Nutrition Therapy in Adolescent Substance Use & Mental Health Treatment

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Guardian Recovery provides nutrition therapy as an important component in the treatment of adolescents struggling with substance use and psychological issues. This is intended to provide individuals with a nutritious, balanced diet that supports their overall wellness. Nutrition therapy is also designed to increase the effectiveness of other treatment methods, improve outcomes, and promote emotional regulation and the development of healthy coping skills.

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The Role of Proper Nutrition in Substance Use & Mental Health Treatment

Proper nutrition plays a key role in behavioral health by providing the brain and body with the essential nutrients needed for optimal functioning. A well-balanced diet can boost energy levels, strengthen immunity, improve sleep, and contribute to mood stability. These are all important factors in sustaining a long-lasting recovery.

Primary Goals of Nutritional Therapy Include:

  • Improving overall mental and physical wellness.
  • Managing existing health conditions.
  • Providing essential nutrients that aid in the body’s detoxification process.
  • Reducing cravings associated with withdrawal symptoms.
  • Improving cognitive function and emotional stability.
  • Providing education and promoting empowerment.
  • Enhancing the overall quality of life.

Nutrition Therapy in Holistic Treatment

By using a holistic approach to treatment that includes nutritional therapy, underlying nutritional deficiencies that contribute to behavioral health concerns can be addressed. Through personalized meal planning and dietary interventions, it can help young people develop a healthier relationship with food, make lifestyle changes more sustainable, and promote emotional well-being.

How Substance Use Affects the Physical & Mental Health of Teens

Physically, substance use can result in a wide range of issues, including liver damage, respiratory problems, a compromised immune system, and impaired growth and development. Mentally, it can also contribute to or worsen mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. It can also adversely affect cognitive abilities and academic performance. (1)

Malnutrition & Deficiencies

Malnutrition and deficiencies can be the result of substance use, which can interfere with nutrient absorption and metabolism. This can lead to imbalances in vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients, further exacerbating the adverse health consequences of drug and alcohol use. Examples include deficits in vitamins C, D, E, and minerals such as iron and zinc.

Unhealthy Eating Patterns & Co-Occurring Disorders

A decreased appetite or cravings for unhealthy foods can be signs of dysfunctional or erratic eating patterns. They can lead to an increased risk of developing or aggravating eating disorders, as well as the physical and psychological health effects associated with substance use. When this occurs, there is an increased need for dual diagnosis treatment that addresses multiple conditions simultaneously. Furthermore, the stress and emotional toll related to these conditions can result in the use of food as a coping method. 

Our Approach to Nutrition Therapy in Treatment

At Guardian Recovery, we take a comprehensive approach to nutrition therapy, including educating teens on the importance of eating balanced and nourishing meals while also addressing the core factors, such as emotional dysregulation, that contribute to disordered eating. By devising personalized meal plans and providing therapies that explore the underlying causes of unhealthy relationships with food, we can help young people positively improve their attitudes toward nutrition and its role in overall wellness.

Nutritional therapy is provided as a complement to other approaches we offer, including individual therapy, family therapy, and recreational activities.

Identifying Individual Dietary Needs

To help identify an individual’s nutritional needs, we perform detailed assessments that consider factors such as medical history, lifestyle, substance use, and specific dietary needs. In doing so, we can tailor meal plans to ensure teens receive the necessary nutrients to promote their growth and development. These plans are regularly evaluated and adjusted to ensure continued progress toward recovery goals.

Nutrition Assessment

Conducting a nutritional assessment is essential for understanding a client’s current eating habits, identifying deficiencies, and noting areas that could be improved. This includes examining their dietary patterns and performing lab tests to collect comprehensive information. We can then customize meal plans to address specific goals and support overall health.

Supporting Physical & Mental Health Through a Balanced Diet

Physical and psychological health can be supported by adopting a balanced diet and the nutrients needed for growth, development, energy, cognitive function, and emotional wellness. Ensuring that teens are provided with a range of nutrient-dense foods can increase their capacity to cope with stress and maintain a positive outlook on recovery and life itself. (2)

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Frequently Asked Questions

Many parents have concerns about specific issues that can affect their teens and want to clarify the goals and processes involved in nutritional therapy. Here we address some of these common issues, but you are still encouraged to reach out to us with any questions you might have.

What if My Child Has Allergies?

Exposure to allergens can be dangerous, and avoidance of these should absolutely be a priority in nutritional therapy. (3) A healthcare professional or registered dietitian can identify alternative food options to ensure your teen still receives the nutrients they need while avoiding potential allergens and cross contamination. Nutrition needs can still be met through meal planning specific to each client’s susceptibility to allergies or food sensitivities.

How Do I Support a Proper Diet for My Child After Treatment?

Supporting a healthy diet for your teen can be achieved through regular communication with a healthcare professional to monitor their progress and make any applicable adjustments. Also, it’s recommended that they be involved in meal planning and preparation to improve the likelihood that they will adhere to their dietary needs.

Can My Child’s Unhealthy Diet Be Related to Substance Use?

Substance use is a known contributor to poor diet and malnutrition. It’s not uncommon for teens who use drugs or alcohol to experience increased or decreased appetite or have cravings for “fast” and unhealthy foods. When using substances becomes a priority, nutrition typically takes a backseat, and deficiencies are difficult to remedy. Heavy drinking is a good example of this, as it depletes several nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamins C, D, and E, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium. (4)

Is Nutrition Therapy & Diet Tailored to Each Individual in the Treatment Program?

Because individuals have different needs and preferences, a tailored approach to dietary planning can address any specific deficiencies or dietary needs that may contribute to various physical and mental health issues. Progress monitoring allows for further adjustments to treatment plans if needed to achieve nutritional goals.

Can Nutrition Therapy Help My Child Recover Physically From Substance Use?

When teens are provided with a nutritious and well-balanced diet, much of the physical damage caused by substance use can be reversed. Furthermore, immunity, energy levels, and overall physical health can be significantly improved. Fortunately, younger people tend to be more resilient in terms of physical health and do not have decades of experience with heavy drinking or drug use.

Does Nutrition Therapy Address My Child’s Unhealthy Eating Patterns?

A registered nutritionist can help identify and address disordered eating habits that have emerged due to physical or psychological health conditions. They can provide suggestions on how to integrate more nutritious dietary choices and empower clients to help with meal planning. Other approaches can provide insight into these issues, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

How Will the Nutritional Needs of My Child Be Determined?

A comprehensive assessment will be provided that includes an evaluation of the client’s medical history, current eating habits, bodily characteristics, and specific dietary limitations or allergies. Furthermore, factors such as age, gender, activity level, and overall health are considered to ensure their nutritional needs are being met.

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Our Straightforward Admissions Process

Guardian Recovery provides comprehensive, evidence-based treatment options for adolescents needing behavioral health services. During our streamlined admissions process, your teen receives a complimentary health assessment. This will be used to identify the presence of substance use and other mental health issues and determine which level of care may be most appropriate. We also offer no-obligation health insurance benefits checks to help parents identify which services their policy covers. 

We understand that asking for help for your teen is not always easy and that finding the right treatment can be challenging. We try to make the entire treatment process simple and easy to understand as we strive to ensure each young person we treat reaches their recovery and wellness goals. Contact us today for more information and to help you and your teen get started on your journey to a healthier, happier life.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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