Effects of Alcohol and Illicit Drugs and Vitamins
By: Dr. George Obikoya
Alcohol, hashish, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, methadone, LSD, Ritalin, and Phencyclidine are all different chemical compounds with different, potentially harmful properties but they have something in common - they are all drugs of abuse.
What are the effects of these drugs on vitamins and vitamin levels? Do they reduce the effectiveness of vitamins? Do they make vitamins completely ineffective? Should someone be taking vitamins while taking alcohol and illicit drugs?
The simple answer to these questions is that many chemical substances, both licit and illicit, can influence the functions of vitamins as well as body systems. In our society, drinking alcohol is a very acceptable form of socializing and relaxation. A glass of beer can satisfy a genuine thirst (well, it actually dehydrates the body), while a glass of wine can make a special meal more pleasurable, and a measure of spirit can be a welcome relaxant after a hard day's work.
Going to the pub means contact with friends, and social life is important for everyone. Yet, we all know the damaging effects of alcohol if taken in excess. Indeed, chronic alcohol abuse will quite strongly prevent the absorption of vitamins and is often associated with poor diet, which means affected individuals are not getting enough vitamins in the first place. This only makes things worse.
Alcohol interferes with the nutritional process by affecting digestion, storage, utilization, and excretion of nutrients.1
Vitamins are essential to maintaining growth and normal metabolism because they regulate many physiological processes. Chronic heavy drinking is associated with deficiencies in many critical vitamins because of decreased food ingestion and, in some cases, impaired absorption, metabolism, and utilization.2
For example, alcohol inhibits fat absorption and thereby impairs absorption of the vitamins A, E, and D that are normally absorbed along with dietary fats 3. Vitamin A deficiency can be associated with night blindness, and vitamin D deficiency is associated with softening of the bones. Deficiency in such a broad range of vitamins can seem overwhelming, but with the help of a liquid multivitamin you can achieve the desired results in just a few seconds every day.
Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins, which are also deficient in some alcoholics, are all involved in wound healing and cell maintenance 4. This can make cuts and bruises harder to heal in heavy drinkers.
In particular, because vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting, deficiencies of that vitamin can cause delayed clotting and result in excess bleeding. Deficiencies of other vitamins involved in brain function can cause severe neurological damage.
Deficiencies of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc are common in alcoholics, but alcohol itself does not seem to affect the absorption of these minerals 5. Rather, deficiencies seem to occur secondary to other alcohol-related problems: decreased calcium absorption due to fat malabsorption; magnesium deficiency due to decreased intake, increased urinary excretion, vomiting, and diarrhea; iron deficiency related to gastrointestinal bleeding; and zinc malabsorption or losses related to other nutrient deficiencies.
Mineral deficiencies can cause a variety of medical consequences from calcium-related bone disease to zinc-related night blindness and skin lesions.
The increasing use of marijuana both for recreational and medicinal purposes, can have unwanted side effects on nutrition. For example, in Marinol (the prescription grade THC), the question of the effects of marijuana on vitamins becomes quite pertinent. A recent study that examined the dietary intakes and nutritional status of marijuana users and non-marijuana users using a national representative sample of U.S. adults 20 to 59 years old seems to provide the answer.
The study concluded that higher consumption of sodium, lower fruit and vegetable intake, lower serum carotenoid levels, higher alcohol intake, higher cigarette use and the compounded carcinogenic effects of marijuana place marijuana users at a higher future risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. In general, substance abuse harms the body in two distinct ways: via the effect of the substance itself and via negative lifestyle changes, such as irregular eating habits and poor dietary intake. You can beat these habits with the help of a supplement regimen, which is available most efficiently in a liquid multivitamin.
For example, infants who were exposed to alcohol while in the womb often have physical defects and mental disabilities. In this case, the growing fetus has deficits both directly caused by the substance crossing the placenta and indirectly due to inadequate nutrition including lackof vitamins and minerals of the mother while she was drinking. Opiates, which include codeine, heroin, and morphine, affect the gastrointestinal system. A very common symptom of abuse includes constipation. Symptoms common during withdrawal include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, which may lead to deficiencies in nutrients, including vitamins and minerals and electrolyte imbalances such as of sodium, potassium, and chloride.
Stimulant use, including use of crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine, results in a significant decrease in appetite, weight loss, and eventual malnutrition. Abusers of these drugs may stay up for days at a time and suffer dehydration and electrolyte imbalances during these prolonged episodes. Returning to normal diet can be difficult if there has been profound weight loss.
A good multivitamin is the foundation of health and nutrition. Take a look at our scientific reviews of many of the popular brands for factors such as ingredients, areas of improvement, quality level, and overall value. If you are looking for a high quality liquid multivitamin, we suggest that you take a look at the Multivitamin Product Comparisons.
1. Lieber, C.S. The influence of alcohol on nutritional status. Nutrition Reviews 46(7):241-254, 1988
2. Lieber, C.S. Alcohol and nutrition: An overview. Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):197-205, 1989.
3. Leo, M.A., and Lieber, C.S. Alcohol and vitamin A. Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):250-254, 1989.
4. Tortora, G.J., and Anagnostakos, N.P., eds. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. 5th ed. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1987.
5. Marsano, L., and McClain, C.J. Effects of alcohol on electrolytes and minerals. Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):255-260, 1989.