Addiction and Nutritional Deficiencies

Addiction to drugs, alcohol and/or tobacco causes many hardships for the person who abuses them. Apart from relationship problems and mental health problems, addiction often produces a number of health challenges because of nutritional deficiencies. Some of these nutritional deficiencies are caused by the substance itself while others result from the behavior patterns associated with the addiction. Whether through direct harm or the development of a harmful lifestyle, addiction winds up hurting people physically. Here are just a few of the ways addiction can rob a body of needed nutrition.


Most prevention campaigns focus on lung cancer, but chronic tobacco use is harmful in many other ways also. Many people are afraid to give up smoking because they are afraid they will gain weight. While tobacco does produce a higher metabolism which in turn burns calories, it also leads smokers to eat less to start with. People who use tobacco find that smoking changes the way that food tastes. When food is less tasty, it is less appealing. But tobacco itself also causes some other problems besides reduced food intake. Tobacco is responsible for causing a vitamin C deficiency. It also interferes with a person’s ability to harness vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, Omega 3 and important fatty acids.


Alcohol is a leading cause of malnourishment in our country. Behaviorally, many alcoholics exchange regular meals with nutritionally empty cocktails. Alcohol also keeps the body from properly absorbing B-complex nutrients and thiamine when the person does eat. This deficiency produces a condition called Korsakoff’s syndrome. Korsakoff’s syndrome is characterized by memory and other cognitive function declines and poor muscular coordination. Chronic misuse of alcohol harms the lining of the digestive tract making it harder for the body to absorb precious nutrients. The liver too is harmed by alcohol. Long before cirrhosis occurs, alcohol makes it difficult for the liver to perform well and the body less able to absorb needed calcium.


Some drugs act as appetite suppressants. The person eats less often and makes poor food choices when they do eat. In addition, drugs can cause problems such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. All of these problems can result in the loss of key water-soluble vitamins. Sodium and potassium levels can also be thrown out of whack from persistent stomach aggravation. People addicted to substances do not feel well when they stop using that substance. Often this is because the substance has led to malnutrition but has masked the aches associated with the body’s weakened state. Without proper nutrition the body cannot function properly. Glands, nerves, organs and even hormone levels all suffer without needed vitamins and minerals. In addition to all of that, prolonged use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco harms the immune system and leaves users more prone to illness.

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