Medical Nutrition Therapy for Co-Occurring Disorders

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Co-occurring disorders typically involve the existence of more than one mental illness, or the combination of a mental illness alongside substance abuse. Because many of the characteristics and behavioral traits of mental illnesses are similar and impact analogous regions of the brain, it is not unlikely for co-occurring disorders to develop.

Because of the complexity involved with mental illness, treatment must be approached holistically and involve multiple specialties. While treatment can vary from acute care to outpatient care and everything in between, approaching mental illnesses often entails many different aspects, including medical stability, rehabilitation, psychotherapy, and medical nutrition therapy.

A Therapeutic Approach to Treating Medical Conditions

Medical nutrition therapy can be defined as a therapeutic approach to treating medical conditions and associated symptoms through the use of a diet and nutrition. Medical nutrition therapy is executed and monitored by a registered dietitian, who is a healthcare professional specifically trained in the practice.

When used as a part of an integrated approach to healing from co-occurring disorders, medical nutrition therapy can play an important role in recovery and wellness.

Getting Back to Balanced Eating to Restore Lost Vitamins

For individuals struggling with substance abuse as a primary diagnosis, their physical well-being can be severely compromised due to alcohol and/or drug abuse. When drugs and alcohol are prioritized over food and good nutrition, an individual is at risk for a host of complications.

Medical nutrition therapy often involves implementing a diet that offers balanced nutrition and that helps an individual replenish lost stores of vitamins, minerals, hydration, protein, and other essential nutrients.

Working with a Registered Dietitian

Two fried eggs on white plate for healthy breakfastWorking with a registered dietitian can be a crucial component of your treatment team and recovery from co-occurring disorders and substance abuse. Registered dietitians are often an integral part of professional treatment teams and available through several treatment programs.

If you or someone you care for is interested in working with a registered dietitian, be sure to inquire with your treatment team about this service that may be available to you. If you have concerns about your nutrition status or are looking for guidance with your diet, it is also possible to work with a registered dietitian in an outpatient setting.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with medical nutrition therapy? How did this assist you through your recovery from co-occurring disorders?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 2nd, 2015
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