Nutritional Deficiencies in Alcoholics: What Should You Know?

The arguably overused phrase “you are what you eat” may fill people on a healthy-eating kick with joy, but it can be downright scary if you’ve recently stopped drinking.

Alcohol abuse is among the most common causes of nutritional deficiencies in developed nations, and study after study has shown that alcoholics often have low blood vitamin levels.

That’s explained easily — if a significant percentage of your calories come from alcohol, you’re in trouble. The alcohol, water, and sugar you find in booze define the term “empty calories.” Besides, heavy drinking actively interferes with the body’s ability to process, store, and use the nutrients you get.

People who have recently stopped drinking may, as such, be left with a nutritional profile that could heavily benefit from some tweaks.

Why Is Focusing on Nutrition So Important in Early Recovery?

Contrary to the saying, we’re more than what we eat and drink — we’re also what we think, believe, and experience, who we know, and what we dream of achieving. That said, our bodies depend on good “fuel” for all those essential tasks.

A healthy and balanced diet that includes foods from all major food groups in the right amounts helps us get or stay healthy, energetic, and optimistic. If you’re missing essential nutrients, taking steps to improve your diet can be transformative.

How Can You Learn More About Your Nutritional Status After You Stop Drinking?

We aim to be a resource for everyone ready to embrace an alcohol-free lifestyle. Some readers have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (alcoholism), while others have fallen into a habit of binge drinking or other risky drinking patterns.

Not everyone will need the same kind of nutritional support — but you may not know where you stand.

We’d encourage everyone who knows they had an alcohol problem and who has recently become sober to talk to their primary care provider about getting a nutritional screening blood test to discover if they have any dietary deficiencies. This step can help ensure a safe recovery.

Having an honest conversation with your doctor about your diet is especially important if:

  • You have been diagnosed with liver cirrhosis (scarring) or other liver disease.
  • You have recently lost a lot of weight without trying.
  • You have been a heavy drinker for many years.

Knowing where you stand allows you and your doctor to develop a personalized plan to get your diet and your health back on track.

Next, we’ll explore the nutritional deficiencies most commonly seen in alcoholics, and which people in early recovery can greatly benefit from remedying.

Note that vitamin and mineral supplements can be extremely beneficial for recovering alcoholics, but starting your own supplementation regimen isn’t necessarily a good idea. Taking a daily multivitamin is safe for most people, but it’s always better to talk about any major changes you make with your doctor.

B Vitamins

Vitamin B deficiencies are especially common in alcoholics. Because the body can’t store these vitamins, your health depends on eating foods rich in B vitamins regularly. B1, B2, and B9 deficiencies are most frequently seen, for a variety of reasons:

  • Not getting enough in your diet because a large portion of your daily calories comes from alcohol.
  • An increased demand for B vitamins results from heavy drinking.
  • Alcohol interferes with nutrient absorption in the digestive tract.
  • Alcohol disrupts your metabolism.

Each B vitamin plays a unique role in your health, but all are essential for a healthy nervous system and good energy levels.

Good sources of B vitamins include nuts, bananas, oranges, peas, wholegrain foods, milk, eggs, and meat (including liver).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for healthy cells and wound healing. Because drinking alcohol increases the rate at which this vitamin is expelled from the body, many alcoholics are deficient. Good food sources include citrus foods, peppers, broccoli, and potatoes.

Vitamin D

You need vitamin D for strong bones and a healthy immune system, but heavy drinking impairs the body’s ability to process it. Vitamin D (which also helps your body absorb calcium) is the only vitamin you can get directly from the sun, so spending time outdoors is a good idea — but you can also get vitamin D from fatty fish, red meat, egg yolks, and liver.

Vitamin E

This vitamin keeps your skin, eyes, and immune system healthy, healing your body from the damage inflicted by free radicals and oxidative stress. Nuts and seeds, plant oils, and wheat germ are all excellent natural sources.

How Can You Improve Your Diet if You Don’t Have a Strong Appetite?

If you’re in the early stages of recovery, your appetite will start picking up soon enough. In the meantime, you can work toward a diet that contains a healthy balance of meat or other proteins, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products in small steps.

Many people find it helpful to eat smaller meals more often. This could be a useful approach if you’re often unable to finish your entire meal. A handful of nuts, some fruit (a banana, for example), or eggs on toast are all good ideas if you have a low appetite.

People in recovery who would like to focus on a well-rounded diet can explore nutritional apps that don’t just look at calories but also macros — the major nutrient groups. Macronutrients include protein, carbs, and fat, and tracking whether you’re getting enough of each is a simple way to improve your health.

What to Do if You Suffer From Nutritional Deficiencies

If you had a nutritional screening test that discovered nutritional deficiencies, your doctor will be able to help you develop a plan to remedy them.

You may be prescribed supplements. If so, take them.

You may be able to correct your deficiencies through a healthy diet, as well. In this case, ask your doctor if supplementation could benefit you and be open and honest about your current diet. A nutritionist can sometimes be a valuable part of your recovery plan, especially if you’re not sure how to start eating for improved health. Take advantage of the opportunity to work with one if you can.

In Conclusion

Recovery from alcohol abuse is different for everyone, but nutritional deficiencies are far from rare.  Your healing process may include medical treatment for alcohol addiction, recovery support groups, and psychological help — but you can nearly always also benefit from paying close attention to the foods you need.

Are we what we eat? Not exactly, but eating right can certainly improve our mental and physical health. Discovering whether you are dealing with any nutritional deficiencies, and taking steps to improve your health, can make an instant impact on your overall wellbeing.

Martijn van Eijk
Martijn is a passionate creator and the driving force behind He created this website to assist individuals and their families in conquering alcohol addiction and finding a joyful, fulfilling life after alcohol. With a deep understanding of the challenges they face, he empowers readers with valuable insights and practical guidance on their journey towards recovery. Author of the Stop Shaking Book.