungs. If the addiction has been going on a long time, there may be damage to the nervous system, especially in the extremities. So a gradual build-up is necessary to be sure there is no problem with balance or numbness in feet. I knew one who fell in the grocery store even though it had been over a month since his last drink. Safety and precaution are the rule. An addict is a handicapped person until physical recovery is well under way.
If balance is a problem, or the person has fallen a few times since stopping the alcohol, work on that. Balance is important to safety. Try standing with the back in the corner, both hands flat on the wall down by the side. (This is good for the elderly, too.) Do not touch the wall with the body, only the hands. Lift one foot just a few inches, and pause. When you/he feels safe, remove one hand from the wall. When there is no wobbling, remove the second hand. If he starts to teeter, just put both hands back on the wall, and he will not fall. If the first time is not successful, don't give up. Just try again tomorrow. This seems silly to some, probably to the alcoholic, but it will strengthen the ankles and prevent falling. The goal is to be able to stand on one foot for six seconds or more without holding anything. By standing near the wall, the patient doesn't have to fear falling.
As the body allows, stretch and do gentle exercises. Ease back into house work and yard duties to be sure the weakened nervous system and muscles can handle mild exertion. Avoid using power tools until the patient is steady on his feet and has a steady hand. Because of balance problems, start walking with a companion or just around the yard to strengthen the legs and lungs. Stay off ladders until patient demonstrates good balance and motor control. Recovery is not an excuse for laziness, but the family should understand, it will take a while for this person to become competent again.
Once the patient is fairly secure on his feet, walking is a great exercise and stress reliever. It helps clear the mind of current worries, aids sleep at night, aids digestion, and tones down mood swings. The recovering alcoholic is justifiably depressed; the guilt, the shame, the stark reality of finances, relationships, reputation, health, etc., would make most of us exceedingly depressed. Gentle exercise will help with this. And now that the patient is eating again, walking and other exercise help weight control.
Alcohol or drugs have depleted the body of the nutrition that muscles need, and if consumed in massive quantities, no doubt the body was in inertia far too much. A person who has only recently quit his addiction will be much weaker than he or she looks. Exercise will help the recovering person regain strength, stamina, and sleep better. Family members will no doubt be anxious for the patient to resume a fair share of responsibilites, whether taking out the trash, cutting grass, or vacuuming, but remember healing takes time.
During the drinking days, sleep was probably difficult. Being passed out is not restorative sleep. And the excess fluids overworked the kidney and bladder. This, too, probably allowed only short periods of sleep. It will be a while, even without alcohol intake, before this problem calms down and allows a full night’s sleep. Sleep is vital to all of us, and the person in recovery should make sure he or she gets enough on a regular basis. Short naps may be necessary in the first month or two, until a peaceful night’s rest is possible. Don’t shortchange sleep. Don’t be surprised about dreams, nightmares, tossing and turning, or insomnia.
The addictive personality should not turn to sleeping pills for relief. If he has gone 48 hours without sleep, see a doctor. That is difficult for any of us, but the pickled brain is in danger without sleep for days on end. The brain wants to return to its accustomed patterns, so it's fighting back. Before it goes that long, drink milk, eat a small meal, or try some exercises to get tired. If that fails, call the doctor.
Personal hygiene, how basic is that?
This area suffers for drinkers and drug users, both men and women. No doubt it seems overly simple and childish to tell adults to bathe regularly or wash their hands. However, a lot of men don’t wash their hands, and abusers really don’t pay attention to hygiene. They don’t care about anything except their addiction. As a result, their skin has suffered from neglect. It’s flaky, or gray or wrinkly. He or she may look like he has body dandruff. Cigarettes often accompany these other addictions; smoke and tobacco usage and discolor the skin.
Soap is a miracle product that has helped fight the spread of disease world-wide. The patient should bathe regularly; daily isn't necessary until he goes back to work or gets muddy or sweaty. Every other day will do until then. Face washing is necessary daily. Wash the hands several times a day. With the added threat of swine flu, the active and recovering alcoholic can't afford to be careless about germs. They aren't as strong in resisting infections or fighting them once they contract them. If your alcoholic has been in severe shape or unable to work because of drinking, he should probably get a regular flu shot, due to his increased vulnerability.
Practicing personal cleanliness not only helps avoid many communicable diseases, it makes a person look and smell better. After a week without alcohol or drugs and taking a few baths, the skin will look amazingly different. It will look less dry, maybe a little less wrinkled, and will be a better color. Alcohol and drugs gray the skin by depriving it of important nutrients. But the skin can revive itself over time if you care for it properly, with proper washing, good nutrition, and abstinence.
The patient should brush his teeth a lot to stimulate the gums which have been neglected. Brush the tongue occasionally to get smelly bacteria. Use mouthwash to fight bacteria and help fight cravings for alcohol. The image looking back in the mirror should reinforce the progress he is making and help him feel better about himself.
I hate to point this out, but if you notice that the patient is beginning to skip baths or brushing his teeth again, it may be a sign that he has relapsed into his old lifestyle. You're dealing with an adult with free choice, so keep your cool and just encourage bathing instead.
After a month or two of not abusing, see a dentist, an eye doctor and whoever else was avoided during active addiction. Follow any previous instructions from the doctor, keep taking the vitamins for about a year, join a support group, practice good eating habits, exercise, and stay clean and sober.
Giving up an addiction is an act of courage, even if you or your loved one bottomed out before doing it. The extra steps involved in good nutrition, exercise, hygiene, and sleep will be worth the effort once good health is reclaimed.
***** Special note to the non-alcoholic supporting the recovering patient****
It is not your job to keep a list of his mistakes or faults. The recovering patient doesn't need nagging, so save your breath. Gentle reminders or questions are all that's required of you. Keep your own special interests active and take care of yourself and your own health. Being a martyr won't help you or him. And martydom is seldom appreciated.
Beware that the recovering person may want to get involved in activities that have been all yours for a while, like the budget or the check book, or shopping. Be careful that you don't become resentful or antagonistic about sharing duties that have been primarily or totally yours for a long time. You will be making adjustments in your own life during this recovery time. You have made a lot of sacrifices, and no doubt have been hurt during the addiction. Now through no fault of your own, you're still making adjustments for this patient. Take a deep breath and remember that you are not responsible for other adult lives. Follow the AA slogan, "Let go and let God." And if he or she starts drinking again, remember it''s not your fault, so don't beat yourself up.