Alcoholism is a chronic disorder characterized by dependence on alcohol, repeated excessive use of alcoholic beverages, the development if withdrawal symptoms on reducing or ceasing intake, morbidity that may include cirrhosis of the liver, and decreased ability to function socially and vocationally.
People who are dependent on alcohol lack the ability to voluntarily cut down or stop drinking. They develop a physical tolerance, requiring increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same level of intoxication. Withdrawal symptoms develop, including rapid heartbeat, anxiety, tremors, and even seizures, when they drink less or stop drinking.
An estimated five to 10 percent of male drinkers and three to five percent of female drinkers are dependent on alcohol. People who consume more than 12 drinks a week (women) or 15 drinks a week (men) are more likely to become alcoholic. Men 2-4 times are more likely than women to be alcoholic, as are people who start drinking before age 16.
In a recent German study, researchers not only discovered that heavy drinking will generally kill more quickly than smoking, but that women are at much greater risk of death than men. In addition, they found that alcoholics tend to die about 20 years sooner, on average, than the general public, with alcohol-dependent women suffering death at a rate 4.6 times higher than average.
Alcohol is a fascinating compound. It is a high-energy molecule that can release tremendous energy to the body when it is chemically broken down. Our bodies will ‘run on alcohol’, though it is an unhealthy fuel for us that leads to depletion of specific nutrients including zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and some B-complex vitamins, among others.
A vicious cycle often ensues when nutritional deficiencies develop. The body’s natural energy system becomes crippled and lethargy develops. This can cause a craving for alcohol as the fuel of choice, since it uses a different metabolic pathway to produce energy in the body. Once one begins drinking alcohol the nutrient deficiencies worsen, and this further increases the cravings for alcohol or sugar.
The signs and symptoms of alcoholism can include:
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol consumed in spite of desire or intentions to not drink, or to drink only a certain amount
- Setting time frames for drinking, like no drinking until 5pm.
- Feeling a compulsion to drink
- Tolerance, or the need to use more and more alcohol to achieve the same effects
- Anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Frequent falls and bruises
- Blackouts (inability to remember what occurred while drinking)
- Social and/or legal problems arising from alcohol use
In its later stages, alcoholism can contribute to medical conditions such as:
- Nerve damage
- Heart disease
- Confusion and hallucinations
Alcoholism can develop when repeated drinking alters the levels of brain chemicals that support a feeling of well being, which can lead people to compulsively consume alcohol to restore positive emotions or avoid negative emotions. These neurotransmitters can be increased and balanced with the amino acids listed below.
People who are unwittingly hypoglycemic tend to easily become alcoholics. When their blood sugar invariably drops, they reach for a drink, which instantly increases their blood sugar. Alcohol acts just like sugar, but gets into your bloodstream faster. Willpower cannot turn this off; it must be dealt with to overcome alcohol addiction.
Several risk factors for developing alcoholism include:
- Having an alcoholic parent
- Ongoing depression or anxiety
- Low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins
- High levels of stress
Alcoholism is best addressed by total abstinence from alcohol, followed by assessment, treatment and resolution of the underlying triggers for the disease. Treatment can include:
- Detoxification. This stage typically takes four to seven days and should be done in a controlled setting (such as a rehabilitation facility), where medications are used to treat withdrawal symptoms. Medical supervision is necessary as withdrawal symptoms can be severe enough to cause death.
- Rehabilitation programs. Such programs can happen on an inpatient or outpatient basis and aim to support alcoholics after detox. Rehab programs usually include individual or group counseling, education, and medical care.
- Support groups. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous offer emotional support and provide role models and sponsors to alcoholics.
- Medications. Medications may be prescribed to help prevent relapses. Some, (such as Vivitrol) work by decreasing alcohol cravings, while others (such as Antabuse) trigger unpleasant side effects when alcohol is consumed.
Wendy’s Recommendations for Natural Treatment
The key to recovery involves figuring out exactly why you use it. Is it an upper, as in a stimulant or antidepressant? Is it a downer, as in a stress reliever, sedative, or sleep aid? Is it a physical or emotional painkiller? Or is it all three? Alcohol’s ability to affect many parts of the brain is extraordinary. How you use it, will determine the right recovery program. Correcting neurotransmitter and nutritional deficiencies are also key to recovery.
