Addiction and Malnutrition

Addiction and Malnutrition

Addiction and Malnutrition

Addiction and MalnutritionMalnutrition is a condition that occurs if you don’t get enough protein and calories to meet your body’s basic requirements, or alternatively, if you consume too many calories for your size and gender. Nutrition experts refer to a lack of adequate calories and protein as undernutrition, and excessive calorie intake as overnutrition. People who develop addictions to alcohol or various types of drugs frequently experience some form of malnutrition. In most cases, addiction-related malnutrition involves undernutrition. However, addiction-related malnutrition in marijuana users more commonly involves overnutrition.

Nutrition and Malnutrition Basics

Nutrition is a term used to describe the dietary intake of substances that support various essential aspects of human health and well-being. These substances, known generally as nutrients, include food components such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. To remain healthy, you need to take in an adequate supply of each of these nutrients, while avoiding taking in too much of any specific nutrient type. People suffering from undernutrition don’t get enough of one or more nutrients and develop nutritional deficiencies that harm one or more aspects of their normal function and ongoing health. In cases of overnutrition, poor health generally results from weight gain and other factors associated with overconsumption of calories; however, people who take in too many calories can still develop nutritional deficiencies if their diets lack adequate amounts of specific nutrients.

Nutritional Effects of Alcoholism

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus, alcoholism is a major contributor to undernutrition statistics across America. Alcohol intake directly lowers the body’s supply of B vitamins such as thiamine (B1), folic acid (B9) and pyridoxine (B6). In alcoholics, deficiencies of these vitamins can lead to nervous system malfunctions and a red blood cell deficiency called anemia; alcoholism-related thiamine deficiencies can also result in a brain disorder called Korsakoff’s syndrome, which combines amnesia with some of the features of dementia.

Chronic alcoholism also leads to serious damage in both the liver and the pancreas. In turn, the combined effects of malfunctions in these two organs will degrade the body’s absorption and use of proteins, carbohydrates and fat, and also trigger imbalances in the body’s fluid supply. In addition to all of these problems, alcoholics commonly substitute alcohol for food and decrease the overall availability of a wide array of vital nutrients. Alcoholics also frequently develop deficiencies of key minerals (including calcium and magnesium) collectively known as electrolytes, as well as additional minerals such as zinc and iron.

Nutritional Effects of Stimulant Addiction

Stimulants are a general class of drugs that include methamphetamines, cocaine and amphetamine-based medications. In addition to their stimulating effects on the central nervous system, these drugs all suppress normal human appetite. In fact, many people who get addicted to these substances first use them in a misguided attempt to control their weight. In stimulant addicts, appetite suppression can easily break the links between food consumption, nutrient intake and good health. Over time, severe addiction-related reductions in food intake can lead to critical forms of undernutrition and eventually result in malnutrition-related death.

Nutritional Effects of Opiate Addiction

Opiates are a class of natural and synthetic drugs based on the psychoactive ingredients in a plant called the opium poppy. Apart from their mind-altering effects, these drugs trigger a slowdown in the normal function of both the stomach and small intestine, which act as your body’s main routes of nutrient absorption. In turn, this slowdown contributes to undernutrition by degrading the body’s ability to extract the nutrients from food and pass them into the bloodstream. In addition to these nutritional problems, people addicted to opiates such as OxyContin, heroin, codeine, morphine, or Percocet commonly develop ongoing cases of constipation. Like alcoholics and stimulant addicts, opiate addicts frequently fail to eat enough food or properly balance their nutrient intake.

Nutritional Effects of Marijuana Addiction

When compared to users of alcohol, stimulants or opiates, marijuana users typically have lower chances of developing problems with physical dependence or addiction. However, even in the absence of clinical dependence or addiction, marijuana users can significantly increase their overall intake of foods rich in fat, as well as sugar and other types of carbohydrates. Overconsumption of these foods can easily lead to overnutrition and weight gain, and in some cases, excessive weight gain eventually leads to onset of obesity. Marijuana addicts frequently have elevated risks for health problems related to excessive weight and obesity, such as high blood pressure, hardened arteries, heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. In addition, because of their common preferences for high-carbohydrate and/or high-fat foods, marijuana addicts can develop deficiencies of a number of key nutrients, including certain minerals and vitamins, as well as health-supporting substances called antioxidants.

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