Alcoholism is commonly used term for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Treatment of and recovery from this addiction 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, certain natural approaches—such as meditation, acupuncture, and some herbs—may help enhance your well-being as you work through these stages.
If you’re considering the use of any of the following such approaches, make sure to discuss the potential benefits and risks with your healthcare team.
Acupuncture is a needle-based therapy long used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is often recommended to help reduce alcohol cravings, relieve withdrawal symptoms, and ease the anxiety and depression frequently experienced with alcohol addiction. Research to determine whether acupuncture is effective for this purpose is ongoing.
A meta-analysis of studies that used sham acupuncture (needles inserted into non-specific locations instead of those believed to target alcohol use disorder) as a control found that acupuncture treatment had a stronger effect on reducing alcohol cravings and withdrawal, as well as alcohol-related behaviors.1
This was measured after the last post-treatment visit. However, the effect was weak in the long term. The National Acupuncture Detoxification Program (NADA) is a specific protocol used to treat addiction that includes ear acupuncture.
Mindfulness-based relapse prevention therapy has been used for alcohol use disorder and other substance abuse disorders. These programs are based on meditation practices. They train the participant to be aware of their thoughts, emotions, and cravings rather than simply reacting to them.
Some studies report that the program participants had better outcomes than those who used only the typical 12-step program and other relapse prevention programs.2 However, this is not true of all studies.
A 2017 systemic review and meta-analysis of studies did not find that this therapy was more beneficial than other forms of relapse prevention.3
Kudzu extract has shown some promise in moderating binge drinking and reducing consumption in heavy drinkers who are not seeking alcohol use disorder treatment. Kudzu flower (ge hua) is the chief ingredient in ge hai jie cheng tang TCM formula which has been traditionally used for alcohol intoxication (and hangover).
It has several effects, including raising blood alcohol levels faster, which means you may feel intoxicated sooner.4 It is also thought to inhibit the clearing of acetaldehyde, a breakdown product of alcohol that has unpleasant effects. This is the same benefit that Antabuse (disulfiram), a drug approved for alcoholism treatment, offers.
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.8
Because alcoholism can lead to a number of social and emotional problems—as well as serious health issues—it’s crucial to seek treatment if you experience any symptoms, such as:
- A compulsion to drink or an inability to limit the amount of alcohol you consume
- Loss of control
- Physical dependence (typically triggering symptoms like nausea and sweating upon withdrawal)
- Tolerance (a need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to experience the pleasurable effects of intoxication)9
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)
- High blood pressure
- Bone loss
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease
In addition, alcoholism has been associated with an increased incidence of several cancers, including colon, breast, oral, esophageal, liver, and laryngeal cancers.10
It’s important to seek alcoholism treatment only from a qualified healthcare 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. Natural solutions may prove to be useful adjuncts, but their use should be considered by your care team