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Natural Remedies for Alcohol Addiction & Withdrawal
The Brain on Alcohol

Alcohol can affect different people in different ways, it may for example initially produce a relaxing feeling by increasing GABA, then happy feeling and being in love with everyone by increasing serotonin, then dopamine starts to rise leading to wanting to drink more, then glutamic acid rises giving us energy, then if GABA becomes excessive it could lead to feelings of depression, and if dopamine activity continues to increase it may produce a significant disinhibition civilised control leading to laree and aggressive behaviour.
If you can recognise from the descriptions on this page which particular neurotransmitter alcohol primarily affects in your individual brain you could take natural remedies to boost that specific neurotransmitter instead of alcohol. If you are struggling to reduce your alcohol consumption, if you consume excessive alcohol, if you cannot imagine being happy without alcohol or feel you simply need a drink recognising the specific way alcohol affects you may help you to pinpoint a specific neurotransmitter deficiency or imbalance that drives you to drink too much in the first place and then find healthier way to try and balance that neurotransmitter; the imbalance in your brain chemistry tht drives you to drink probably also affects your life in other ways too. 
So for example if from the text below you recognise that you drink to get an increase in GABA to overcome social anxiety then you could try self-medicating with natural remedies to boost GABA as a healthy alternative to self-medicating with alcohol; or you may drink to produce a dopaminergic effect and escape from a low board, unhappy, trapped, stuck in a rut mildly depressed condition that can result from low dopamine.
You can use natural remedies help you give up or reduce your drinking to compensate for a lack of alcohol, you can also use them to detoxify and repair your liver and the rest of your body.

Alcohol and Neurotransmitters

The way alcohol acts on the brain is actually very complex involving multiple neurotransmitters compared to other drugs such as cocaine that primarily affects dopamine levels and ecstasy primarily affects serotonin.

Dopamine and alcohol 
The neurotransmitter dopamine creates feelings of wanting, needing and liking; dopamine is what drives us towards pleasurable things it’s thought to be the central neurotransmitter involved in rising addiction in the first place. 
The way dopamine is involved in addiction is complex, the classic idea is that elevated dopamine increases addictive drives but I have experience both personally and with numerous patient that low levels of dopamine activity in the brain can also drive a person to want drink and other drugs in order to elevate dopamine levels and escape depressive feelings due to low dopamine levels. See Dopamine Deficient Depression for more details on this. I have bipolar syndrome type II so I experience both highs and lows in my dopamine activity, I also see patients with bipolar syndrome in my practice.  In the past I have struggled with addiction and used and abused many drugs, I’ve experienced the classic reckless drug taking associated with elevated dopamine activity, but I’ve also found as have many of my patients that maintaining healthy dopamine levels and preventing them from falling too low with natural remedies that increase dopamine can be an effective strategy to manage addictive cravings. When my dopamine levels are low my mind immediately thinks of drugs and alcohol in particular, my brain remembers that what would give me a quick lift, as soon as I rebalance my dopamine levels the desire to get drunk and take drugs disappears, interestingly when I have low dopamine I want alcohol and when I have high dopamine I want cocaine but we are all individual.
As I’ve said elsewhere many people with bipolar syndrome have problems with drink and drugs and anyone with a problem with drink or drugs should consider whether or not they have undiagnosed bipolar syndrome causing their dopamine levels to bounce around and drive their addiction and or drug abuse.
Furthermore the increased release of dopamine in the brain alcohol can increase feelings of wanting and liking which can make us want to drink more alcohol, that’s the classic one-drink-leads-to-another effect. One of the important things to learn if you are to drink safely is to recognise the increased feelings of wanting and liking that increased dopamine produces, alcohol is one of those drugs that gives us the feeling that a little bit more would feel a little bit better, that’s the dopamine talking; not all drugs affect the dopamine system this way and give us the desire to take more. I took the African narcotic herb Eboga for example and it distinctly makes you not want any more, you have to overcome this resistance to take enough to get the intended effect; LSD would another example, you don’t take a hit of LSD and then feel it would feel good to take another. Not only can increased dopamine activity makers want to drink more but it can also make us want other things like cake and sex.
Another significant behaviour that dopamine is involved in producing is impulsive and risk-taking behaviours, it literally compromises our ability to assess risk and make good decisions/judgements, classic examples of this are believing it’s okay to drive a vehicle under the influence, having sex that you later regret, gambling and of course either drinking a lot more or taking other drugs.
I had a work colleague that had to stop drinking altogether because he literally couldn’t drink sensibly, every time he drank at all he would lose control and get completely drunk to the point of being incapable, on several occasions we had to carry him and put him up in a hotel for the night; I would have loved to tried to balance his dopaminergic system with natural remedies but unfortunately this was many years ago before I specialised in brain chemistry.
Natural Remedies for Dopamine
Dopamine is manufactured from the amino acid precursor L-tyrosine and supplementing tyrosine can increase its production as long as there are adequate or ideally enhanced levels of the vitamin and mineral cofactors needed to convert tyrosine into dopamine. The herb Rhodiola also has a dopaminergic effect as does the amino acid NAC cysteine. See dopamine deficient depression for details on the remedies, for alcohol add kudzu and NAC cysteine to the dopamine boosting remedies.

