Addiction to alcohol is one of the most destructive diseases of our time. I say disease, not because I think the alcoholic is completely blameless, but because once a person reaches a point of physical dependence, it becomes extremely difficult for them to stop, or stay stopped.
The success rate of traditional treatments for Alcohol abuse is 20%.
People who stop on their own are successful in about 20% of cases.
People who go to (most) rehabs are successful in about 20% of cases.
People who use AA as a way to stop drinking are successful in about 20% of cases.
Can you spot the pattern?
So what’s the problem?
Alcoholic persons are treated for a physical condition, via psychological means only.
Make no mistake, once you’ve been drinking for a long time, the psychological help is essential. Whether you started drinking for genetic reasons, or whether you where trying to numb some personal trauma, you still have to get those issues dealt with.
Problem is, that the psychological assistance can’t fix the physical symptoms that are caused by a body drenched in alcohol for years.
Yes, there are helpful medications such as Nultraxone and Antabuse that are sometimes used, but they do not address the core of the problem. In this article, I’m going to explain to you in fairly simple terms the exact reasons why alcoholics can’t stop drinking, and what we can do about it.
Hypoglycemia – Low Blood Sugar
It has recently been proved (Huang & Shoholm;2008) that alcohol causes the alcoholic pancreas to act rather strangely. The pancreas is supposed to tell the body to secrete just enough insulin to manage the sugars that it has to break down. We know that diabetics don’t have that ability, so they have to inject insulin and regulate their sugar intake.
With alcohol however, the pancreas changes the process and starts over-secreting insulin. This brings the blood-sugar down to a state where the brain no longer has enough sugar to function properly. Also, the brain stops creating the right amount of messenger hormones to do its job.
The body now intensely craves sugar, and since alcohol turns into sugars in the body, its the ideal go-to for the alcohol dependent person. Because of the messenger hormones not working, they have almost no ability to say no to the cravings for alcohol. This is when the person grabs the bottle in the morning just to feel a bit more normal and their loved ones feel that they just aren’t trying!
A vicious cycle indeed.
Here are some symptoms of Hypoglycemia you might recognize in yourself or a loved one who drinks too much:
Fast or irregular heartbeat
Passing out, loss of consciousness, seizures
Is it any wonder that we often say alcoholics have two personalities? The person who has been drinking has all these symptoms and more. The person who has been sober for a while is much more agreeable, but often feels depressed and uninspired, as their bodies have not healed from the damage yet.
GABA is our main inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that GABA prevents anxiety and helps us remain calm amongst other things. Alcohol creates a similar effect in the brain. In an alcoholic brain however, the alcohol starts taking over the job of the GABA. The body loses some of its ability to make enough GABA to regulate the calming process. The body has also built lots more receptors (receivers) for the GABA, so it needs more of the substance to create the same effect.
What happens when the person tries to stop drinking, is that they become anxious because the body no longer knows how to make enough of its own GABA. This feeling is known as craving.
For a person to stop drinking therefore, it makes sense that at least in the beginning, it would help a whole lot to replace the GABA with supplements. The body also needs to be trained to start producing more GABA for itself.
L-Glutamine is the easiest option in this regard, and it is commonly available.
A 2018 study conducted in China (link below) proved that Fish oil significantly improved the chances of alcoholics to stop drinking, as it reduced cravings and helped repair damaged cells. They found the supplemented Fish oil had beneficial effects on preventing relapse and alleviating withdrawal symptoms after chronic alcohol exposure.
Vitamin depletion because of alcohol abuse
To break down alcohol, the body need nutrients. As the liver decreases its supply of these nutrients, the blood stream is called upon to replenish the supply. As a result, body cells are deprived of critical nutrients and normal body functions suffer. If you consume alcohol regularly and try to stop, you may suffer from symptoms that include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, shakiness, dizziness, and depression. You may also experience impaired cognitive thinking and poor memory.
B Complex Vitamins, and especially Thiamin(B1) are essential to assist a person to stop drinking, and also to help their damaged organs and chemistry repair itself.
