Alternative Treatments for Alcoholism

Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN | Published on November 26, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on November 26, 2014

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcohol addiction or alcoholism is a condition that occurs when a person has a dependency on alcohol. This will impact their life and their relationships with others.  Alcoholism can be a deadly disease. The condition can lead to liver damage and traumatic accidents.

Traditional alcoholism treatments include stopping drinking. People accomplish this by quitting “cold turkey” or gradually cutting back on drinks. Doctors can also prescribe medications to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

People who are long-term, heavy drinkers require professional medical detoxification or detox programs. This is because withdrawal symptoms could cause seizures and hallucinations. Withdrawals can also affect brain functioning and lead to death.  

However, those trying to overcome alcoholism may choose alternate or supportive treatments to boost chances for success in overcoming alcoholism.

Meditation

The decision to quit drinking requires mental discipline and self-control. Drinking can serve as a coping mechanism and stress relief source for some individuals. Certain people may choose meditation as a means to replace drinking with a more positive stress relief method.

Meditation involves taking a few moments to maintain focus. Some people may choose to chant or repeat a positive thought in their minds. Examples could include “I will commit to living a healthier lifestyle.” Another practice involves a person picturing themself overcoming alcohol addiction and how they will feel when they successfully quit.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves inserting small needles into the skin. Its purpose is to restore balance to the body. People may use acupuncture to relieve pain and depression. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), people also use acupuncture to quit smoking.

The evidence that acupuncture helps people overcome alcoholism is more anecdotal than research-based. Acupuncturists believe techniques can help people detoxify their bodies, especially the liver. Because alcoholism can cause liver scarring, this is a rumored direct benefit.

No definitive published research can back acupuncture’s benefits in treating alcoholism. However, the practice is not associated with health risks if a licensed practitioner performs it. People should not attempt acupuncture on their own.

Yoga

Yoga is a gentle exercise designed to help people get in tune with their bodies. Because alcoholism can make people feel out of control, yoga may help. The practice involves careful breathing and slow, gentle movements to stretch and tone the body.

Yoga helps people make a mind-body connection. The exercise provides stress relief that could enhance a person with alcoholism’s sense of well-being. Yoga can teach people to use their bodies in a healthy way.

Many types of yoga exist. Community centers, gyms, and yoga studios offer classes. Instructional DVDs are also available to help beginners learn yoga positions. 

Light Therapy

One of the side effects of alcohol withdrawals is poor-quality sleep. Those living with alcoholism are at greater risks for sleep disorders, such as insomnia. Boston University researchers conducted a study on the benefits of bright-light therapy and a medication called naltrexone in helping patients overcome alcoholism. The results showed this regimen was just as effective as intensive alcoholism treatment programs.

Also known as phototherapy, bright-light therapy involves exposing a person to bright, artificial light during typical waking hours. Light therapy is a common treatment for seasonal affective disorder. The proposed benefits are two-fold for those living with alcoholism. The light could reduce depression and promote a more natural sleep cycle.

Herbs

Harvard University researchers studied the benefits of the herb kudzu in binge drinking. Kudzu is a weed considered a nuisance in the Southern United States. However, Chinese medicine practitioners have been using kudzu to reduce excess alcohol consumption for more than a thousand years.

The researchers asked men and women to take a pill and then drink up to six beers. Some people got the kudzu pill while others got a placebo. The group that took the kudzu pill drank slower and less beer than those who didn’t. While the study’s size was small, it showed promise in this herb possibly helping those with alcoholism.

Kudzu has an ingredient called puerarin that boosts brain blood flow. Researchers theorized the herbs helped people feel satisfied after drinking less beer.

People with alcoholism should not start taking or drinking any herbs without a doctor’s review. Herbs can have serious interactions with medications or alcohol. They also may not outweigh the benefits of alcohol abuse medications.  

Nutritional Counseling

Alcoholism affects a person’s nutritional status. According to the Cleveland Clinic, nearly all patients with alcoholism are malnourished in some way. Doctors use nutritional therapy to help patients feel better. When patients make healthy eating choices, they can boost energy. This can help them resist temptations to drink.

A dietitian can help people with alcoholism identify healthy foods. 

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