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Natural Support for Alcoholism Treatment

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Updated July 27, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Alcoholism treatment and recovery are difficult processes that call for a great deal of steady support. While it's not advisable to rely solely on alternative therapies or remedies for that support, certain natural approaches may help enhance your well-being while undergoing alcoholism treatment.

When Is Alcoholism Treatment Necessary?

Alcoholism, the commonly used term for alcohol dependence, is characterized by several features, including craving, loss of control, physical dependence (typically triggering symptoms like nausea and sweating upon withdrawal), and tolerance (a need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to experience the pleasurable effects of intoxication).

Because alcoholism can lead to a number of social and emotional problems - as well as serious health problems - it's crucial to seek treatment if you experience any symptoms of alcoholism (such as a compulsion to drink or an inability to limit the amount of alcohol you consume).

Natural Support for Alcoholism Treatment

Certain natural substances and mind-body therapies show promise as a means of supporting your health while undergoing alcoholism treatment. If you're considering the use of any of these approaches, make sure to discuss its potential benefits and risks with the health-care professionals involved in your alcoholism treatment.

1) Acupuncture

Acupuncture (a needle-based therapy long used in traditional Chinese medicine) is often recommended to help reduce alcohol cravings, relieve withdrawal symptoms, and ease the anxiety and depression frequently experienced by alcoholics.

Indeed, a 2002 study of 34 alcoholics found that two weeks of acupuncture treatments (combined with carbamazepine, a drug sometimes used in managing alcohol withdrawal) helped decrease the participants' withdrawal symptoms. However, a systematic review published in 2009 concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support acupuncture's effectiveness in alcoholism treatment.

More about Acupuncture.

2) Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), an herb rich in the antioxidant silymarin, is often touted as a means of restoring liver health and protecting against alcohol-induced liver damage. While preliminary research indicates that milk thistle may offer some benefit to those looking to treat alcohol-related liver disease, more studies are needed to draw any definitive conclusions about the herb's effectiveness in enhancing liver health.

Find out more about Milk Thistle.

3) Kudzu

In a 2003 study on laboratory rats, scientists discovered that feeding the animals extract of kudzu (Pueraria lobata) helped curb their alcohol dependence. What's more, a small study published in 2005 showed that taking kudzu supplements helped reduce alcohol intake in humans.

See Kudzu: What You Need to Know.

The Importance of Alcoholism Treatment

Without the help of alcoholism treatment, you may increase your risk of experiencing certain complications related to excessive drinking, including:

  • alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach)
  • pancreatitis
  • high blood pressure
  • bone loss

In addition, alcoholistm has been associated with an increased incidence of several cancers, including:

  • colon cancer
  • breast cancer
  • cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, and liver

Learn more about alcoholism treatment options.

Options for Alcoholism Treatment

Given the major health risks associated with alcoholism, it's important to seek alcoholism treatment only from a qualified health-care professional or facility. Standard alcoholism treatment options may begin with detoxification, and possibly involve residential and outpatient programs that use a variety of social supports.

Sources:

Boerth J, Strong KM. "The clinical utility of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) in cirrhosis of the liver." J Herb Pharmacother. 2002;2(2):11-7.

Cho SH, Whang WW. "Acupuncture for alcohol dependence: a systematic review." Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2009 33(8):1305-13.

Karst M, Passie T, Friedrich S, Wiese B, Schneider U. "Acupuncture in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms: a randomized, placebo-controlled inpatient study." Addict Biol. 2002 7(4):415-9.

Lukas SE, Penetar D, Berko J, Vicens L, Palmer C, Mallya G, Macklin EA, Lee DY. An extract of the Chinese herbal root kudzu reduces alcohol drinking by heavy drinkers in a naturalistic setting. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005 May;29(5):756-62.

MayoClinic.com, "Alcoholism". May 2008.

Rambaldi A, Jacobs BP, Iaquinto G, Gluud C. "Milk thistle for alcoholic and/or hepatitis B or C liver diseases--a systematic cochrane hepato-biliary group review with meta-analyses of randomized clinical trials." Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 100(11):2583-91.

Rezvani AH, Overstreet DH, Perfumi M, Massi M. "Plant derivatives in the treatment of alcohol dependency." Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003 75(3):593-606.

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