Alcohol addiction, substance abuse, heavy drinking and alcoholism are serious problems that affect millions of people.
Addiction is a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, biochemical, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations that is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by some sort of substance use and other destructive behaviors.
Alcohol addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain from alcohol, impairment in behavioral control, craving alcohol, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, irresponsibility, poor health, and dis-ease as a result from alcohol abuse and misuse, and a dysfunctional emotional response.
Like other chronic diseases, alcohol addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Health, finances, relationships and careers are destroyed. Without treatment and dedicated engagement in recovery activities, changed behavior, spiritual maturity and a strong desire to live a life of sobriety, the addiction progresses resulting in disability, brain damage, serious health problems, disease, severe nutrient deficiencies, and premature death.
Heal the Body, Soul (Mind, Will and Emotions) and Spirit. Addressing and correcting nutrient deficiencies, balancing body chemistry, optimizing digestive function, making the necessary changes in environment, lifestyle and diet, along with a willingness to delve into one’s soul wounds, childhood, behavior, emotions and patterns is vital in successful healing and recovery, and live a life free of chemical dependence.
Addiction is a complex psychological and physiological process, which manifests in any behavior that a person enjoys, finds pleasure and relief in, and therefore craves in the short term, but suffers negative consequences in the long-term, and doesn’t give up and an inability to give up despite the negative consequences. —Dr. Gabor Maté
Alcoholism, like most other forms of addictions whether it is substances, video games, the internet, exercise, gambling, shopping, food, obsessions or habits, etc., according to Dr. Maté, is usually an attempt to solve a problem, avoid an painful internal experience or the pain of a traumatic childhood that has never fully been resolved. So people choose to suffer in their own ways, often dissociating through a medium like alcohol that numbs emotional turmoil and provides short-term relief from pain, but with it comes dependencies, cellular damage, and other consequences.
Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts and ends with pain. Whatever the substance you’re addicted to—alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person—you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain. –Eckhart Tolle
Many people are exposed to alcoholism in their families. My father was an alcoholic, and I also lost a younger sister to suicide as a result of her alcohol addiction. It’s no surprise that my ex-husband also struggled with alcohol. Consequently, I had a strong desire to do things differently, to understand and educate myself on addiction and alcoholism, a devastating, destructive and deadly disease that affects not only the alcoholic, but impacts the entire family. I also am the holistic nutritionist for the RiverSource, holistic drug and alcohol treatment centers located in Arizona.
Those who experienced emotional neglect, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), mental-emotional-physical abuse and/or traumatic events have an increased tendency to struggle more in adulthood with addictions and alcoholism.
When we don’t address our soul wounds, underlying emotional pain, issues or trauma that occurred during childhood and they remain buried, they will resurface unconsciously in the limbic system driving self-sabotage and destructive behaviors, including addictions.
In the U.S. alone, there are 17-20 million alcoholics (about one in every ten people). Alcohol-related deaths are the third highest cause of death in the United States (the silent, unknown killer). 7,000 children under the age of 15 try drinking for the first time every day. This is a frightening statistic. The individual who begins drinking before age 15 is four times more likely to become an alcoholic.
For most people, the occasional drink is not harmful and may even offer some health benefits, but for the millions who abuse alcohol or are alcoholics, alcohol is a dangerous poison.
Alcohol is well-known to be a mitochondrial poison and a neurotoxin
Women are less able to metabolize alcohol. They are physiologically more sensitive to alcohol than men because their bodies tend to have lower water and higher fat contents. Alcohol abuse seems to have more serious long-term consequences for women, although excessive alcohol especially affects men, their brains, their memory, and their testosterone and estrogen levels through liver damage. Men who drink more than 36 grams of alcohol (or 2-1/2 drinks per day) increase memory loss by up to six years.
The liver is an amazingly resilient organ that can handle abuse for years and seem fine until one day there’s serious damage that’s accumulated.
