What to eat when going through alcohol withdrawal

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When going through alcohol withdrawal, you should eat foods that help your body heal. Alcohol is a toxin that affects the body.

This substance damages the liver causing a fatty liver and damaged liver cells. Alcohol also affects various parts of the brain.

It alters the neurotransmitters of the brain leading to tolerance plus other issues. 

Alcohol addiction deprives the body of nutrients. Therefore, people who drink are likely to be low in B vitamins, Zinc, and other trace minerals. 

When going through alcohol withdrawal, you need foods that will help flush out the toxins in the body.

You also need foods that will cause the least resistance to your digestive system.

When you start a healthy diet that consists of whole foods and plant-based foods, you speed up your recovery process. 

Certain foods help you manage the discomfort that comes from detoxification and withdrawals. More fluid intake, particularly water, also speeds up the recovery process. 

Read on to learn about the best foods for detox and overcoming withdrawal symptoms. 

Common food cravings during alcohol withdrawal  

A common craving during alcohol withdrawal is sugar. A recovering alcoholic may end up eating sugary products to the point that they struggle to eat other foods.

They desperately crave sugar because the body is looking for other sources of serotonin or "feel good" hormones [1]. 

The imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain combined with fluctuations in blood sugar content contribute to this craving. An unbalanced diet also triggers this craving.

When an addict indulges this craving to increase blood sugar levels, they prolong recovery. Taking too much sugar also deprives the body of much-needed nutrients. 

During alcohol withdrawal, the craving for unhealthy foods is high[2]. One of the reasons for this is due to an addictive personality.

Again, the body is looking to compensate for the pleasurable feeling is derived from alcohol. 

One way to beat the craving for sugar is to increase eating fruits. The sugar in fruits is natural, and the body metabolizes it differently compared to processed sugars. 

Foods to avoid while going through alcohol detox 

While going through alcohol detox, the foods to avoid are dairy, fats, additives and preservatives, processed foods, and sugars. 

Milk contains protein casein (casomorphin) that has similar opioid effects. It is also rich in fats and sugars.

Therefore, when you take dairy products, you alleviate the alcohol cravings for a short time. In the long run, you'll end up with blood sugar levels that trigger impulsive behaviours. 

Fats, particularly hydrogenated and refined fats, should be avoided. These fats are common in margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated oils.

These fats are hard on the digestive system and will delay recovery. Instead, opt for oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower, and corn oils. 

You should avoid additives and preservatives. These substances are found in most foods.

Examples of additives are aspartame (artificial sweetener), MSG (monosodium glutamate), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), BHA (butylated hydroxy anisole).  

Common preservatives are sulphites, sorbates, and benzoates. These substances are found in cereals, chips, cookies, jams, and more.

Although these substances are approved for use, they are harmful to the body. For instance, phosphates in foods pose a heart risk [3].  

The preservative Sodium nitrite/nitrate commonly used in processed meats may have cancer-causing effects, especially when taken in high amounts. Some countries have banned BHT.

Overall, it is best to avoid processed foods and opt for fresh organic foods or foods with no additives or preservatives. 

As mentioned earlier, recovering alcoholics crave sugar because it gives the body temporary relief from the low blood sugar levels. Consuming refined sugar is worse as it has no nutritional value.  

Furthermore, it deprives the body of much-needed nutrients. Sugar comes in many forms.

You can identify it in your foods when you see a word ending with -ose, for example, dextrose, lactose, galactose, sucrose, xylose, and ribose.  

There are also other forms of sugar such as sorbitol, disaccharides, glucosamine, high fructose in corn syrup, xylitol, sorghum, and many more.

You should replace these sugars with natural types such as raw honey, raw cane sugar, molasses, and pure maple syrup. 

Other foods to avoid are: 

White flour-Similar to sugar, white flour is highly processed. Instead, you should go for whole grains as they are packed with more benefits for the digestive system. 

Caffeine-Aside from sugar, people struggling with alcohol addiction end up replacing the craving with caffeine.  

First, if you're getting your caffeine from energy drinks, you should stop. Health experts suggest that energy drinks should be avoided because you can never be too sure about how much caffeine you're getting in the drink. 

Some energy drinks have exotic ingredients that will complicate your recovery process.

Although caffeine from coffee or tea can have some mile benefits, it should be taken in moderation. Too much caffeine can lead to symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia. 


Foods to eat when detoxing from alcohol  

When detoxing from alcohol, you should take in nutrient-rich foods such as whole grain, cruciferous vegetables, lean meats (e.g., skinless chicken, fish), fruits, and other types of vegetables. 

Fruits and vegetables digest easily, making them less resistant to your digestive system.  

Remember that alcohol affects the digestive system. Therefore, an alcohol detox diet should consist of a lot of fruits and vegetables. 

Cruciferous vegetables have a lot more vital nutrients, unlike other vegetables.

Since alcohol abuse results in malnutrition, taking more cruciferous vegetables will help your body get vital vitamins such as folate, vitamin C, E, K, and fibre. 

You should eat lots of sugar to lower the sugar craving. Some of the best fruits are oranges, raspberries, pears, bananas, strawberries, and figs. 

You should go for good, quality proteins. These should be low in fat proteins, such as beans and lentils, and lean meats, such as lean beef and fish.

Proteins are important as they help the body repair damaged tissues in the kidney, liver, pancreas, and brain.  

