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I have frequently heard alcoholics who are in early recovery remark that, “If this is what recovery is like, I’d rather go back to drinking.” Vitamin deficiencies, particularly of the B vitamins and vitamin C, may be responsible for much of the lethargy, skin irritation, memory loss and depression experienced by people who are newly recovering from an addiction to alcohol. Though these symptoms may have been ongoing while the alcoholic was actively drinking they may seem less tolerable while not under the influence of alcohol.
Alcoholics often replace food consumption with alcohol. Unfortunately, the calories gained from alcohol are what are frequently referred to as “empty calories.” That is, they are calories lacking nutrients and of little value to the body. Additionally, alcohol gets in the way of the body absorbing and using the vitamins and minerals of the food that the alcoholic does eat. The combined effect is to leave the alcoholic nutrient poor.
Individuals in recovery can benefit from a healthy diet and a vitamin regimen.* Vitamin B in general, and particularly vitamins B1 (thiamin), B3 (niacin) and B5 (Pantothenic Acid) play a role in turning sugars into energy. Pork is one of the best sources of B1, other sources include cereals and nuts. B2 can also be found in pork and fortified cereals, as well as, salmon and swordfish. Whole grains, milk, eggs, and liver are perhaps the best food sources for Pantothenic Acid.
Meanwhile, B6 and B12 play important roles in producing blood cells and the health of the nervous system. Both of these important vitamins are frequently depleted by years of heavy drinking. Good sources for both of these are meat. Additionally, B6 is found in bananas, avocados, and peanuts. B12 is only found in animal by products; however, this list includes dairy and eggs.
Vitamin C, plays an important role in keeping the skin healthy, and plays an equally important role in the health of bones, teeth and blood vessels. Deficiencies in vitamin C can also be responsible for irritability, weakness and muscle fatigue. The best and most consumed source of vitamin C in the United States is orange juice from frozen concentrate. Other sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, potatoes and cantaloupe.
For the average American, eating a healthy diet, vitamin B and C supplements are often unnecessary. However, early in their recovery, alcoholics should seek the advice of a doctor about a proper regime of vitamins and diet. Paying attention to health matters can increase the chances of successful recovery from alcohol addiction.
*For a good comparison chart of vitamins see the patient article section on the University of Maryland Medical Center website.