Clinical observations reveal a high incidence of malnutrition in substance use disorder patients. The literature supports these observations and further reveals the need for systematic investigation of the link between alcohol use/abuse, other substance abuse and nutritional status. In general, the United States, although a nation with abundant food sources, has a high incidence of undernourishment. This paper provides an explanation of the importance of treating malnutrition in the substance abuse disorder patient population, summarizes the research on this issue, and provides recommendations for improved nursing care and treatment. Key recommendations include conducting a nutritional status assessment and instituting patient education as a treatment protocol.
The Certified Addictions Registered Nurse and/for Certified Addictions Registered Nurse-Advanced Practice (CARN-AP), in collaboration with a Registered Dietitian is aware of the symptoms of malnutrition in the patient with substance abuse disorder and can provide the pharmacological and nutritional intervention required for physical stabilization. Provided with the appropriate tool (noted in this article) nurses of all levels of education are able to screen for the condition of malnutrition and appropriately refer.
Further research is necessary to improve understanding of the most effective treatment interventions needed for the patient with substance abuse diagnosis. For example, in addition to the frequently undiagnosed condition of malnutrition, poor dental condition is often another consequence of substance abuse disorder. Poor dental condition in this population is a condition frequent and serious enough to be a topic for another article. Loss of bone density decreased immune response, increased incidence of dental caries, and decreased interest in personal hygiene, all of which are a direct consequence of substance abuse, as well as increased incidence of dental caries and decreased interest in personal hygiene, can result in a chronic condition of gingivitis and bacterial endocarditis. Nutritional and dental status are only a few of the conditions associated with substance abuse disorder which, if not addressed, can result in undermining of treatment.