Those who enjoy a nice glass of wine with a meal find that the pairing elevates the dining experience. While this is often true, there is a tipping point that can be reached when someone’s drinking surpasses that of the occasional glass of wine, resulting in an alcohol use disorder. One of the manifestations of regular heavy alcohol consumption is its negative effect on appetite.
It is a quandary: Why do alcoholics not eat food? What is it about the substance abuse that leads to loss of appetite? There are actually a couple of explanations for the effects of alcoholism on appetite and dietary intake. Let’s explore them:
- Alcoholics choose the alcohol over food. For someone who has become addicted to alcohol, the priority has shifted in favor of the alcohol. This can result in the alcoholic making more of an effort to acquire and consume alcoholic beverages rather than paying heed to their nutritional needs. This helps explain why do alcoholics not eat food. They simply fill up on the alcohol, leaving them feeling sated, resulting in taking a pass on real food.
- Alcoholism diminishes the appetite. There is evidence that long-term heavy alcohol consumption can lead to suppression of the appetite. According to Dr. Anna Kojavec of La Trob University School of Psychological Science, “We confirmed that certain biochemical processes associated with appetite regulation do change when alcohol was consumed.” Her research has shown that alcohol can have the effect of suppressing appetite.
- Heavy drinkers crave fatty foods. People who engage in high alcohol consumption tend to crave unhealthy food choices. In answer to the question, “Why do alcoholics not eat food,” one could reply that they do eat food, but just not nutritious food. A study conducted at Princeton showed that a hormone known as gelanin is produced when alcohol is consumed that happens to increase the desire for fatty foods.
- Alcoholic ketoacidosis. A person with an alcohol use disorder may develop a condition called alcoholic ketoacidosis. This can result when malnourishment sets in, which can reduce the body’s insulin production. Alcoholic ketoacidosis is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. Symptoms include fatigue, slow movement, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, irregular breathing, dizziness, thirst, and lightheadedness.
- End stage alcoholism and liver disease. When alcoholism is allowed to progress serious health conditions will emerge, including alcoholic liver disease. Symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice, edema, fever, itchy skin, weakness, fluid in the abdomen, and blood in vomit and stools. The only chance at a cure from cirrhosis is abstinence in combination with medication and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking.
Nutritional Deficiencies Caused by Alcoholism
It is common for someone seeking treatment for an alcohol use disorder to arrive at rehab with some serious health issues. These are the result of the disruption of body systems due to the chronic misuse of alcohol, and ignoring one’s overall nutritional needs. The body uses a certain amount of nutrients just to metabolize the alcohol. If the body’s supply of these nutrients is not replenished through diet, the body cells become deprived of essential nutrients. In addition, alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules as the pancreas becomes less efficient. As a result of these issues, body functions and overall health suffer.
Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with various nutritional deficiencies, including:
- Vitamin A, D, and E deficiency. This can happen because alcohol impairs absorption of these important vitamins.
- B vitamins
- Thiamine. Thiamine deficiency can lead to a neurological disorder called Wernick-Korsakoff
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
- Minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc
Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder
While there are three levels of severity for alcohol use disorder, many of these warning signs are fundamental across all levels:
- Drinking alone. Continually drinking in isolation to the point of intoxication is a sign of an alcohol use disorder.
- Blackouts. Blackouts occur when drinking large amounts of alcohol leads to loss of memory of certain events, places they went, or things they did or said while intoxicated.
- Increased tolerance. A problem drinker will notice that they are incrementally drinking more alcohol to get the desired effect of the alcohol. Increased levels of alcohol consumption only make them more dependent on it in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
- Lying about your drinking. Lying to cover up excessive drinking or hiding alcohol around the house, in the car, or at work.
- Troubled relationships. Excessive drinking can take a toll on relationships with a spouse, children, friends, and coworkers because the drinking takes precedence over them. Mood swings, irritability, and anger are also common in those with an AUD.
- Avoiding social gatherings. The alcoholic will begin to avoid social gatherings because they cannot control their drinking, which can lead to embarrassment, harassment, or altercations.
- Legal problems. Custody battles, driving under the influence of alcohol potentially resulting in a DUI/DWI or a car accident, or other legal problems can result.