Still, you need to take the protein in moderation. Eating excessive amounts of protein can strain the liver, which is already damaged from alcohol abuse [4]. 

You should increase your intake of a non-gluten variety of proteins. Examples of these are brown rice, sorghum, quinoa, wild rice, oats, buckwheat, Amaranth, and many others.

Non-gluten variety of proteins are packed with minerals and are high in fibre. 

You should incorporate seeds in your alcohol detox diet. Sunflower seeds are essential to your alcohol detox diet as they help increase your dopamine levels.

The lack of sufficient dopamine levels in the body is what leads to alcohol cravings. Eating sunflower seeds plus other seeds such as hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds help to manage the cravings. 

When it comes to fish, you should opt for fattier fish like salmon and sardines.

Such fish are rich in omega 3, which is essential in helping the body reduce the inflammation of the liver resulting from alcohol abuse.

Shellfish is also good as rich in trace minerals such as zinc, selenium, and iodine. 

Lastly, you should use nutritional yeast, which is deactivated yeast. Unlike ordinary yeast, nutritional yeast is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  

Studies show that nutritional yeast has a wide range of benefits, ranging from lowering the body's cholesterol levels and protecting the body from free radical damage.

You should go for the non-synthetic nutritional yeast for cooking. 

Cayenne pepper is important as it helps lower alcohol cravings and increases appetite. This is essential because, during alcohol detox, the recovering addict experiences a loss in appetite.

Adding cayenne pepper to your food also helps decrease alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as nausea. 

You can snack on healthy food groups such as nuts, kale chips, berries, celery sticks, cucumber, and many more. 

Healthy foods such as salads, soups, and lots of fruits will quicken the recovery process from alcohol detox. Taking water in moderation also helps as hydration aids the body in the removal of alcohol toxins. 

But you should avoid taking excessive amounts of water can lead to Dilutional hyponatremia or water intoxication. 

Water intoxication occurs when a person is taking too much water without adequate electrolytes. The electrolytes include salt and other ions.

One way to avoid this is by supplementing the water with other fluids such as green tea, coconut water, fruit juices, and watermelon. 

What vitamins are good for recovering alcoholics? 

Substance abuse leads to numerous health problems combined with nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition. 

Numerous studies are showing that alcohol addiction leads to Vitamin deficiencies. For instance, magnesium deficiency is commonly identified in chronic alcoholics [5]. Vitamin C deficiency is common [6].  

Deficiencies in B vitamins, Vitamin B1, B5, B6, B12, and folic acid [7].  

Excessive alcohol intake is also associated with subnormal levels of vitamin D [8]. Excessive alcohol consumption also leads to the loss of minerals such as zinc, calcium, and magnesium. 

During the detox process, the recovering alcoholic needs to increase their nutrient intake. They should take more foods containing essential nutrients, dietary fibre, and trace elements.

Recovering alcoholics should take foods rich in antioxidants, high-quality protein, complex carbohydrates (from whole wheat bread and pastas), and essential fatty acids. 

Iron is a vitamin that can be significantly depleted in the body of an alcoholic. Since iron helps the body move oxygen, low levels of it can affect you. You should take iron-rich foods such as organic chicken, lentils, and tofu. 

Weight gain is commonly associated with people struggling to quit alcohol. The body tries to compensate for the pleasurable feeling found in alcohol intake by indulging in junk food.

Such foods, however, lead to weight gain. Furthermore, they can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression as well as blood pressure fluctuations. 

A balanced diet assists the body with the recovery process. Such a diet also lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases, improves cognition and brain functioning, and lowers the chances of mood swings. 

The importance of nutrition in recovery 

Detoxification helps the body get rid of alcohol toxins. For the detox process to work, the recovering alcoholic needs to aid the body in the recovery process.

Nutrition is important in recovery as it provides the body with the energy and resources it needs for the recovery process. 

Alcohol damages parts of the brain and harms other parts of the body. By taking a well-balanced diet, the recovering alcoholic helps the body repair the damage. For instance, antioxidant-rich foods help with liver repair.  

Antioxidants such as glutathione found in cruciferous and allium vegetables help improve the damage done to the body and flush out the alcohol toxins. 


Anyone consuming alcohol needs to be informed that the habit leads to health problems. Alcohol consumption results in problems such as liver inflammation, high blood pressure, and digestive issues.  

Alcohol also disrupts proper brain function, making it difficult for one to make clear decisions. When you seek addiction treatment, one of the first professional medical advice you'll be offered is modifying your diet.

Most treatment facilities will have a dietician or a nutritional expert who will conduct a nutritional assessment to determine your nutritional status. Next, they will help you come up with a well-balanced diet for your recovery. 

Substance abuse results in decreased appetite as it suppresses the hormones that control appetite.  

When a person quits drinking, you experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as increased vomiting and diarrhoea also contribute to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  

The alcohol withdrawal syndrome you experience lead to problems such as hunger cravings and mood swings.  

By taking foods such as whole grains and those rich in complex carbohydrates you help the body counter the negative symptoms. Such foods positively affect mood.  

Also, foods high in vitamins and minerals help the recovering alcoholic flush out the alcohol toxins. These foods help clear the mind, thereby making it easy for you to think better. 

The body craves nutrients during the detox process. You help your body by taking the right foods and by avoiding foods that will delay recovery. 

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

Last Updated: October 27, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.