Alternative Medicines for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction

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.)

Acupuncture for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction

The ancient Chinese science of acupuncture has earned widespread regard in America as an effective treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. Success rates can be as high as 50 percent of patients treated.

Acupuncture looks at addiction as an imbalance in the flow of the body's vital life energy, or qi, particularly on the kidney, liver, or nervous system meridians (channels). Using tiny needles inserted in particular acupuncture points on the body, this therapy works to correct the qi imbalances. Not only does this ease or eliminate withdrawal symptoms, but the patient's mind is then prepared to tackle some of the factors that led to the addiction.

Auriculotherapy, a form of acupuncture that treats the entire body through points on the ears, is particularly recommended for addiction treatment. Treatment usually consists of several months of acupuncture sessions coupled with counseling and lifestyle modifications.

One clinical study done in Minneapolis tested acupuncture therapy on the ear of people with severe alcoholism. Patients who received fake acupuncture therapy had more than twice the number of relapses into drinking than those who received real acupuncture therapy.

Acupuncturists, traditional Chinese physicians, some naturopathic and osteopathic physicians, and even a few medical doctors are trained to give acupuncture treatments.

Guided Imagery and Creative Visualization for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction

Guided Imagery and Creative Visualization for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction

Many people who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs started using these substances as a way to relax, ease tension, or improve self-esteem and confidence. Guided imagery and creative visualization can teach people to reach these ideals without the assistance of harmful toxins.

For example, a treatment session can consist of a patient picturing the positive results of a drug-free state (from the concrete, such as clear, shiny, pink, breathing airways, to the abstract, such as beams of light radiating from the lungs), as well as the negative aspects of a drug-induced state.

Breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques are used to clear the mind as a way to maximize these imagery exercises. The mental exercises can also give the mind negative suggestions about the particular alcohol or drug so that the next time the substance is consumed the body produces unpleasant effects. (This is similar to conventional medicine's drugs that produce unwanted side effects whenever alcohol is consumed.)

Progressive muscle relaxation is often performed before a guided imagery exercise as a way of "warming up." It involves letting go of tension in small, isolated steps until you are relaxed.

After you're relaxed, imagine and revel in the positive aspects of sobriety -- healthy liver, clear mind, proud loved ones -- and picture the degrading, unhealthy aspects of addiction. These exercises, which can be scripted more precisely by a practitioner, can reinforce the will to sobriety.

Other Alcoholism & Drug Addiction Therapies

Other Alcoholism & Drug Addiction Therapies

  • Biofeedback Training for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction -- The training, together with relaxation techniques, can help bring relaxation and reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Chiropractic Therapy for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction -- Adjustments and manipulations can correct any disturbances that may be contributing to physical withdrawal symptoms.
  • Homeopathy for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction -- There are several common remedies for different addictions and different types of addicts.
  • Hypnotherapy for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction -- Hypnotic trances can give the subconscious mind suggestions of new ways to behave -- important in maintaining abstinence.
  • Meditation for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction -- Regular meditation can encourage relaxation and lessen some withdrawal symptoms.

For more information on alcoholism, drug addiction, and alternative medicine, see: