Binge eating and other eating problems are not unusual among individuals recovering from substance use disorder (SUD). While less of an immediate risk than an overdose or other health conditions stemming from substance misuse, addressing potential eating disorders may allow recovering individuals to maintain a better quality of life in the long term. Contact Boston Drug Treatment Centers to discuss your options for holistic rehab and aftercare.
Causes of Post-rehab Eating Problems
Some recovery-related eating problems may be due to factors that existed before the SUD was treated while others are a result of ceasing substance misuse. Causes of binge-eating during SUD recovery include:1,2,3,4,5
- Mental health issues. Some mental health disorders are associated with an increased risk of SUD and unhealthy eating patterns. Not treating these underlying psychiatric issues may cause eating problems to be more obvious after treatment for SUD.2,3,5Some individuals may also experience temporary emotional distress related to their recovery process. So-called “comfort eating” as a means of easing strong negative emotions is also commonly observed with mental health issues that tend to co-occur with SUD1.Mental health conditions associated with unhealthy eating include but are not limited to:2,3,4,5
- Anxiety and related disorders
- Binge eating disorder (BED)
- Bulimia nervosa
- The end of substance-induced appetite suppression.Many drugs, particularly opioids and stimulants, are notable for suppressing appetite. Some individuals with body image issues may even use substances with appetite-suppressant effects to prevent unwanted weight gain. Ceasing the use of these drugs will tend to bring back their regular appetite for food.2,5,6
- The body signaling a need for nutrients. People with SUD will often also suffer from malnutrition, usually as a result of poor eating habits caused by substance misuse. When malnutrition happens, the bodies of affected individuals will often react by making them crave nutrients that will help repair and regrow tissue. However, even when the body signals that it’s time to eat, these signals get suppressed by drugs or are deprioritized in favor of more drug or alcohol use. Stopping substance misuse will generally make it easier for individuals to “listen” to their bodies, which usually results in them eating more.1,2,5
- Taste and smell go back to normal. Some substances and consumption methods may dull an individual’s sense of taste or smell. Drinking alcohol or smoking, for example, can dull taste buds, making food taste flat. Snorting or huffing substances can likewise dull or damage olfactory nerves, diminishing the sense of smell and the ability to perceive a full spectrum of flavor. When substance use stops, the scent and flavor of food may become more intense and appealing. This may cause recovering individuals to eat more than they would normally.1,2,5,6
Why Post-rehab Weight Gain May Be a Problem
While some weight gain can be a good thing in SUD recovery, excessive weight gain may lead to other issues that affect one’s health. Some risks of post-rehab weight gain include:
- Potential long-term health issues. Though substance misuse may present a comparatively worse risk, diseases caused by poor diets continue to be a leading cause of mortality among Americans today. Heart disease, strokes, type II diabetes, and some types of cancer are far more likely in obese individuals.7
- May reduce motivation. Few people are happy to see themselves become obese after getting treated for another life-threatening issue. Weight gain after rehab may lead to esteem issues that may increase one’s relapse risks. Individuals that experience rapid weight gain may even decide that they preferred being skinny and on drugs to being clean and sober.1
Ways You Can Manage Post-rehab Weight Gain
For the above reasons, it’s important to find a workable strategy for maintaining a healthy weight. Here are some ideas that you may want to look into.
- Include diet and exercise in your recovery journal. Most SUD rehab programs will recommend that you journal your progress to help you contextualize your recovery. If you find that your weight gain is ruining your motivation to stay sober, you may want to consider journaling what you eat as well. Logging the estimated calories, types of food, and amounts of exercise can help you stay mindful and goal-oriented, which can increase your chances of achieving and maintaining a target weight without resorting to substances.8
- Build an exercise routine that you enjoy. All things considered, being able to do any exercise regularly is far more important for mental and physical health than any specific exercise type or intensity. Finding a routine that gives you enough physical activity that you can do on most days tends to be more doable and effective than a hard workout that you could only do a couple of times a month. For that reason, for weight maintenance, you’re usually best off going with cardio or aerobic exercises that you genuinely enjoy.9
- Continue seeing your therapist. This can be critical for helping you maintain the gains you made in recovery and may also be key to working through any issues influencing weight gain that were not addressed during rehab. If nothing else, they should be able to refer you to specialists in eating disorders and other relevant mental health issues.10
Find Holistic SUD Recovery Options in Boston
SUD treatment programs should also help improve your quality of life after rehab. Choosing programs that address common post-rehab issues like weight gain may significantly improve your commitment to the recovery process. Call Boston Drug Treatment Centers at (857) 577-8193 to discuss your options.
- Cowan, J., & Devine, C. (2008). Food, eating, and weight concerns of men in recovery from substance addiction. Appetite, 50(1), 33-42.
- Krug, I., Pinheiro, A. P., Bulik, C., Jiménez‐Murcia, S., Granero, R., Penelo, E., … & Fernández‐Aranda, F. (2009).Lifetime substance abuse, family history of alcohol abuse/dependence and novelty seeking in eating disorders: comparison study of eating disorder subgroups. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 63(1), 82-87.
- Schreiber, L. R., Odlaug, B. L., & Grant, J. E. (2013). The overlap between binge eating disorder and substance use disorders: Diagnosis and neurobiology. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(4), 191-198.
- Han, D. H., Bolo, N., Daniels, M. A., Lyoo, I. K., Min, K. J., Kim, C. H., & Renshaw, P. F. (2008). Craving for alcohol and food during treatment for alcohol dependence: Modulation by T allele of 1519T> C GABAAα6. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 32(9), 1593-1599.
- Neale, A., Abraham, S., & Russell, J. (2009). “Ice” use and eating disorders: A report of three cases. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 42(2), 188-191.
- Avena, N. M. (2007). Examining the addictive-like properties of binge eating using an animal model of sugar dependence. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 15(5), 481.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2021). Leading Causes of Death.
- Achananuparp, P., Lim, E. P., & Abhishek, V. (2018, April). Does journaling encourage healthier choices? Analyzing healthy eating behaviors of food journalers. In Proceedings of the 2018 International Conference on Digital Health(pp. 35-44).
- Chao, D., Foy, C. G., & Farmer, D. (2000). Exercise adherence among older adults: challenges and strategies. Controlled clinical trials, 21(5), S212-S217.
- Wake Forest University. (n.d.). The Role of the Counselor in Addiction Recovery.