- Increasing negative consequences. As excessive drinking escalates, repercussions begin to mount. These might include problems functioning satisfactorily on the job due to being hung over or reduced cognitive functioning, financial problems due to spending on booze or not paying bills on time, and other adverse effects caused by neglecting responsibilities.
- Increase in alcohol cravings. As alcoholism becomes more severe, the brain and nervous system adjust to the constant influx of alcohol. This leads to increased alcohol cravings during periods when one is not drinking.
- Withdrawal symptoms. The most glaring sign of alcoholism are the withdrawal symptoms that emerge when attempting to not drink. These symptoms include hand tremors, nausea and vomiting, irritability, insomnia, confusion, headache, and anxiety. In addition, physical signs of alcoholism include facial bloating, a ruddy complexion, abdominal distention due to ascites, fatigue, blood-shot eyes, and thinning hair.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
Treatment for alcoholism is centered on making significant changes in the way one responds to stressors or triggers. To achieve this, there are several treatment elements that are designed to work together. These include:
- Medical Detox. The first necessary step to beating alcoholism is to undergo a complete detoxification under medical supervision. A medical detox is needed due to potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can emerge unexpectedly.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. After detox is completed, active treatment begins. Depending on the severity of the addiction, the individual can opt for either outpatient treatment or inpatient treatment, lasting one to twelve months duration. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps to change the addictive behaviors that are etched into the brain and psyche by replacing them with new productive thought and behavior responses. CBT trains the client to identify how the maladaptive drinking behavior was a response to disordered or distorted thinking. CBT then teaches clients how replace them with positive, constructing thought and behavior patterns.
- Group therapy. Meeting in small groups with a therapist allows for open discussion and sharing. These sessions can assist participants to learn new coping skills, such as stress management, emotion regulation, improve family-related issues, and communication skills.
Restoring Health in Recovery
Restoring physical health is essential for a successful recovery outcome. The nutritionally depleted brain and body need to be cared for through a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and getting quality sleep.
- Design a diet high in lean proteins, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grain bread and pastas, nuts and seeds, and lots of water.
- Engage in regular cardio exercise, such as running, cycling/spinning, swimming, hiking, walking, and dance cardio to replenish muscle mass, strength, and stamina and improve mood.
- Set a regular sleep schedule, turn electronic devices off an hour prior to bedtime, and avoid caffeine late in the day.
In some cases nutritional supplements may be necessary, especially for a thiamine deficiency.
Avoiding Relapse in Recovery
Unfortunately, relapse is a common occurrence during the first year of recovery. Individuals are adjusting to a new lifestyle during that initial year of sobriety, and certain issues, such as loneliness, boredom, relationship problems, and financial stress can trigger a relapse.
It is important to have a well thought out relapse prevention strategy firmly in place. By listing triggers and creating an action plan when needed, the chance of avoiding relapse are improved. In addition, building a solid support system around you is critical.
Aftercare is an essential component in alcoholism recovery. Aftercare, or continuing care, is simply the means by which sobriety is aided outside of rehab. In early recovery, it takes time to solidify the coping skills learned in treatment. That is where aftercare comes in.
Three important aspects of aftercare include:
- Sober living housing
- Ongoing outpatient therapy sessions
- Participation in a 12-step or similar recovery community
Rebuilding health and wellness in recovery is entirely possible through a solid treatment program, a reliable support system, and careful attention to ongoing aftercare services for continued reinforcement.
The Treatment Specialist is an Online Resource for Addiction and Mental Health Topics
The Treatment Specialist offers a knowledgeable team of experts in the addiction and mental health industries to provide important information regarding substance use or mental health disorders. It is difficult to understand the nature of this serious disease and the consequences to one’s health. You may wonder why do alcoholics not eat food, and worry about deteriorating health of a loved one. This free service can guide you or a loved one to the relevant information about alcohol use disorders, nutrition, and treatment options. If your loved one is struggling with the nutritional deficiencies related to alcoholism, take the first step toward helping them restore their physical and mental health. Contact The Treatment Specialist today for free assistance at (866) 644-7911.