The origins of addictions range from inherited genetics, childhood behavior patterns, allergies to certain foods (especially the inability to metabolize carbohydrates properly), brain neurotransmitter deficits, even estrogen dominance. Yet, it still seems most people begin taking drugs to alleviate boredom, to relieve pain, or to cope with stress and depression.
Multiple depletions of critical nutrients set off addictive chain reactions, seriously affect brain chemistry, or much worse. Just one bad batch or bad combination can cause sudden death, coma, even a persistent vegetative state! At the least, nutritional health is severely compromised, often taking the form of metabolic disorders like low blood sugar, hypothyroidism, fatigue syndromes, liver malfunction, poor food absorption or diarrhea even when meals are good. Without treatment, addiction disorders are progressive and may eventually lead to dementia, psychosis or even death.
Over the years, I have worked with many alcoholics and addicts and have found that the people who can take an honest look at themselves and are willing to change their destructive patterns by taking positive action have a very good chance for recovery. A modified detoxification program can work wonders, but it takes a year or more to detoxify the blood of drugs. (Long fasts are not advised as they can release too many toxins too quickly into the bloodstream.) Whole foods should be the focus, with particularly emphasis on high quality protein, whole grains, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (juiced, raw and steamed), and pure water. A withdrawing addict often craves lots of sugary treats, but skip the cookies and candy in favor of high fiber fruits like apples or pears which help to release sugar more slowly into the blood stream.
What about prescription drugs?
Widespread dependence on prescription drugs is serious today – especially mood altering tranquilizers, pain killers, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotics. Addiction to benzodiazepines is especially insidious. Some people report severe withdrawal symptoms which persist over years! Others, like amphetamines, create an addictive high in a metabolic process similar to that of body endorphins. A 1998 study shows that 17% of Americans over 60 are addicted, and that many seniors mix alcohol with their prescription drugs for even more risk.
—Signs that addiction is occurring:
1) The body builds up a tolerance to the drug, so that the user increases dosage regularly.
2) There is decreased desire to work, with inattentiveness, mood swings, restlessness.
3) There is unusual susceptibility to illness because the immune system and the liver are weakened.
4) Withdrawal headaches, insomnia, light sensitivity, hot flashes, diarrhea and disorientation occur when the user stops taking the drug.
5) Drug-seeking behavior like juggling prescriptions from different doctors and frequent trips to emergency rooms are signs that a prescription drug addiction is out of control. Some tranquilizers can be replaced with herbal remedies to avoid dependence, but specific prescription information is necessary to make withdrawal straightforward and safe.
Herbal categories to overcome addictions:
Serotonin balancers/ Nervous System Support
St. John’s wort: acts a natural antidepressant. Mild inhibitor of the enzyme, monoamine oxidase (MAO). Natural SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). In Germany, more than half of depression disorders are treated with St. John’s wort. Recent animal tests show hypericin reduces alcohol consumption, making it potentially useful in natural alcoholism treatment.
Scullcap: reduces addictions and alcoholism by supporting proper nervous system health and reducing cravings. Especially helpful for barbiturate addiction and withdrawal. Scullcap has the added benefit of enhancing motor ability and sensory impairment.
Albizzia: called the “tree of happiness.” Used in TCM to ease mild depression, anxiety and stress. A shen tonic used in formulas to help overcome addiction.
Oatseed/Oatstraw: a high source of calcium and magnesium to nourish the nerve sheath. Calming and grounding especially for addiction with secondary ADHD or hyperactivity.
Ashwagandha: an Ayurvedic nervous system restorative. Can help prevent relapse. I find this herb to be helpful for “burnout” and withdrawal symptoms like severe daytime fatigue with nighttime insomnia and agitation.
Overcome Cravings/Ease Withdrawal
Kudzu: decreases cravings for alcohol. A May 2005 study published in alcoholism reveals taking a daily extract of kudzu reduces the amount of alcohol a person drinks by 50%. Evidence suggests kudzu inhibits the breakdown of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol. (This allows the compulsive drinker to feel satisfied longer.)
Wood Betony: reduces alcohol cravings, agitation and irritability. Relieves headaches related to withdrawal.
Kava Kava: powerful anxiety reducer, pain reliever and sleep aid. Small doses actually improve concentration. One of the best herbs for relieving muscle aches and pains related to withdrawal.
Note: Longterm excessive use can produce a skin rash. Kava should not be combined with alcohol or barbituates because of interactions (the user may become very drunk, disoriented and have poor motor skills). Do not use if there is compromised liver function.
Liver/ Blood Purifiers
Dandelion rt: a liver detoxifier that can help repair damage due to alcohol or liver damaging prescription drugs. enhances nutrient absorption.
Burdock: eliminates wastes and heavy metals (often present in high amounts in street drugs ).
Milk thistle seed extract: found clinically to help reverse liver damage caused by cirrhosis, hepatitis, fatty liver and mushroom poisoning.
Bupleurum: an exceptional liver detoxifier, widely used in Traditional Chinese medicine. Cooling. A powerful liver protector even in cases of hepatitis and immune system dysfunction.
Blood sugar balancing herbs
Spirulina: a very high quality vegetable protein source to stabilize blood sugar swings. 1000mg is a good daily dosage.
Bee pollen: enhances adrenal gland functioning. Contains 5 to 7 times the amount of protein as beef for blood sugar stabilization. Nutritionally complete with all 22 amino acids, 27 minerals, vitamins, complex carbohydrates, EFA’s, enzymes and co-enzymes.
Schizandra: supports adrenal gland health. Deeply rejuvenating in cases of debility, weakness or fatigue syndromes related to addictions. Used by the Chinese for over a decade to treat mental disorders caused by alcoholism.
Nettles: a very high mineral source, including potassium, calcium, magnesium and silica.
Kelp/sea vegetables: one of the highest sources of minerals available. Rich in body building minerals like calcium, iron, iodine and potassium.
Alfalfa: a nutritional powerhouse, pulling up minerals from the soil from depths as great as 130 feet.
Barley grass: a green grass that can provide sole nutritional support to an animal throughout life. Ten times more calcium than cow’s milk. Good vegetarian source of B12. Neutralizes heavy metals like mercury.
Two effective, whole herb formulas to help overcome addiction cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms:
Addiction Withdrawal caps: helps suppress cravings, overcome nervous tension, fatigue and low energy. Also helps to soothe withdrawal head and backaches.
Relax caps: Calms nerves, soothes tension. Gentle and effective. Non-narcotic.
Linda Page’s career in natural health spans almost three decades. Her bestselling book, Healthy Healing, A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone is used as a textbook at higher educational institutions. Linda holds degrees in Naturopathy and Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health.
You can read more from Dr. Page at http://www.healthyhealing.com.