GABA and alcohol
The neurotransmitter GABA is relaxing and depressant and when alcohol increases GABA activity in the brain a producer relaxing feeling, calming down fears and anxiety, social context example this may reduce social anxiety and if  coupled with a significant amount of impulsivity and risk-taking due to concurrent elevated dopamine you may find yourself behaving quite out of character.

If GABA levels continue to rise they may produce a depressant effect at which point you may become sad, depressed, maudlin.

Glutamate and alcohol
The neurotransmitter glutamate is the brains primary excitatory neurotransmitter and when alcohol increases glutamate activity we may feel perked up, energised and excited, but also possibly more anxious.

Serotonin and alcohol
The neurotransmitter serotonin influences our mood and when alcohol increases serotonin activity in the brain we experience and elevation in mood, happiness even giggly, feeling in love with everyone etc.
Opiate system and alcohol
Endorphins (naturally occurring opiates) can act as neurotransmitters producing a calming and painkilling effect. So if alcohol particularly hits this system it not only anaesthetise as physical pain but also mental pain.
Alcohol can affect different people in different ways, it may for example initially producer relaxing happy feeling by increasing GABA and serotonin then dopamine starts to raise leading to wanting to drink more than GABA becomes excessive leading to depression and the disinhibition of dopamine produces aggressive and laree behaviour.

Natural Remedies to prevent alcohol
Cravings and Relapse

Kudzu Root
Some studies have shown the herb kudzu root effectively reduces the craving for alcohol and some studies did not, however several of my patients told me they felt the kudzu helped reduce cravings. Once you’re ready to give up drinking start taking this root to help you through the transition to becoming a non-drinker.
Kudzu is available as a supplement however the strength or percentage of the active ingredients in many shop bought products is too low to be effective; look for products with at least 30%. Many of the strongest and best quality products are alcoholic tinctures which may not be appropriate if you’re an alcoholic but if consuming a few drops of a medicinal alcoholic tincture isn’t a problem for you then tinctures are a very good way to consume kudzu root.
A product I’ve used with some success is:
Planetary Herbals Full Spectrum kudzu available from (you can get $10 off your first purchase with by using the discount code HUK817 team)
Dosage: 1 capsule three times a day is an option alternatively if you only drink in the evenings 2-4 and up to 5-6 capsules spread throughout the evening.
It can be taken on an empty stomach and barring an allergic reaction could to route is considered safe.
NAC Cysteine
The amino acid NAC cysteine has antidepressant and anti-addictive properties. I believe NAC cysteine helps to restore healthy dopamine metabolism in the brain because it is specifically helpful for bipolar depression and cocaine addiction both of which involve dopamine. NAC cysteine is also an effective remedy for detoxifying the liver therefore making it a potentially useful remedy for alcohol abuse both for the addictive dopamine connection and cleaning up the aftermath in the liver.
Dosage: it usually comes in 600 mg capsules or tablets I recommend 2 (1200 mg) twice a day on an empty stomach for the first couple of months thereafter to tablets once a day.
I use Now Foods, Solgar or Source Natural all available from
Once you’ve completely stopped drinking to regenerate the liver I recommend following my liver detox regime see How to Detox Your Liver

