Naturopathic Approaches to Alcoholism
Updated: Jun 17
Human beings have a long and complicated history with alcohol. Scientists have analyzed ancient pottery and found that we've been brewing and consuming alcoholic beverages for over 10 000 years, and undoubtedly, we have been struggling with the alcohol’s destructive power for just as long.
What is alcohol, exactly?
Alcohol is a naturally occurring byproduct of fungi (yeast) feeding on carbohydrates (sugar). Humans have simply commercialized this natural process. The next time you are walking through an orchard and see fallen fruit on the ground, you are also witnessing the beginning stages of alcohol fermentation.
There are many forms of alcohol that we use in our daily lives including car fuel, windshield washer fluid, and hand sanitizer. Alcohol is not inherently evil, but its effects on the human body, mind, and spirit can be catastrophic.
What does alcohol do to the human body?
The detrimental effects of alcohol are innumerable, but here are some of the most poignant examples:
It damages the digestive system and inhibits our ability to properly absorb nutrients. This leads to nutrient deficiencies and other disease states.
It suppresses the immune system, which in turn can increase infection rates and compromise our ability to heal.
It damages the liver, contributing to liver disease.
It damages the brain, contributing to psychiatric disorders.
It destabilizes blood sugar levels.
It vastly increases the risk of personal injury and/or violence.
...not to mention the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and on and on...
So why is alcohol consumed?
Consuming alcohol stirs up a cocktail of neurochemicals in the brain that many people find enjoyable. Alcohol is ubiquitous in Western culture and serves as a form of “social glue”. It can temporarily offer relief of social anxiety and other types of stressors. Cultural and societal pressure may also contribute to harmful drinking behaviours.
Alcohol initially consumed as a 'remedy' may progressively turn into a poison. Over time, the decision-making process when considering "should I have another drink?" shifts from the critical-thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex) into the emotional centers of the brain (limbic system). This is when drinking becomes extremely difficult to control.
It is estimated that 95% of those who require treatment for alcohol abuse do not seek help.
Nearly 1 in 5 people will develop a problem with alcohol during their lifetime.
Nearly 1 in 4 drinkers engage in binge-drinking each month (4+ drinks in a sitting).
97-98% of all drug-related deaths are caused by alcohol and/or tobacco.
Alcohol remains the #1 cause of rehab admissions.
Naturopathic approaches to alcoholism
Let me begin by saying that naturopathic medicine is best positioned to treat alcoholism in the following 2 scenarios:
An individual has previously completed a treatment program but they are having difficulty curbing cravings and staying sober in their regular, day-to-day lives.
Drinking habits have progressively worsened over time and the individual has started to notice alcohol affecting their work, relationship, mood, and/or overall health.
Naturopathic medicine aims to treat addiction holistically from a variety of angles including counselling, lab testing, herbal medicine, and even acupuncture. Here are just a few examples:
Naturopathic counselling aims to uncover the root cause(s) of alcoholism through compassionate and open-minded interviewing. Your naturopathic doctor’s office is always a safe and confidential space.
Lab testing can assess the health of your liver, kidneys, blood cells, and much more.
To help curb cravings, l-glutamine has been shown to decrease what is referred to as “voluntary alcohol consumption”. L-glutamine also serves as an energy source for the brain and is a precursor for the calming neurotransmitter GABA.
D-L phenylalanine (DLPA for short) helps balance key neurochemicals implicated in alcohol cravings and may be helpful during recovery. As an added bonus, DLPA can improve mental performance and mood.
Preliminary evidence shows that acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR for short) can help regenerate areas of the brain damage by chronic alcohol use.
Milk thistle herb stimulates liver regeneration and can protect the liver from alcohol-induced liver disease.
Nutritional therapy - Dr. Anderson's Mood Memory & Motivation diet plan targets key nutrients to help curb cravings and support recovery.
There is an abundance of other ways a licensed ND can help treat alcoholism. Please contact me for more information or contact the clinic to set-up an appointment.
Note: In my opinion, naturopathic medicine is not well-positioned to treat severe alcohol withdrawal. Severe alcohol withdrawal is extremely dangerous and can result in death. Please, if you have been drinking large quantities of alcohol for a long period of time, then visit the emergency department at your nearest hospital before attempting to detox on your own. -Dr. A.
(Photo artist https://www.pictorem.com/profile/Pawel.Kuczynski)