Having a healthy relationship with food during the holidays can prevent the risk of relapse in individuals with past substance abuse issues. Many people have disordered relationships with food, which can result in using substances or adopting other maladaptive behaviors in an attempt to lose weight. During the holiday season, engaging in healthy food behaviors and making smart choices while allowing seasonal indulgences can create a balance conducive to recovery.
While in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, many individuals gain weight. The body undergoes a great deal of trauma during drug use and detoxification, so it often responds by craving comfort foods. As Dr. Pamela Peeke of the University of Maryland explains, “Once off the drugs, the brain craves the uber rewards of the hyperpalatables — Mint Milanos, Oreos, any sugar. An apple’s reward doesn’t cut it. So you end up with the transfer addiction. Off the cocaine, onto the cupcakes.”
Many addicts do not have experience with self-care or overall healthy behaviors. Once substances are taken out of the equation, they are often left without alternative coping mechanisms to handle unwanted feelings. In these cases, individuals can turn to food as a method of self-soothing. This can lead to emotional eating or other disordered food behaviors that cause weight fluctuations, often triggering relapse of drug or alcohol abuse.
Substance abuse and addiction often co-occur with eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), as many as 50 percent of the eating disorder population grapples some form of alcohol or drug abuse. If these conditions are not treated concurrently, an individual can use one to cope with the absence of the other. For example, undergoing treatment for substance abuse can exacerbate symptoms of an eating disorder because the individual is desperate for some form of relief. Even if a recovering addict does not have a full-blown eating disorder, engaging in disordered eating during the holidays can pave the way for relapse.
Participating in holiday traditions does not have to come with past food behaviors common with substance abuse, such as binge eating or restricting. Rather, individuals in recovery are encouraged to not skip meals, which can lead to overeating later, and give themselves permission to enjoy holiday treats without guilt. Demonizing food or associating it with shame only casts a shadow over otherwise fun holiday traditions and leads to a disordered relationship with food and eating.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or related behaviors this holiday season, help is available. Call Sovereign Health Group today on our 24/7 hotline to speak with a professional.
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Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health writer