Why Did I Gain Weight After Quitting Drugs?

Many changes take place after you quit drugs. Some are pleasant changes, such as improved cognition and having more energy. Others, like gaining weight and feeling symptoms of anxiety and depression, are not so pleasant. Here is an overview of why some people gain weight after quitting drugs and how several substances contribute to this problem. If you are considering recovery yourself, we provide some strategies to prevent this from happening in the first place. Remember that this is not medical advice, and you should always discuss nutritional changes with your doctor before making them.

The Body’s Reaction to Drug and Alcohol Use

Consuming substances like cocaine, heroin, or even alcohol changes the nervous system and the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. These changes can lead to appetite suppression and metabolic alteration. This means that it takes longer for you to feel full when eating, and your metabolism may take longer.

Appetite Suppression

Cocaine suppresses your appetite by affecting dopamine reuptake inhibition. This means that the drug primarily works by inhibiting the reuptake of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, in the brain. The elevated levels of dopamine create a heightened sense of euphoria and energy, which can suppress hunger signals and reduce the desire to eat. It also affects other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. These are neurotransmitters that play roles in mood regulation and appetite. Elevated norepinephrine levels increase alertness and energy, further diminishing the feeling of hunger.

A woman holds a model of the digestive system.
Chronic drug use can lead to metabolic alterations.

Heroin works by activating the opioid receptors in the brain. The use of this substance also produces constipation. The binding of heroin to the mu-opioid receptors in the brain leads to a decrease in the sensation of hunger and the need to eat. This is so because these receptors are involved in regulating reward and pleasure. This ends up overshadowing the body’s hunger signals.

Alcohol works by stimulating the appetite. This often leads to increased food intake while drinking. If drinking sessions occur frequently, this can easily lead to weight gain, especially since people under the influence don’t usually turn to nutritious food but to greasy, sugary options.

Metabolic Alteration

Consuming substances like cocaine, heroin, or alcohol also alters the metabolism of any individual. This means that people with a fast metabolism can start to experience a slower metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.

Cocaine alters someone’s metabolism by increasing metabolic rate and reducing fat storage. The stimulatory effects of cocaine on the central nervous system lead to an increase in metabolic rate. This results in higher energy expenditure, as the body uses more calories to maintain the heightened state of alertness and activity induced by the drug. Chronic use of cocaine can also lead to a reduction in fat storage due to the increased breakdown of fat stores to provide energy.

Alcohol alters a person’s metabolism by altering the metabolism of glucose, causing fatty liver disease and contributing to calories consumed. Alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels. It can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can trigger feelings of hunger initially but ultimately disrupt normal metabolic processes. Prolonged alcohol consumption can cause fatty liver disease, where fat builds up in the liver, impairing its function. This can alter overall metabolism and energy production. Additionally, alcohol provides a significant number of empty calories (7 calories per gram), which can contribute to weight gain if not balanced by adequate nutrient intake.

A tower of pancakes with caramel, a side of whipped cream, blueberries, and strawberries on top.
Some withdrawal symptoms may have you reaching for sugary food.

Heroin alters metabolism by reducing metabolic rate, causing nutritional deficiencies, and wasting muscle. Unlike stimulants, heroin tends to depress the central nervous system, leading to a reduced metabolic rate. This means the body’s energy expenditure is lower, and fewer calories are burned. Chronic heroin users often suffer from poor nutrition and malnutrition due to decreased appetite and neglect of proper eating habits. This can lead to significant metabolic imbalances and weight loss. Prolonged heroin use can lead to muscle wasting (cachexia) due to the body’s reliance on muscle proteins for energy in the absence of adequate nutrition.

Withdrawal Syndrome and Weight Gain

Withdrawal from drugs can indeed lead to weight gain in some cases. The extent of this weight gain depends on the specific drug and individual body characteristics.

Alcohol Withdrawal

During chronic alcohol use, individuals may consume less nutritious food as a portion of their calories comes from alcohol. After quitting alcohol, they might continue to eat the same amount of food without the caloric contribution from alcohol, leading to increased calorie intake. Additionally, chronic alcohol use can impair nutrient absorption. After quitting, the body may better absorb and utilize nutrients, potentially causing weight gain if food intake is not adjusted accordingly.