- Read. Read The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. It will give you insight into how your addiction is merely a deficiency in neurotransmitters and how you can easily wean yourself off alcohol by supplementing with natural amino acids to increase your feel-good neurotransmitters and relieve your addiction. A simple, incredibly effective treatment for alcoholism.
- Reduce. The best way to protect yourself from the hazards of alcohol is not to use it every day. People who drink wine with dinner every night or have a beer every day or a mixed drink or two after work should give themselves two or three alcohol-free days a week.
- Relax. Many people use alcohol to relax. Being aware of this, try to use other methods to relax. Learn to relax through breath control, yoga, meditation, or ways that you enjoy.
- Abstain. Do not use alcohol at all if you have liver disease, urinary problems, prostate trouble, ulcers or other problems of the upper digestive tract.
- Not on an empty stomach. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach, as it is highly irritating to the stomach lining.
- Alcohol reduces your energy. Alcohol burns up B vitamins, especially vitamin B1 (thiamine), which give you energy. If you drink, take a B-complex vitamin supplement plus extra thiamine (100 mg) on days you use alcohol. This will help protect your nervous system and potentially avoid the nerve damage seen in alcoholics as the result of thiamine deficiency.
- Avoid Harmful Additives. Alcoholic beverages, which are exempted from labeling requirements, may contain harmful additives. Wines frequently have sulfite preservatives and other allergens that can precipitate attacks of asthma, migraine, and various allergic reactions. The best beers are made only from barley malt, water, yeast, and hops, but many beers on the market have dozens of other ingredients. Liqueurs may be dyed with artificial colors. Try to buy quality brands of alcoholic beverages.
- Alcohol has calories. Because alcohol is simply concentrated sugar, it behaves like carbohydrate calories, but the body cannot store their energy. It must burn them immediately. As a result, the calories of food you eat at the same time will more readily end up as fat, because the body will burn the alcohol calories first. It is nearly impossible to lose weight while if you drink alcohol regularly.
- Food Allergy. Grain-based beers and liquors can become irresistible for people with allergies to wheat, rye, and barley. People can be allergic to the very foods they crave. Avoiding grains may be a part of your recovery. See my blog, Food Sensitivities for more information on how to determine food sensitivities.
- Seek help. If you find you cannot control your use of alcohol, get help from Alcoholics Anonymous or a mental health professional that specializes in substance abuse.
- Adrenals. You may be turning to alcohol because your adrenals are shot and you’re using alcohol to give you a boost of energy and stress-coping adrenal hormones. For more information, read my article Epidemic Adrenal Fatigue.
- Thyroid. If alcohol gives you a lift, be sure to check your thyroid. If it’s not doing its job of providing your body natural energy, you may turn to alcohol for a boost. For more information, see my article Meet Your Thyroid.
- Zinc. The number one mineral depleted with alcohol is zinc. This leads to copper dysregulation. Zinc can be found in the Liveto110 Store.
- Milk thistle. This supplement stimulates regeneration of liver cells and protects them from toxic injury. It also detoxifies the liver. It is found in most health food stores as “milk thistle,” “silybum,” or “silymarin.” Take two capsules of an extract standardized to 70-80 percent silymarin two or three times daily. You can stay on it indefinitely. I take a product called Physiological Liver Maintenance, which contains silymarin.
- 5-HTP. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin. Do you use alcohol to go to sleep? Perhaps you’re low on serotonin, which your body converts to melatonin — but only if you have enough left over. When you have enough serotonin in your brain, you will be less tempted to drink because you’ll feel better. Take 100mg to begin, increasing to three times a day as long as you feel good. For more information and dosage instructions, see Moodcure.com.
- GABA. Do you use alcohol to reduce anxiety and relax? This amino acid will reduce the anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal. It increases the same neurotransmitter, GABA, that the anti-anxiety medication, Xanax, increases. Take one whenever you feel stressed or the need for a drink. Be careful taking it during the day as it may cause drowsiness. For more information and dosage instructions, see Moodcure.com.
