Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol - a poison...

Alcohol is a 'poison' that has given people pleasure and relaxation for 5000 years. This beverage affects the moods, sensations and behaviour. Alcohol addiction is believed to be caused by morphine-like substances, which arise from acetaldehyde and dopamine in the brain. Taken in moderation, the drink can reduce inhibitions and encourage social interaction. Dependence on alcohol can be physiological, psychological or a combination of the two.

If alcohol has adversely affected friendships/relationships, interfered with daily routines/responsibilities, affected health, or has preoccupied the mind so that everything revolves around its presence, alcoholism is definitely a threat. There are a number of ways to help with the treatment of Alcoholism on the road to your recovery the first being to address the condition as an addiction to alcohol.

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Alcohol tolerance levels...

People differ in their tolerance levels to alcohol, so it is impossible to name an exact amount per day that is allowable for everyone. The dietary suggestion to the public is less than 1 ounce of alcohol per day, which is the equivalent to 2 cans of beer, 2 small glasses of wine or 2 average cocktails. This dosage is enough to produce euphoria, without incurring any long-term health effects and has been found to have health benefits.

Alcohol - not a choice for everyone...

For certain people though, this is not a choice. Unfortunately many people drink excessively, giving alcohol the distinction of being the most widely abused drug in the world. The disease associated with this abuse is called alcoholism, a dependence on or an addiction to alcohol. It is chronic, progressive and potentially fatal and 1 out of every 10 people are affected.

Typically there are two distinct groups of alcoholics...

The nor-adrenergic type

80% of alcoholics fall into this group. Drinking alcohol improves their mood. Withdrawal results in increased consumption of stimulants such as coffee or nicotine. Symptoms of withdrawal range from palpitations, high blood pressure, tremors of the hand, epilepsy and panic attacks.

The serotonin type

20% of alcoholics fall into this group. Alcohol damages the prefrontal lobe in these individuals, resulting in judgement loss. Alcohol raises brain levels of noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine, the opposite to the first group. These individuals find alcohol an excellent antidepressant and need to drink to stay normal. Withdrawal in this group results in hallucinations, distortion of perception, night terrors and vision disturbances such as nystagmus.

The effects of alcohol binge drinking...

Excessive binge drinking may temporarily or markedly elevate blood pressure. For regular drinkers, ulcers of the stomach and intestines, colitis, deterioration of the muscles, including the heart and premature fatigue are all increased when exercising. The high amount of carbohydrate in the alcohol may cause hypoglycaemia, which may contribute to further craving for alcohol.

Mental disorders can occur, even schizophrenia in some. Kidney, bladder and prostate damage, loss of function of the testicles, damage to the adrenal glands leading to feminisation and sexual impotence in men, failure of the ovaries in women and early menopause are all repercussions of excessive intake of alcohol.

Alcoholics over the age of 65 who have been heavy drinkers all of their lives are subjecting themselves to a severe condition called Korsakoff's Syndrome, a loss of short-term memory and an inability to learn new information.

Prolonged dependence on Alcohol has long terms affects...

Prolonged dependence upon alcohol may result in severe problems in the pancreas, liver and gastrointestinal tract. The brain shrinks with even moderate use of alcohol, with damage being limited to the amount taken. Because the liver is able to regenerate itself, the early stages of liver disease are reversible. Abstinence and an adequate diet are necessary for this transformation. The herb, Milk Thistle extract, helps the liver to regenerate 4 times faster than usual.

Alcohol and the nervous system...

Alcohol enters the bloodstream directly through the walls of the stomach and begins to act upon the central nervous system by changing the most basic mental functions, through the destruction of brain cells. This tissue loss is thought to be directly related to alcohol toxicity, in which cells are killed because of the withdrawal of necessary water from brain tissue.

Wernicke's disease is something some heavy drinkers develop and is caused by a deficiency of the B1 vitamin, thiamine. The symptoms of this are confusion, ataxia, abnormal eye movements and walking abnormalities. This syndrome is mostly irreversible.

Alcohol affects of the liver...

Alcohol is broken down in the body by the liver. The repeated consumption of alcohol inhibits the liver's production of digestive enzymes, impairing the body's ability to absorb proteins, fats and fat-soluble vitamins, as well as the B vitamins.

The liver works to neutralise the effects of drinking upon the body by breaking down the composition of the alcohol. Under normal circumstances, especially if there is food in the stomach, the liver can effectively perform the task if not more than 1 drink per hour is consumed. However, when the liver is overworked, it must compensate by creating microsomal enzymes, which allow for an increased tolerance of alcohol.

After a time, the liver cannot handle the large amounts and begins to compensate less rapidly. The liver then becomes fatty because it cannot decompose the glucose and fat and is less able to metabolise the alcohol. Fat accumulates and causes the fatal disease cirrhosis. In this condition, less alcohol is needed to produce intoxication. As drinking continues, the fat cells grow and rupture, killing the liver cells and leaving scars.

Nutrients that help the liver detoxify alcohol...

Nutrients that help the liver detoxify alcohol are Nicotinic acid (Vitamin B3), which has been named as a detoxicant of alcohol. Other liver toxicants, apart from alcohol, include recreational drugs and some chemicals, such as Agent Orange.

Another nutrient, Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5), speeds up the body's detoxification process by lowering the blood levels of acetaldehyde, a major negative factor in long-term alcohol consumption.

