It isn’t uncommon for me to get questions about nutrition, particularly the role of vitamins in recovery. Let me say at the outset that I have no desire to get into a debate about it. There are huge industries with a vested interest in promoting vitamin therapies, and they use extremely effective advertising to attract people to their products. Many of those folks swear by their various courses of nutritional supplements, and that’s okay. I’m not going to buck the current of billions of dollars worth of merchandising, nor am I interested in changing anyone’s mind.

In most respects, however, I disagree with the concept of vitamin therapy.  In fact, I hold a pretty conservative viewpoint on vitamins, in recovery and otherwise. We evolved to get them in certain quantities, and it’s difficult for me to imagine how messing with basic body chemistry is beneficial.  Most experts who are not connected with the vitamin industry agree that there is no point in supplementing heavily unless blood tests have indicated an insufficiency of a particular vitamin, such as vitamin D.

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Of course, those who do have an ax to grind, either because of ties to the industry or their own endeavors (books, websites, health food stores, etc.) take an entirely different view. The information here is based on good medical advice, and that’s all I have to say about it.  Most nutritionists agree that we require vitamins and minerals only in tiny quantities, and that what isn’t absorbed literally goes down the drain. I once read a nutritionist’s summation: “Americans have the most expensive urine in the world.”

As addicts, we love the idea of some magical pill that will make us “all better,” but it doesn’t exist. The repairs necessary to recover from addiction will take place with abstinence, a good diet, exercise, rest, and — important to a remarkable degree — fun and relaxation. And it takes time; physical recovery from addiction, including alcoholism, can take up to two years. We feel better long before that, thank goodness, but it can take that long for our brains and the rest of our bodies to get back to something like normal.

However, we addicts are used to getting results fast. It’s no accident that the drugs that are most rapidly addictive are the ones that work the fastest. We think in the short term, and we don’t like to wait — for anything. Good nutrition, exercise and so forth take attention and work, and there’s no instant payoff. That’s our biggest hangup in recovery: wanting the magic pill.

That said, all alcoholics (and most other addicts) suffer from malnutrition to one degree or another. Alcohol prevents the small intestine from absorbing nutrients properly, and interferes with the intestinal bacteria that produce many of the nutrients we need. As a general rule, I believe that absent a doctor’s recommendation most of us do fine with a multivitamin every day with a meal (I take mine with breakfast). Because I have also been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, I take supplements of that as well along with certain mineral supplements prescribed by my physician.

In the case of early recovery, no harm — and much good — can come from taking a high-quality multivitamin in the morning and one in the evening — always with a meal. Vitamins are food, not medicine, and must be digested with other food in order to be properly absorbed.

My personal opinion is that after the first year or so in recovery, people who eat properly and get a bit of sunshine and some exercise along with proper medical care probably don’t require more than a multi a day, and perhaps a mineral supplement if the multivitamin doesn’t provide them.  This obviously doesn’t apply to folks who have been told to take certain supplements by a physician.

Of course your mileage may vary.  If it works for you, great! Whether it’s vitamins or the placebo effect, the whole point of recovery is to feel better and get on with our lives.

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