- DLPA. Also known as DL-phenylalanine. Do you use alcohol to kill physical and emotional pain? You should try this amino acid. The precursor to phenylalanine is tyrosine, so try supplementing with tyrosine first. For more information and dosage instructions, see Moodcure.com.
- L-glutamine. L-glutamine is an amino acid reduces both cravings and the anxiety that accompanies alcohol withdrawal. Over 95% of alcoholics are hypoglycemic. This supplement helps to balance blood sugar by reducing the cravings for foods that induce blood sugar swings. For instant relief, glutamine should be taken when you have a craving or between meals to stabilize your blood sugar, as your brain can use this fuel instead of alcohol sugars. It can also decrease sugar and carb cravings that can occur when you reduce alcohol, which is a concentrated sugar. For more information and dosage instructions, see Moodcure.com.
- Chromium. Chromium is a blood sugar stabilizer and is usually deficient in alcoholics.
- Fish Oil. Alcoholics usually start out depleted in omega-3 fats. If you’re of northern European or Japanese ancestry or from any people that inhabit the shorelines of cold water, you’ll have a higher need for fish and fish oil. Fish oil takes six weeks to work. You need 2000 mg a day. Fish oil, called EPA-DHA can be found in the Liveto110 Store.
- B vitamins. Due to a deficiency in B vitamins, alcoholics should supplement to reduce the desire to drink. Because alcohol abuse depletes B vitamins, consider taking a B-complex supplement, plus extra thiamine (B1).
- Probiotics. Alcoholics have systemic candida (yeast) infections that have often spread to the liver. If they try to give up alcohol without addressing yeast infections, they may not succeed. When hungry, yeast send out powerful chemicals that cause powerful cravings for sugars, be it alcohol, sugar, or carbs. Syntol AMD is an incredibly effective remedy for yeast infections, but it must be taken for at least 3 months while doing an anti-Candida diet. It is wise to take other probiotics as well to fight other gut infections. Read The Body Ecology Diet. Alcoholics all have some degree of infection in the intestines with Candida Albicans, a common yeast organism. Candida albicans overgrowth is a key to understanding alcoholism in many cases. The yeast itself produces a small quantity of alcohol as part of its metabolic processing of sugar. It is the same process that is used to make wine, beer and other fermented beverages. However, for the alcoholic, extra alcohol production spells loads of trouble. It helps perpetuate strong cravings. It also produces chemicals that are highly toxic to the body, including alcohol and acetaldehyde. These further impair liver activity and further slow one’s healing process.
- Fats. Alcoholics usually start out depleted in omega-3 fats. Without them, they become depressed, use alcohol, and become even more depleted. Eat lots of Atlantic and sockeye salmon, in addition to small fish like herring, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies.
- Fermented Foods. Fermented foods like UNpasteurized kim chee, sauerkraut, and homemade fermented veggies will kill yeast and help reduce alcohol cravings by reducing yeast. Pasteurized varieties do not have the beneficial bacteria needed to kill yeast.
- Fermented Drinks. Fermented drinks like coconut water kefir, kombucha or kvass will help kill yeast and reduce sugar and alcohol cravings.
- Coconut oil and milk. Coconuts contain caprylic acid, a substance that is very effective in killing yeast.
- Eat Thiamine (B1). Food sources of B1 include asparagus, mushrooms, peanuts, pork, and sunflower seeds.
1. Gates, Donna. The Body Ecology Diet. Revised Edition. Hayhouse Publishing, 2011.
2. Heyes, J.D. Study Shows Heavy Drinking Can Kill you More Quickly Than Smoking. November 24, 2012.
3. Johnston, Ann Dowsett. Women and Alcohol: To your Health? June 6, 2012.
4. Mathews-Larson, Joan. 7 Weeks to Sobriety. Revised Edition. Ballantine Books, 1997.
5. Murray, Michael, ND. Healing Foods. Atria Books, 2005.
6. Ross, Julia. The Mood Cure. Penguin Books, 2004.
7. Weil, Andrew, MD. Alcoholism.
This material is for educational purposes only. The preceding statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.