Other nutrients that also become depleted include:
- Vitamin C — Continuing deficiency causes chronic depression and fatigue
- Magnesium — Symptoms of deficiency include confusion, apathy, loss of appetite, weakness and insomnia
- Calcium — Depletion effects the central nervous system
- Zinc — Inadequacies result in apathy, lack of appetite and lethargy
- Iron — Depression is often a symptom of chronic iron deficiency
- Manganese — Necessary for proper use of the B-Complex vitamins and Vitamin C
- Potassium — Depletion is frequently associated with depression, tearfulness, weakness and fatigue
- Chromium — Enhances glucose uptake into cells. A deficiency can cause hypoglycemia
What we absorb matters
Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules by decreasing secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Alcohol impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestines and disabling transport of some nutrients into the blood. In addition, nutritional deficiencies themselves may lead to further absorption problems. For example, folate deficiency alters the cells lining the small intestine, which in turn impairs absorption of water and nutrients including glucose, sodium, and additional folate.
Even if nutrients are digested and absorbed, alcohol can prevent them from being fully utilized by altering their transport, storage, and excretion. Decreased liver stores of vitamins such as vitamin A, and increased excretion of nutrients such as fat, indicate impaired utilization of nutrients by alcoholics.
We can help the body absorb the necessary nutrients by adding digestive enzymes to our mix of supplements.
How to stop drinking alcohol naturally
Warning: Alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. A person can develop various symptoms within 6 hours of not drinking which can even be fatal in severe cases. If you have been drinking heavily for a long time, or if you have a history of alcohol withdrawals, please be sure to get the assistance of a medical professional, especially for the first few days of stopping.
So how do we do this? You’ve done the detox with a doctor. You’ve started counseling, or AA, or a group therapy, but you feel like a dog, because you let everyone down every time you give in to the cravings. You don’t mean to, it just happens.
If we put all the research together, here’s your best chance to stop drinking naturally:
1. Actually try to stop drinking, and keep trying…
but accept that you have a physical condition that will take time to heal. Don’t expect your family to understand, it’s not their problem to fix, its yours. It does help to take them into your confidence about what you’re doing, but remember that even when you start feeling better, it can still take a very long time before it becomes logical for them to trust you again.
2. Stop consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates
Sugar and refined carbohydrates give your body fast energy, and then dumps you. Because the alcohol abuser is permanently hypoglycemic, you’ll crave sweets and sugar for a few days. Very soon however, your body will start creating equilibrium. This is when the cravings for sugar start reducing, in other words the cravings for alcohol also start reducing too.
The moment you eat a bunch of sugar, or drink alcohol, you’ll feel that hypoglycemic low, so do your best from day one.
Refined carbs are starches that have been processed, such a white rice, white bread, deep fried potato’s etc.
Start reading labels. Sugar is hidden in many foodstuffs where you wouldn’t expect it. A can of baked beans for example can contain up to 24g of sugar. That’s 6 teaspoons!
Be careful of “hidden sugars” such as sucrose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, lactose, glucose, honey.
And of course look at what you’re drinking. Fruit juices, carbonated drinks and even flavored water can contain way more sugar that you think.
2. Take your medicine
As the body has been damaged in the process of becoming dependent on alcohol, we’re going to have to add some supplements that will help you heal, reduce cravings, and help you resist the cravings that still occur.
Dr Joan Mathews Larson, in her book Seven Weeks to Sobriety, suggests at least the following supplements as a basic recipe to get started:
L-Glutamine (taken on an empty stomach)
Large doses of these, taken several times a day, give you a greatly improved chance of achieving your goal of getting and staying sober.
Will it work?
For starters, this cocktail of supplements, added to not taking sugar will make you feel A LOT BETTER! Even when you do fall off the wagon, which I hope you don’t, you will find that your body recovers a lot quicker than it used to. Your mood and energy level will improve, and you’ll probably have more guts for the next try.
Ending alcohol is a very difficult road, and it requires a multifaceted approach. We are whole people with body and mind inseparable. This method of supporting the body with all we’ve got, through a mental process of self-examination and change, gives us a greatly improved chance of beating the booze.
I can most strongly suggest, if you’re taking this seriously, that you get yourself a copy of Seven Weeks to Sobriety, and study it for yourself.
Please feel free to leave comments below, or ask any questions. I am a drug therapist and social worker, so hopefully I’ll be able to answer at least some of your questions.
Alcohol and nutrition https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa22.htm
Fish oil reduces replapse https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29569345
Alcohol causes hypoglycemia https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/93141.php