Are You Addicted? A Natural Approach to Alcoholism

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Alcoholism in women has become a serious problem in our society. You may know one of the millions of North American women who suffers. Many clinicians blame this disease on emotional rather than biochemical causes. This biased perception fails to take into account the uniqueness of female metabolism.

A comprehensive program that utilizes natural medicine in addition to psychological counseling can lead to successful long-term treatment. The best way to alter body chemistry and prevent or treat alcoholism is through natural therapies.

Nutritional Support

Alcoholism is associated with nutritional deficiencies. There is evidence which shows that by improving nutritional status one can reduce the craving for alcohol. Minimizing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and organ damage associated with alcohol toxicity can also be achieved. Research has shown the following nutrients are beneficial in treatment:

B vitamins -- B(1), B(6) and B(12) and other members of the B-complex family are rapidly depleted from alcohol use. They function as precursors to the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which helps to regulate mood and the nervous system. B vitamin deficiency in alcoholics is common, as there is a decrease in absorption due to alcohol-induced irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. This leads to a cycle in which depleted B vitamin levels can increase the desire for alcohol. Additionally, the craving for nicotine, which often goes along with drinking, can be reduced with the supplementation of B vitamins.

Chromium -- This trace mineral increases the effectiveness of insulin in regulating blood sugar. Some women physically crave alcohol because it temporarily increases blood glucose level. This is the body's means of compensation for inefficient blood sugar regulation. The craving for sweets is a common characteristic of female alcoholics. Chromium supplementation often dramatically reduces "sweet" cravings. I recommend chromium to many of my patients who exhibit a strong "sweet tooth."

Zinc -- A deficiency of this mineral can lead to an increased craving for alcohol. Zinc is an essential nutrient required for the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase which helps metabolize alcohol. Since women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men do, zinc is essential in preventing reactions related to alcohol.

Glutamine -- Studies have shown that supplementation of this amino acid may reduce the craving for alcohol. One study followed women with a long history of heavy drinking and examined the effect of L-glutamine supplementation. After six weeks the women reported a diminished desire to drink, improved sleep and reduced anxiety.

Botanical Benefit

Botanical medicines can also be used specifically for reducing the withdrawal effects associated with the treatment of alcoholism. My patients use the botanical Avena sativa (oatstraw) to reduce withdrawal effects from alcohol or other addictions such as smoking. This botanical supplement has a calming and nourishing effect on the nervous system. It helps reduce the symptoms of anxiety and tension associated with quitting alcohol.

Herbal medicines that promote healthy function of the liver are very important, as alcohol is toxic to this organ. Women are more susceptible to liver damage than men because they possess less of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. The liver is a reservoir of glucose storage. Optimal liver function promotes proper blood sugar regulation -- and stabilization of blood sugar can lead to reduced craving of alcohol.

Milk thistle is a potent herb that promotes liver cell detoxification and regeneration. Other beneficial herbs for the liver include dandelion root, bupleurum root, burdock root and licorice root.

The adrenal glands also benefit from the support of herbal medicine. These glands help the body cope with mental and physical stress. Women that crave alcohol may be doing so as compensation for poor stress adaptation. During times of stress the adrenal glands release hormones that aid the body in coping with stress, as well as regulating blood sugar levels. Some of the main herbs I recommend to women suffering from alcoholism to support the adrenal glands include Siberian (Eleutherococcus) or American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), as well as licorice root.

Homeopathic Healing

Homeopathic medicine is an excellent adjunct to counseling and other psychological interventions. This form of medicine has a powerful effect. It exerts a balancing effect on the mental and physical aspects of any addiction.

There are many homeopathic medicines, each with its own set of characteristic symptoms.

Practitioners of homeopathy can help a patient withdraw from alcohol effectively. A major strength of homeopathy in reducing alcohol addiction is that it has the potential to remove underlying emotional and mental blockages to this disease.

Common homeopathic medicines used with women and alcoholism are:

Lycopodium -- Women who benefit from this medicine often have poor self-esteem. They portray a false sense of confidence. Strong cravings for alcohol and sweets, as well as gastrointestinal disturbances, are common indications.

Nux vomica -- Women who benefit from this medicine are irritable and tense. They tend to get edgy and demanding when they have not had a drink in awhile. These women crave stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, nicotine and recreational drugs.

Ignatia -- This medicine is indicated when a woman's addiction is in response to a major shock or grief in her life. She uses alcohol as a way of internally coping with stress. This internalization of emotions leads to mood swings, crying and sighing.

Syphilinum -- This medicine can be helpful when the alcoholism has a strong underlying genetic susceptibility. These women can also have suicidal tendencies.

Acupuncture Aid

Acupuncture has been shown to benefit all types of addictions. There are numerous clinics that specialize in addictions such as smoking and alcohol. It has been shown that specific acupuncture points release chemicals that reduce anxiety and promote relaxation of the nervous system. This provides an excellent non-toxic way of reducing the withdrawal effects associated with alcohol.

It is essential that a comprehensive program including the natural treatments outlined in this article be utilized. Naturopathic approaches, such as nutritional supplements, botanical medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture, help in correcting many of the underlying biochemical disturbances found in female alcoholics. Counseling should be used in combination with natural medicine to ensure mental and emotional support during treatment.

Recommended Reading:

Prescription for Nutritional Healing

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by J. Balch/P. Balch (sc) 608pp $26.95

Healing with Whole Foods

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by P. Pitchford (sc) 705pp $48.95

Natural Healing for Women

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by S. Curtis/R. Fraser (sc) 418pp $19.00

Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd.

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By Mark Stengler

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