The essential trace element, Selenium, is also known for its detoxicant effects for heavy metals, drugs, alcohol, cigarette smoke and peroxidised fats. It is thought that selenium may guard against fatty liver.

The effect of alcohol on vitamins and minerals...

The intestines also become damaged in alcoholism, which then interferes with the absorption of all nutrients, causing many deficiencies of different kinds.

Vitamin C, which is often deficient in alcoholics, is needed to prevent scurvy.

A zinc deficiency may occur, making the alcoholic more prone to cirrhosis of the liver and preventing vitamin K, a blood-clotting agent, from being absorbed in the body.

Iron is needed to correct the anaemia that often develops.

A magnesium deficiency can contribute to the occurrence of delirium tremens.

A deficiency of potassium may also occur in alcoholics and supplementation may be necessary.
The liver sends all its folic acid into the blood and then to the kidneys to expel it when alcohol is consumed, which causes a deficiency.

A thiamine deficiency will mimic the symptoms of excessive alcohol intake and the symptoms related to the thiamine deficiency disease beriberi, which affects the nervous system. These symptoms are mental confusion, visual disturbances, paralysis of some of the eye muscles, staggering, foot drop and decreasing sensation in the feet and legs. For these symptoms, it is recommended that the person take very high doses of thiamine - from 10 up to 100 milligram a day. Seek advice before completing a treatment such as this.

Vitamin and mineral interactions show that alcohol interferes with or diminishes the stores of thiamine, riboflavin, niacinamide, pyridoxine, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium and vitamins B12, C, A and D. Alcohol consumption impairs the absorption of the enzymes in the liver that activate these vitamins. Thiamine is the one nutrient that alcohol interferes with the most, therefore it is essential to take a Vitamin B Complex.

Vitamins B6, B12 and Vitamin A are metabolically altered. B6 is released from its protein binding and is destroyed. The intrinsic factor of B12 is inhibited, which does not allow the vitamin to be absorbed. Vitamin A is still absorbed, but even when moderate amounts of alcohol are consumed, its stores are depleted from the liver.

Water from the kidneys can contain zinc, magnesium and potassium and these are excreted too, creating deficiencies.

Natural Aids for the Alcoholic...

There are many natural aids for the alcoholic. Phosphatidylcholine and AL 721 (an active lipid which includes phosphatidylcholine) may aid in the withdrawal from addictions. Niacinamide by mouth and sodium ascorbate (vitamin C) given intravenously may benefit the alcoholic psychologically.

Alcohol cravings may be due to nutritional deficiencies. Two grams of L-glutamine and one gram of L-carnitine daily may be important for reducing the alcohol cravings.

Herbs that are helpful are Milk Thistle (silymarin for the liver), Primrose Oil for mood swings and liver damage, Ginseng, Valerian, Goldenseal, Skullcap, Motherwort and Lavender.

Chinese physicians have long used the herb Kudzu in the treatment of alcoholism. Fascinated by this, a researcher from Harvard Medical School, Wing-Ming Keung, traveled to China to collect clinical information. During his visit, he interviewed 13 traditional and modern physicians and complied 300 case histories. Keung said, "That in all cases, this herb was considered effective in both controlling and suppressing the appetite for alcohol, whilst improving the function of alcohol-affected vital organs." No toxic side effects were reported by the Chinese physicians. When Keung returned to Harvard, he conducted his own research, which confirmed what he had learned in China; that Kudzu, for reasons still not understood, can curb the desire for alcohol, as well as its ravages on the body. The flower of the herb is considered one of the best remedies for alcoholic hangovers.

Nutritional and herbal support for alcoholism...


DL-Phenylalanine, 5-HTP, L-Glutamine, Tyrosine These essential amino acids help reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms, elevate mood & stabilise neurotransmitters in the brain
L-Carnitine This amino acid is said to help reverse alcohol-induced fatty liver & normalise fatty acid transport. Drinking alcohol causes a relative carnitine deficiency
Multipower A multivitamin that can help correct a B vitamin deficiency; provides vitamin C for reducing alcohol toxicity; antioxidants for liver support
Vitamin B Complex 100 A high potency B Complex
Super Thisilyn
Our Rolls Royce of liver supporting products. Contains milk thistle as well as liver detoxifying amino acids.
Thisilyn Our high potency Milk Thistle extract, for even faster liver regeneration
Fish / Evening Primrose Oil Helps support the cellular membrane

Important considerations for heavy drinkers...

Seek professional advice to help with any adjustments that may be needed. Alcoholics Anonymous have a good support network for alcoholics and heavy drinkers as do CADS.

In the early stages of care, an alcoholic will need plenty of rest, good nutrition, and supplements to assist in the repair of bodily damage.

Improvements in nutritional status are essential to improve one's ability to cope with alcohol. Since as much as 50% of total calories per day may be derived from ethanol at the expense of other nutritious foods, correcting nutritional deficiencies and digestive insufficiency is essential.

Consider taking herbs to protect your liver and a herb like Kudzu to help with alcohol cravings

A meal replacement supplement like Red 8 Delux 50/50 can be helpful, if you are not eating adequate meals, as it contains both protein and carbohydrate

Get a hobby or interest.  Find something relaxing to do

If you feel like a drink, try the simple art of distraction. It is surprising how effectively this can work, just by focusing on something else, such as going for a walk, digging the garden, talking with a friend, going to a busy place.

Meet people who are non-drinkers. It is easy to get caught up in the same old patterns, with the same people. Change who you spend time with and choose those people where alcohol is not the priority.


The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

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