“Alcoholism is a disease that involves the body, mind and spirit. The latest medical evidence indicates that about three out of four people who suffer the disease of alcoholism have a genetic tendency to develop the problem.” —Joseph D. Beasley, M.D., author of How to Defeat Alcoholism
Your DNA is not your destiny! It’s estimated that more than 75% of alcoholics have a genetic disorder metabolizing alcohol and methylation problems. Although there can be a genetic tendency to develop alcoholism, genes are plastic based on environmental epigenetics. Although you can’t change your DNA, you can alter which genes are expressed, and which genes you either turn on or turn off.
Did you know that you can turn certain genes on or off depending on your environment, diet, nutrition, evidence-based supplements, lifestyle choices, behaviors, thought process, and mindset? Add in the tools of our consciousness including beliefs, thoughts, intentions and actions, which are linked much more strongly with our health, longevity and happiness than our genes. Bottom line, we must each take responsibility for our choices, our life, our healing, health and well-being.
Alcohol and inflammation. There’s a link between alcohol consumption, cravings for alcohol and activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines that contribute to systemic inflammation in alcohol-dependent patients. [Journal Biological Psychiatry] Inflammatory pathways are stimulated in alcoholics by bacteria that has escaped the gut barrier that correlate with alcohol cravings. These findings suggest protecting and restoring gut integrity, healing leaky gut, and reducing the various sources of inflammation to help patients recover from abusing alcohol.
Alcohol, substance abuse and depression often go hand-in-hand. Alcohol contains the psychoactive drug ethanol (grain alcohol), which has a depressant effect. The reward center of the brain is meant to provide pleasure – the particular nerve hormone (neurotransmitter) is dopamine. Those with addictions tend to have fewer dopamine receptors causing them to crave and seek more and more and more of the addicted substance to experience pleasure.
Every biochemical process in the human body depends on appropriate levels of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) such as serotonin and dopamine. Norephinephrine, epinephrine and GABA can also be considered. These neurotransmitters exist not only in the brain, but also in the gut. In fact, only 5% of serotonin is found in the brain. Serotonin is the primary gut neurotransmitter with close to 90% located in the gut, hence the importance of a healthy functioning microbiome and digestive system. Genetically, low serotonin and low dopamine levels may predispose individuals to depression and addictions, including alcoholism. Although alcohol temporarily increases serotonin, excessive alcohol consumption depletes dopamine and serotonin.
Alcohol addiction causes damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is where willpower resides. The only way out of this is through detoxification, nutrition, healing modalities and recovery to allow the prefrontal cortex to heal and the reward center to re-build the damaged dopamine receptors.
Healing Mind-Body-Soul Therapies
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools to aid in recovery and heal the impairment of the prefrontal cortex. Meditation must be a continued and consistent practice as one of the spokes of the healing journey. Meditation is actually the 11th step of the 12-step program.
Neurons that fire together wire together. This communication process is known as “neuronal firing.” When brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens.
A healthy dose of natural vitamin D from daily sunlight exposure and avoiding blue light at night from smart phones, tablets and screens is crucial in overcoming addiction. Study after study has found evidence that blue light at night raises blood sugar, influences metabolism, disrupts hormones, causes insulin resistance, and increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and even cancer.
Alcoholics tend to lack alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme in the stomach that breaks down and gets rid of alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream, which implies deficiencies in magnesium and zinc, and an overload on the pancreas all of which can be improved by a eating nutrient-dense, enzyme-rich real foods, nutritional support and ruling out infections in the gut such as yeast and Candida overgrowth, which are very common in alcoholics.
Healing the brain and recovery from any addiction does not happen overnight. It is a life-long process that requires connection, changes in one’s environment, hehavioral changes, strengthening vagal tone, delving into underlying soul wounds, prior painful experiences and childhood traumas, a nutrient-dense real food organic diet, bio-individualized nutrients, lifestyle changes, sunlight, and environmental changes including the people, places and things that you surround yourself with.
