How to Avoid Weight Gain After Stopping Drugs

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Weight gain after stopping drugs is a common problem. Here’s why, and here’s what you can do about it.

Struggles with weight gain are common after treatment, with nearly 65 percent of people in rehab gaining some weight afterwards. Weight gain after stopping drugs can occur for a variety of reasons. Here’s why some people might gain weight after treatment and what you can do to prevent it.

The Most Common Reasons for Weight Gain After Stopping Drugs

Preventing weight gain after stopping drugs is an important focus in treatment. Research shows that weight gain in recovery can cause personal suffering that can lead to relaspe. Additionally, weight gain can reduce your health and energy level and contribute to serious diseases down the road.

But to understand how to prevent “sobriety weight gain,” it’s essential to understand why people gain weight after quitting drugs or alcohol.

Replacing drugs with food. Repeated drug use activates the brain’s reward center, triggering a release of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine. Processed foods with a lot of added sugar, fat, and salt act on the brain the same way. Some people may substitute drugs with food in order to get this dopamine rush, and this can lead to eating disorders and weight gain. Weight gain after opiate addiction is often attributed to replacing drugs with food.

A lack of impulse control. Heavy drug abuse can cause a reduction in the number of dopamine receptors in the brain’s reward center. This has an effect on your ability to control your impulses and regulate your emotions, which can lead to overeating.

Eating to reduce stress. A large body of research shows that stress is an important risk factor for overeating. For those with a genetic predisposition for obesity, stress eating can lead to major weight gain.

A higher risk of eating disorders. A history of drug or alcohol abuse is a risk factor for eating disorders and disordered eating. In fact, nearly one-quarter of all men and women who have binge eating disorder are also diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

An untreated mental illness. Depression and anxiety commonly lead to overeating, and treating these and other mental illnesses–including post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit disorder–is essential for successful recovery and avoiding sobriety weight gain.

Salt, fat, and sugar cravings. Studies show that people in recovery often crave foods high in salt, fat, and sugar. Giving in to these cravings may seem insignificant compared to abusing drugs. But repeatedly feeding your cravings for these unhealthy foods can lead to compulsive eating and weight gain after opiate addiction or addiction to other drugs.

Three Essential Ways to Prevent Weight Gain After Stopping Drugs

Preventing weight gain in recovery requires a three-pronged approach:

  1. Exercise. 

Exercise is absolutely key to both losing weight and preventing weight gain once you’re sober. For the best results, and to ward off numerous diseases, the Centers for Disease Control recommends getting 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five or more days a week. Exercise keeps your metabolism working efficiently, it burns extra calories that otherwise turn into fat, and it helps you maintain a stable mood, which can go a long way toward preventing overeating.

  1. Eat healthy food.

A healthy diet is also essential for preventing weight gain after stopping drugs. Avoid processed and packaged foods as much as possible. Instead, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Enjoy lean proteins like turkey, chicken, fish, and pork. Stay away from the drive-thru, and drink plenty of water each day.

  1. Stay mindful.

Mindfulness is key for avoiding weight gain in recovery. Pay attention to your eating habits and the foods you eat. Make conscious decisions each day to enjoy healthy foods that fuel your recovery. Staying mindful of your moods is also important for helping you stave off a comfort food binge. Address negative emotions through healthier avenues before they lead to unhealthy behaviors.

Don’t let the prospect of weight gain prevent you from getting the help you need to end an addiction. In treatment, you’ll learn about essential nutrition for recovery and develop healthy lifestyle habits that will support good health–and a healthy weight–in recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.