Tried and True

Joining the well-known self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous, which offers support and advice on how to live without alcohol, is often thought by both conventional and alternative medicine to be one of the most effective ways to maintain sobriety. Started in 1935, the group counts an estimated half-million members worldwide.

Addiction to alcohol or other drugs (from barbiturates to cocaine) is a physical and emotional dependence on that substance and the effects it produces. It involves a loss of control, often causing devastating effects on all aspects of the individual's life, including work, family, and health.

Many alternative therapists assert that conventional medicine's treatment program for addiction fails to support the body adequately as it withdraws from the once-steady presence of alcohol or other drugs. The following therapies attempt to offer that support. They are often used in combination with counseling and other support programs that address any underlying psychological causes of addiction.

Nutritional Therapy for Alcoholism & Drug Addition

Nutritional Therapy for Alcoholism & Drug Addition

People with alcohol or drug addiction are usually malnourished and have suffered some damage to the body, such as liver damage. Nutritional therapy attempts to correct any nutritional shortcomings and to help the body eliminate toxins.

Several supplements can aid in the detoxification process, including zinc and vitamin C. People with alcohol addiction are often deficient in these nutrients anyway, as alcoholism can severely affect a person's judgment about diet and can limit the body's ability to absorb certain nutrients.

Alcohol and drug use may increase the body's load of free radicals, compounds that can damage tissues. Antioxidants are, therefore, recommended for their ability to neutralize free radicals. Nutrients that are antioxidants include:

  • beta-carotene
  • vitamins C and E
  • zinc
  • selenium

Alcoholics are almost always deficient in the B vitamins, particularly vitamin B1 (thiamine). In fact, this deficiency is responsible for many of the behaviors exhibited by severe alcoholics. Thiamine levels need to be restored during rehabilitation, which often requires injections of the vitamin at least initially.

Other helpful supplements are quite numerous, including calcium and magnesium.

The majority of people with alcohol addiction have a state of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Unanswered is which came first: Did the addiction and resulting malnutrition bring on hypoglycemia, or did a previous state of hypoglycemia set up a type of craving for alcohol? Either way, to remedy low blood sugar:

  • Significantly increase the intake of unrefined complex carbohydrates, including whole grains and fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Avoid all sugars, from corn syrup to fruit juices.
  • Reduce the intake of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread.

As these dietary changes are made, many practitioners of nutritional therapy recommend adding more protein and supplementing with the B complex, chromium, and vitamin C.

Herbal Medicine for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction

Herbal Medicine for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction

Herbs can ease some alcohol or drug withdrawal symptoms (from anxiety to insomnia) and help detoxify the body. They also may be used to reduce the addicted person's craving for alcohol and other drugs.

Especially helpful are herbs that influence the nervous system, gently encouraging a relaxed and sedated state. These include catnip, chamomile, peppermint, and skullcap, which can be used together as a tea. To replace mild depression with a state of calmness, St. John's wort is often prescribed.

For detoxification, several herbs contribute to cleansing the blood, including burdock root and echinacea (purple coneflower). Others such as milk thistle, which contains silymarin, support the liver -- the main toxin-filtering organ -- and may help prevent drug-induced damage to this organ.

Kudzu root, often prescribed as a bitter tea, has long been used by traditional Chinese doctors to reduce the appetite for alcohol. Recent animal research suggests that alcohol-free kudzu root extract can cut the consumption of alcohol in half. (The patients in this study, however, were a breed of hamsters.)