By Cynthia Perkins, M.Ed.

The correlation between alcoholism and nutrition is a crucial one to understand.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies among alcoholics are numerous and pose a threat not only to sobriety, but the alcoholic's overall mental and physical health.

To succeed in long-term recovery it is crucial to address these deficiencies, otherwise they may result in symptoms or consequences that drive the alcoholic to drink.

Additionally, their quality of life will be significantly lowered in response to deterioration in health.

There are seven primary ways that alcoholism and nutrition lead to deficiencies.


Chronic over consumption of alcohol causes inflammation to the stomach and digestive tract often resulting in gastritis or ulceration. This inflammation means that food is not digested properly and nutrients are not absorbed.

Loss of Appetite

Alcoholics often replace eating with drinking, so they aren't consuming enough nutrients to begin with. Alcohol is filled with empty calories that lead to a decrease in appetite.

Junk Food

When alcoholics do eat, they tend to gravitate towards quick and convenient junk food that is void of nutritional value rather than a whole and nutritious meal

Liver Damage

Long-term alcohol use damages the liver, which processes, stores and utilizes vitamins. This impedes the liver's ability to perform its functions adequately, limiting the body's capacity to access, absorb and metabolize nutrients.

Pancreas Damage

Excessive alcohol use also damages the pancreas, which leads to a decrease in digestive enzymes needed to break down food and assimilate nutrients.


To make matters worse, once deficiencies develop, they themselves perpetuate the problem even further by contributing to more difficulty with nutrient absorption.

Many nutrients are needed to protect the health of the digestive tract and ensure proper functioning.


Many alcoholics can't financially afford both food and alcohol, so they will choose the alcohol over the food.

Each of these issues commonly results in gross malnutrition among alcoholics, complicating their health even more.

Common Deficiencies Related to Alcoholism and Nutrition

Probably the most well known and researched vitamin deficiency related to alcoholism is vitamin B1 or thiamin, which results in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by mental confusion, apathy, lack of insight, poor memory, visual disturbances and impaired neuromuscular coordination.

However other common vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by alcoholism include folic acid, B6, B2, amino acids, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, P5P or pyridoxal-5-phosphate, acetyl coenzyme A, NAD, B3 or niacin, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin K and vitamin C, selenium, zinc, calcium and magnesium.

Nutritional deficiencies caused by alcoholism lead to malfunctioning of the brain, organs and systems, which can result in emotional instability, psychological disturbance, impaired cognitive functions, heart disease, hypoglycemia, insomnia, hypertension, headaches, diabetes and compromised immune system to name only a few.

If the alcoholic addresses these deficiencies in recovery, they increase their chances of maintaining sobriety and improve their overall health.

On the other hand, an important issue in the role of alcoholism and nutrition that many are not aware of is not only does alcoholism cause nutritional deficiencies, but deficiencies in vitamins and minerals lead to alcoholism. It is believed by many that a deficiency in vital nutrients is one of the root causes of alcoholism.

Nutritional deficiencies in the general population are rampant because of poor diet and environmental toxins.

These deficiencies lead to malfunctioning neurotransmitters and debilitating symptoms like depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, chronic pain and many more, which often push individuals to seek relief by anesthetizing themselves with alcohol or drugs.

When alcoholics are aware of the importance of alcoholism and nutrition, they can significantly increase their chances for successful long-term sobriety, improve their quality of life and improve their overall health.

Cynthia Perkins, M.Ed. is an author, holistic health counselor, sobriety coach and adult sex educator. She provides no hype, straight forward, down to earth, honest talk about holistic health, natural health and green living at her site Holistic Help or ask her a question at Holistic Health Talk Blog. Alternatively, learn about the science of addiction and how to achieve craving-free permanent sobriety at Alternatives for Alcoholism.

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