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioids can suppress appetite and lower metabolic rates. After quitting, individuals may experience an increased appetite as their appetite returns to normal. As the body adjusts during withdrawal, metabolism normalizes. However, if food intake increases disproportionately, weight gain can occur. To effectively manage these changes and support a healthy recovery, individuals can seek help from opiate detox treatment in PA, which offers comprehensive care and strategies to address appetite and metabolic adjustments during withdrawal.

Stimulant Withdrawal

Stimulants significantly suppress appetite and increase metabolic rate and physical activity levels. When individuals stop using these drugs, they often experience intense hunger and increased food intake. The reduction in metabolic rate and physical activity during withdrawal can contribute to weight gain if calorie intake is not correspondingly reduced.

Withdrawal symptoms are addressed during substance abuse treatment in Pennsylvania, and understanding these changes can help manage potential weight gain effectively.

Behavioral Changes that May Make You Gain Weight After Quitting Drugs

Quitting drugs can lead to behavioral changes affecting food intake. Some people turn to overeating or binging food as a way to cope with negative emotions during recovery. There are also changes in your routine that may affect your weight during recovery.

Rebound Appetite

Some drugs, like opioids and nicotine, suppress your appetite while you’re taking them. This can often have a rebound effect when you quit them. This leads to a significant increase in calorie intake and may lead to overeating and weight gain, especially if you turn to fatty, sugary foods. One way to counteract this is healthy eating.

Oral Substitution

Individuals might replace the habit of drug use with eating, particularly snacking. The act of eating can serve as a substitute for the oral fixation that was previously satisfied by smoking, drinking, or other drug use. This may also lead to overeating and weight gain.

Changes in Routine

Withdrawal and the process of quitting drugs can disrupt regular eating schedules. Irregular eating patterns can lead to overeating or binge eating when meals are finally consumed. Recovery often involves social support, which can include social eating situations. Increased participation in social events centered around food can lead to higher calorie consumption.

a woman in therapy asking her therapist if she will gain weight after quitting drugs
Some people may turn to overeating to cope with negative emotions.

Psychological Factors

Quitting drugs and other addictive substances and behaviors is a complex psychological process. The factors within this process that may contribute to weight gain include mental health and coping mechanisms. The process of quitting drugs is highly stressful. Stress hormones like cortisol can increase appetite, particularly for high-calorie, sugary, and fatty foods. This stress-induced eating can lead to weight gain.

Withdrawal from certain drugs often produces anxiety. To cope with feelings of nervousness and unease, individuals may turn to food for comfort and distraction, leading to overeating. Other people may express depression symptoms during withdrawal. This may lead to overeating or comfort eating, which can cause weight gain. Other individuals may turn to food as a way to control their mood swings.

Drugs often provide a sense of pleasure and reward. After quitting, individuals lose this source of pleasure and may seek out other rewarding activities, such as eating, to fill the void. Many drugs affect the brain’s dopamine pathways, which are involved in reward and pleasure. After quitting, individuals may experience a deficiency in dopamine, leading them to seek out food, particularly sugary and fatty foods, which can stimulate dopamine release.

Overeating can also be a coping strategy. Food can become a primary coping mechanism for dealing with the emotional and psychological stress of quitting drugs. Emotional eating often involves consuming large amounts of high-calorie, comforting foods.

Drug use can impair self-control and decision-making abilities. Even after quitting, individuals may struggle with impulsive behaviors, including impulsive eating. Individuals in recovery may experience strong cravings for food, similar to drug cravings. These food cravings can be difficult to resist and can lead to overeating.

Medication-Induced Weight Gain After Quitting Drugs

Some medications used to treat withdrawal symptoms or co-occurring mental health conditions (such as antidepressants or antipsychotics) can have side effects that include weight gain and increased appetite. These medications are often necessary to help manage withdrawal symptoms and stabilize mental health during recovery, but they can contribute to unwanted weight gain. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, but don’t hesitate to discuss weight gain as a concern during your next visit. Your healthcare provider can help you explore alternatives or adjustments to your treatment plan to mitigate this side effect.

