The conventional treatment for alcohol use disorder (or alcohol addiction) involves stopping drinking. People who are addicted to alcohol are able to quit alcohol by gradually cutting back on their drinking. On the other hand, in severe cases, doctors may also prescribe certain medications that will help decrease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It is important to know that people who have been drinking heavily for a long period of time often need to undergo professional detoxification in order to quit. This is because of the fact that the severe withdrawal symptoms a person experiences after suddenly reducing or stopping alcohol completely could cause hallucinations and even seizures. Withdrawal symptoms can even affect the functioning of the brain and lead to death. There are many traditional and alternative treatment options that you can choose from to increase your chances of success and quit drinking once and for all. Here are some of the best alternative treatments for alcohol addiction.
Understanding What is Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction, correctly known as alcohol use disorder, is a condition that develops when a person begins to get dependent on alcohol. This dependency on alcohol starts to affect their life and all their relationships. Of course, there are many effects alcohol use disorder has on your health as well, including damage to the liver. It can even cause traumatic accidents if a person drives under the influence of alcohol or carries out any other dangerous work. (1,2,3)
Some of the common symptoms of alcohol addiction may include:
- Having intense cravings for drinking alcohol
- Developing a physical dependence on alcohol
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol
It is important to realize, both for the person suffering from alcohol addiction and their family, that getting out of alcohol addiction is going to be a long and ongoing journey. You may find it helpful to talk to a professional therapist or doctor about the treatment options first. Using alternative or holistic treatments for alcohol addiction should only be used as a helpful or additional option to treat certain symptoms since these types of treatments should not be considered to be a cure-all for a problem that could be quite challenging to manage without professional help.(4,5,6,7)
Alternative Treatments for Alcohol Addiction
Here are some of the leading alternative treatments you can consider for getting help with alcohol addiction.
Acupuncture is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It makes use of tiny and sterile needles that are placed in rapid succession on certain targeted spots on the body to help reduce alcohol cravings and also relieve the withdrawal symptoms. Many people also use acupuncture to treat the depression and anxiety that often goes hand in hand with alcohol addiction and the withdrawal process.(8,9)
There are two major ways in which acupuncture helps people deal with alcohol withdrawal. Firstly, acupuncture helps the body strengthen the liver, thus helping the body process alcohol more efficiently and also boosting the way in which the liver filters out toxins from the body. Secondly, acupuncture helps reduce the impact alcohol has on the brain, which actually decreases the cravings and the desire to drink more. (10)
Many experts recommend acupuncture for alcohol detoxification programs because this type of alternative treatment has been proven to treat both the psychological and physiological dependence on alcohol very efficiently. The acupuncture points associated with alcohol use help reduce the cravings for many substances, including heroin, cigarettes, and of course, alcohol. This makes acupuncture a particularly helpful treatment for detoxification from alcohol, especially when it comes to its long-term recovery effects.
A 2017 research review discovered that acupuncture helped with alcohol withdrawal and also reduces the cravings for alcohol. (11) In fact, in one of the studies that were included in the review, researchers actually carried out a comparison between a real acupuncture treatment to a fake one. During the real treatment, the research team placed needles into certain zones on the body that are associated with alcohol-related behaviors. In the fake treatment, the researchers placed these needles onto other parts of the body. The study ultimately found that the alcohol-targeted zones that were part of the acupuncture helped reduce cravings and also helped the people manage the withdrawal symptoms better as compared to the fake treatment. However, the drawback was that the effect of this was rather weak.
It is interesting to note that the National Acupuncture Detoxification Program (NADA) focuses on the treatment of various types of addiction and the program involves ear acupuncture. According to the NADA specialists, acupuncture should be used together with medical care, medications, counseling, and other types of support to get maximum results. (12)
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that helps you become mentally present in the current moment and to become aware of what you are thinking at the present moment. There are several mindfulness-based therapies focused on helping deal with alcohol use disorder. Mindfulness helps control their cravings, thoughts, and other emotions related to alcohol. (13,14)
If you are battling with alcohol use disorder, you know that there have been many times when you have drunk alcohol simply to forget or numb certain negative emotions. Of course, in most cases, it happens that remembering certain experiences from the past is responsible for bringing up these emotions. Everyone also knows that this is not productive and causes a lot of mental stress and emotional as well as physical exhaustion.
