How to Curb Cravings for Alcohol and Drugs

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“Dear Pharmacist,

My brother is struggling with alcohol cravings, even though he has a support group and does acupuncture. I wonder if you have any ideas about herbs or vitamins to reduce cravings.”

–H.S.  Orlando, Florida

Answer: Your brother, along with roughly 14 million Americans struggle with alcohol cravings and physical or psychological dependence. There are many alcoholics who go through life without ever attempting to quit, and many end up facing liver failure, pancreatic cancer, or jail time. Congrats to your brother (and you) for reaching out. And in answer to your question, yes, there are several supplements that might support your loved one right now.

Kudzu extract: This is actually a weed that grows all over the world and is sold in supplement form at health food stores because it has various medical uses. The extract from kudzu root (pueraria lobata) may be of benefit and is sometimes used as a treatment for alcoholic cravings (and possibly metabolic syndrome). It appears to reduce the urge to drink according to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. To be clear, animal studies have shown kudzu’s benefit, not human trials.

Glutamine: An essential amino acid, glutamine has multiple functions. It lines the gut, improves mood, reduces anxiety and may even help reduce cravings. One detrimental effect of alcohol is that it reduces the action of natural glutamine in the body, which contributes to those nasty hangovers. To cut the craving and ease a hangover, try supplementing with 500 mg to 1,000 mg of glutamine with each meal.

5-HTP: This is another amino acid in the body. It is a popular natural antidepressant and sleep aid since it raises both serotonin and melatonin in the body. Raising the body’s levels of ‘feel good’ serotonin is great because serotonin deficiency has been tied to alcoholism and other addictive disorders. I suggest approximately 50 – 300 mg per day, in divided doses. You can start with 50 mg twice daily and work up slowly.

Milk Thistle: These leaves from the Mediterranean regions are known for cleaning the liver, which is wonderful because the liver is one primary organ targeted by alcohol damage. Milk thistle is obviously going to help you more if you have mild liver damage, not severe.

There are several prescription medications too. Antabuse (disulfuram) is an old drug and still available. It makes one vomit profusely if they so much as touch alcohol! Not a pretty picture. Another medication is Naltrexone which blocks pleasure sensors in the brain and reduces the cravings for alcohol/narcotics once you quit. Campral (acamprosate) is another medication that may help.

People with addiction problems have imbalanced brain chemicals. The above mentioned supplements may help bring harmony to them once again and other very useful options include dandelion, Reishi mushroom, evening primrose oil, glycine and L-tyrosine.

Did You Know?
About one in four children in America is exposed to alcohol abuse within the family.