Many alcoholics have hidden food sensitivities, particularly to foods from which alcohol has been derived. These include wheat, corn, yeast, grapes, sugar, fructose and potato. It’s estimated that 80% of alcoholics are gluten-intolerant. Alcoholics improve greatly when all grains, sugar, fructose and artificial sweeteners, and all gluten products are removed from their diets.
Alcoholics often suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and blood sugar instability. Individuals tend to experience cravings when they’re hypoglycemic, and as a result experience sugar, carbohydrate and alcohol cravings, mood swings, irritability, gluten intolerance, brain fog and adrenal exhaustion. These conditions can be remedied by eating a nutrient-dense diet that contains plenty of organic protein, tons of healthy healing fats, and fiber from leafy greens and vegetables.
The best diet for the alcoholic is one that eliminates all gluten, wheat and processed grains, soy, soda, sugar, potato, fructose and ultra-processed carbohydrates.
A nutrient-dense diet rich in B vitamins, organic protein, plenty of leafy greens, colorful plants and vegetables, fruits and a variety of healthy, healing fats is the best diet for a recovering alcoholic. Protein and fat help prevent blood sugar fluctuations, increase energy, fuel the brain, and eliminate cravings. Protein is rich in amino acids, provides fuel for the body and brain, and helps balance brain chemistry by boosting the levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters. The first 40 grams of protein eaten every day goes to rebuilding the immune system. If you are not rebuilding your immune system, you’ll have a hard time rebuilding your brain chemistry to be happy and think straight.
Alcohol Addiction, Sugar and Candida Overgrowth. Former alcoholics often replace alcohol with sugary sweets and sodas without realizing that sugar disrupts intestinal flora, destroys their microbiome, and can fuel Candida overgrowth, yeast and fungal overgrowth. Many alcoholics have also been exposed to toxic mold and moldy environments.
Walk into any AA meeting and you’ll find a spread of candy, cakes and cookies that promote the same blood sugar highs and lows that alcohol does, which can fuel the desire to drink. Some alcoholics will even convert the sugar to alcohol metabolically and maintain their alcohol addiction in this way. There are well-documented cases of inebriation caused by sugar, processed carbohydrates and soda consumption, and Candida overgrowth in persons who abstain from alcohol. The yeast are capable of converting dietary carbohydrate into alcohol, known as auto-brewery syndrome. What happens is that the recovering alcoholic is actually making ethanol (alcohol) within their gut following the consumption of sugar and starchy carbohydrates when that carbohydrate is fermented by yeast with in their GI tract.
When alcoholics remove sugar and processed carbs from their diets, and instead emphasize nutrient-dense foods with sufficient protein, rich in amino acids, which are key to brain function recovery is more successful.
Preliminary studies indicate that the success rate for a high protein, high-fat diet, often in conjunction with vitamin or amino acid supplements, gives a success rate of 70-80% compared to about 20% for conventional therapy.
An alcoholic or recovering alcoholic requires specific nutrients and diverse diet of vegetables, fruits, animal protein and healthy fats. They seem to do best with three nutrient-dense meals daily and should never go more than four hours without food to avoid hypoglycemia. All attempts should be made to avoid sweets, sugary beverages, fast food and starchy carbohydrates.
Addressing nutritional deficiencies and bio-individualized nutrient needs of the recovering alcoholic is crucial and absolutely necessary for long-term success.
Nutrient support is bio-individualized based on each person’s unique biochemistry. Those with mood disorders, anxiety, ADD, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, alcoholism should all be screened for Pyroluria using a simple urine test. Elevated pyrroles alter brain chemistry, and deplete Vitamin B-6 and zinc and cause oxidative stress. A comprehensive stool test to rule out underlying infections, an organic acid test to assess neurotransmitters, and a functional blood chemistry analysis to identify nutrient deficiencies are extremely helpful in balancing body chemistry.
Nutritional supplementation is essential to the nutritional approach, though these must be tailored to a person’s individual body chemistry.
Primary Nutrient Therapy
Healing and recovering from any addiction is a life-long process.