Mindfulness helps you bring your attention and thoughts back to the current moment. At the same time, mindfulness meditation also helps you notice and deal with your thoughts or emotions without judgment. Just noticing your thoughts will help you weaken their hold on you. You will feel like you have more power and control over your thoughts and emotions rather than what they have on you. (15,16)
The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the better you will become at stopping this negative mental tape that keeps replaying in your mind and focusing on the present moment.
Mindfulness meditation has been used regularly by professionals to prevent people from relapsing. Relapse is when someone slips back and resumes drinking again after going through a period of recovery.
Relapse programs often include meditation like mindfulness to help train people to become aware of their thoughts, feelings, and cravings instead of just reacting. (17)
Many studies have also shown that mindfulness can provide better outcomes than the usual 12-step programs alone. (18)
However, not all studies have shown the same results. A research review from 2017 did not find mindfulness to be more effective than other types of relapse prevention. (19)
3.Extract of Kudzu Flower
The extract of the kudzu flower has been known to show some promise in helping people prevent going on a bout of binge drinking. Binge drinking is referred to when a person consumes four to five or more drinks within a span of two hours.
Kudzu flower is believed to help heavy drinkers reduce the amount of alcohol they drink, even if they are not undergoing treatment for alcohol use disorder.
The kudzu flower is again another TCM therapeutic method. It is the main ingredient in the Ge Hua Jie Cheng San TCM formula, which is a blend commonly used for the treatment of hangovers and intoxication. This is known to have many positive effects, including increasing the levels of blood alcohol faster, thus making a person feel intoxicated sooner. (20)
A study carried out in 2015 looked at people who indulged in binge drinking and consumed kudzu extract or a placebo before starting a 90-minute session of binge-drinking beer. The study found that those participants who took the dose of kudzu extract actually drank drastically less beer than they normally did. They also drank less than those people who were given the placebo. The ones who received the kudzu extract also drank beer more slowly than the ones who were administered the placebo. (21)
Another study done on heavy drinkers who were not seeking any type of treatment for their alcohol use found that consuming kudzu extract did not really have any impact on their cravings for alcohol, but it helped cut down the number of drinks they were having every week to nearly half the amount. It also significantly cut down the number of heavy drinking days of the participants, while increasing the number of days when they did not drink at all. (22)
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy or bright light therapy, can help people living with alcohol use disorder deal with the many side effects of alcohol withdrawal, such as poor-quality sleep. People who have alcohol use disorder are at a higher risk of developing sleep disorders like insomnia. (23)
Light therapy involves exposing people to bright, artificial light during the waking hours. This is a common treatment used for conditions like seasonal affective disorder. For people battling alcohol addiction, the potential benefits of light therapy are many. Exposure to this type of light can help reduce depression and also help promote a natural sleep cycle to help them get the much-needed rest they need to deal with the withdrawal symptoms.
Researchers from Boston University carried out a study on the benefits of using bright light therapy in combination with a medication known as naltrexone to help people deal with alcohol use disorder. The results of the study found that this was just as effective a regimen as other intensive substance use treatment options. (24)
Milk thistle is another alternative treatment option for alcohol use disorder. Scientifically known as Silybum marianum, milk thistle is an herb that is known to have potent antioxidant properties. It contains rich amounts of the antioxidant silymarin and is known to restore liver health, while also protecting the liver from getting damaged due to too much alcohol consumption.
Research has shown that milk thistle can also help people who want to treat certain alcohol-related liver diseases. However, it is necessary to note that more research is still needed to confirm that this herb boosts the health of your liver. (25)
It does not matter what type of treatment option you select to treat alcohol use disorder. Sometimes, these alternative treatments can also make the road to recovery from alcohol addiction a bit easier, especially when used in combination with other medically certified treatments. Remember that no matter the treatment option, getting free from alcohol addiction is a lifelong journey and you have to deal with the risk of temptation and the risk of relapse. Make sure to discuss all the treatment options with your doctor to select the one that is best for your individual case.
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