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Effects on the diet


Diets for different phases


Effects on the diet


Alcohol abuse interferes with the nutritional balance of the body, which in turn affects normal health:


  1. The normal functioning of both the liver and pancreas are impaired. The liver detoxifies harmful substances and the pancreas regulates blood sugar and absorption of fat. Impairment of these two organs results in an imbalance of fluids, calories, and electrolytes.  

  2. The drinking patterns of an alcoholic lead to poor eating routines, e.g. skipping breakfast due to a hangover or dinner due to being intoxicated. 

  3. Diet content may be unhealthy for a number of reasons, e.g. not having the money to buy proper food. 

  4. Alcohol may lead to a lack of appetite.

  5. Alcohol abuse can be considered as excessive carbohydrate intake.

Alcoholism is one of the major causes of nutritional deficiency in the United States. The most common deficiencies are of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamine, and folic acid. Deficiencies in these nutrients cause anemia (low blood count) and neurologic problems. Korsakoff´s syndrome ("wet brain") is caused by nutrient deficiencies related to absorption problems caused by heavy use of alcohol, rather than by the drinking itself.  

Other complications include permanent liver damage (or cirrhosis), seizures, diabetes and severe malnutrition. Laboratory tests for protein, iron, and electrolytes may be indicated to determine if there is liver disease in addition to the alcohol problem. 

Post-menopausal women who are alcoholic are at high risk of osteoporosis and require calcium supplementation.

Diets for different phases

For somebody that is acutely intoxicated or is experiencing a hangover, but does not have long term alcohol related disease 

Correct fluid and electrolyte imbalances. 

Provide vitamin and mineral supplements especially Thiamine (vitamin B) and Vitamin C.

Possible items that meet the above requirements are:


Vitamin B and C pills as can be bought at a pharmacy.


Fruit juices (kiwi fruit, guava or orange).

Start with a high calorie and high protein diet as soon as possible. Meat is high in protein and starch (bread) is high in calories. Food types that combine both may be dairy products like yoghurt or cheese.

Avoid foodstuffs that are high in iron. Examples of this are green vegetables like green beans, spinach, broccoli and salads.

With long term damage already present

In the case of cerebral dysfunction (encephalopathy) a doctor may advise a low protein but high carbohydrate diet with adequate calories.

In the case of alcohol related hepatitis avoid protein as the liver cannot break it down.

Long term recovery

The recovering alcoholic must look after his health and ensure that his diet is good. For many years alcohol has been an important source of calories. When the alcoholic stops drinking he must learn to eat breakfast again. Extremes of hunger and tiredness should be avoided as it could lead to the onset of drinking again. 



Material provided by Aurora Alcohol and Drug Centre



Last updated 18 April 2007


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