Additionally, prescription drug addiction treatment often includes a comprehensive approach that addresses not only the addiction but also its side effects, including weight management. Engaging in a structured treatment program can provide the support and resources needed to balance medication side effects while maintaining overall health.

Four smoothies of different colors, a small plate of granola in the middle, an apple, and raspberries.
Keep nutritious snacks at hand during recovery.

Management Strategies

Especially in the context of drug rehab, refrain from thinking about your behavior with food as something that’s completely in your control. Sure, willpower and discipline do count for something. But, without the right help from your medical team, it can be easy to overeat, especially if you feel it’s the only way in which you can refrain from relapsing. Here are some tips to take into consideration. Please note that this isn’t medical advice, and you should always discuss your nutrition with your medical team first before making any changes:

Use Mindfulness Techniques to Start Picking Up on Hunger Cues Again

A general rule for good nutrition is to only eat when hungry. However, after consuming drugs such as opioids, which suppress hunger, your relationship with your body may be strained. You may need to relearn how hunger cues feel on your body once again. Regularly check in with your body and notice how your emotions manifest as physical signals.

If some emotions elicit hunger or cravings for certain foods, don’t judge that urge; note it so you can notice patterns earlier. Have compassion with yourself as you relearn what it’s like to know when you’re hungry. If you want to heal your brain after addiction, being compassionate with yourself is a skill you need to adopt.

Focus on Eating Nutritious Food

Never underestimate the importance of proper nutrition during drug rehab. Even though sometimes your cravings for food high in sugar or fat can be too strong, make it a priority to only eat nutritious food when you are hungry or even when you have a craving or want to eat out of boredom. Whole-grain carbs, unprocessed meats, fresh fruit and vegetables, and good-quality, non-sugary dairy products will keep you fuller for longer. These choices will keep you fuller for longer and provide essential vitamins and nutrients needed to rebuild muscle mass.

Keep healthy snacks on hand and try to avoid bringing processed, fatty, or sugary foods into your home. If you have a strong craving, buy small, individual portions instead of stocking up on unhealthy options.

a person lifting weights wondering how not to gain weight after quitting drugs
Regular exercise, if allowed, can help you prevent weight gain during recovery.

Don’t Restrict Your Diet Unnecessarily

When in recovery from a substance use disorder, refrain from trying experimental diets like keto or intermittent fasting. It can be dangerous to try these without medical supervision. What is more, restricting your food intake outside medically necessary restrictions can make your recovery process even more difficult. You may be missing nutrients from the foods you are restricting that you are not adequately replacing. You may end up craving the restricted foods also, which may lead to overeating and binging.


When your medical team at rehab in Wilkes Barre PA, allows you, start exercising again, even if it’s only in small quantities or very gentle activities. This will keep your weight in check, even if you end up overeating occasionally. There are many advantages to exercising other than keeping your weight in check, though. It will also improve your mental health, help you sleep better, and help you make a better, speedier recovery.

Don’t push yourself too hard, though, and participate in activities that are pleasurable to you. Not everyone enjoys the gym, though some do thrive in the structure, predictable routine it provides. Some people prefer to go on runs or hikes. Others take up dance, yoga, or Pilates lessons. Try many types of exercise if you are not sure what you like until you find one you genuinely enjoy and stick to that.

Three big bowls of yogurt with granola and fresh fruit, each with a side of waffles.
Never underestimate the importance of healthy nutrition during drug rehab.

Overcoming Weight Gain in Drug Recovery

Quitting drugs can sometimes lead to weight gain due to various chemical, behavioral, and psychological factors. The body’s chemical changes after quitting drugs can contribute to weight gain and shifts in behavior and mindset during recovery may also play a role.

Many people do gain weight after quitting drugs, but don’t let the fear of this prevent you from seeking the help you need. Effective management strategies are available to help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent relapse. The first crucial step is asking for help. Drug rehab in Scranton, PA, offers comprehensive support and resources to guide you through recovery and help you manage your weight effectively. Take the first step towards a healthier, drug-free life today.

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