Lithium orotate
Very low-dose lithium from lithium orotate may be an helpful for reducing cravings and relapse {PMID: 3718672} and I would highly recommend it for at least several months if not a few years. Low-dose lithium orotate is also a remedy I recommend for increasing neuroplasticity and repairing damage to the brain from alcohol and controlling bipolar syndrome which may be the primary cause of the alcoholism in the first place.
The amino acid tyrosine
The amino acid tyrosine is converted into the neurotransmitter dopamine and dopamine is involved in driving the pursuit of Hellenistic and addictive pleasures including alcohol. It seems dopamine can drive addiction when it is either too high or too low, I have personal experience of this as I live with bipolar syndrome. When dopamine is too high as it is during bipolar mania it hijacks one’s ability to make good decisions and assess risk, you throw caution to the wind and engage in reckless behaviour, furthermore when dopamine is high it feels good but as it starts to decline it feels horrible this is part of what causes the experience we’ve all had of its nice while you’re getting drunk but horrible when you start sobering up; furthermore there have been examples of people with Parkinson’s that were given the drug L-doper and as a consequence developed addictive behaviours as a side-effect. These things have led some people to believe that dopamine increasing dopamine would increase addiction however I also have personal experience of the reverse when my dopamine is too low and I’m in a low dopamine/depressed malaise my brain knows exactly what would make me feel better which is drink and or drugs.
I found supplementing the amino acid L tyrosine to prevent my dopamine level from getting too low with one of the most powerful things I have done to control my own drug-taking addictive tendencies, and I recommend anyone finds themselves reaching for alcohol to medicate away feelings of depression supplement the amino acid tyrosine.
Dosage: 1000 mg once or up to 3 times a day taken on an empty stomach at least 30 minutes before meals.
I use Now Foods available from
If you have bipolar syndrome however you must however learn how to control bipolar mania before taking the amino acid tyrosine because boosting dopamine producing treatment induced mania.

Repairing the Body and Brain after Alcohol

You can use natural remedies to assist the body to regenerate and repair the damage that prolonged and excessive alcohol use can cause to the body and brain.
Alcohol can cause :
  • Liver damage.
  • Leaky gut syndrome due to damage to the lining of the intestines or gut wall.
  • Foggy brain and diminish mental performance due to weakening of the blood brain barrier membrane that should prevent chemicals that are toxic being able to enter the brain, excessive alcohol use may also cause loss and what is called neuroplasticity and shrinkage of the brain, you may be surprised but even this is treatable.
  • Prolonged alcohol use can cause excessive production of insulin and insulin resistance which increases the risk of many health problems including heart/cardiovascular disease.
  • Alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Alcohol consumption can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
Repairing the gut wall
Excessive alcohol consumption damages the intestinal wall potentially giving rise to a wide range of health problems.
Leaky gut syndrome due to weakening of the intestinal wall can allow half digestive food molecules to enter the bloodstream triggering a lunatic like symptoms and widespread inflammation throughout the body. Up until recently I recommended the amino acid L-glutamine for repairing the gut wall however it appears that in some people consuming elevated levels of L glutamine may create an excessive production of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate which can be damaging to the brain and may increase anxiety; so because I always abide by the first rule of medicine which is first do no harm I no longer recommend L glutamine.
To repair the gut wall and now recommend combining probiotics with consuming 2 to 4 leaks a week which contain the pre-biotic food that feeds the friendly bacteria, a diet containing a large amount of vegetables and several litres of specifically made healthy chicken stock which contains numerous compounds and amino acids that help to heal leaky gut syndrome. I find the chicken stock leek soup combination actually more effective than supplementing L glutamine.
See my page on Chicken Stock
Repairing the blood-brain barrier
Excessive alcohol consumption also damages the important membrane that separates the blood from the brain called the blood-brain barrier, BBB. When the BBB becomes excessively permeable or leaky compounds that should never be able to enter the brain can now do so and provoke the brain’s own defences immune responses which gives rise to damaging inflammation in the brain. This can cause a host of problems a foggy brain is one of the most tell-tale signs of a leaky blood-brain barrier but also ironically a leaky BBB may also contribute to mental health problems such as depression that may contribute to your excessive drinking in the first place.
You can test the integrity of your BBB with the GABA challenge test. You take 1000-1500 mg of GABA (available as a food supplement) on an empty stomach in the evening when you’re not going to do anything that would be risky if you become drowsy. GABA is a neurotransmitter that is very slightly too big to pass through an interactive BBB so you should notice no effects if your BBB good condition, if however produces a sedating, calming and relaxing feeling on the one hand or irritability and a heightened feeling of anxiety indicates that the GABA you swallowed leaked through your BBB into your brain.
There are supplements that stimulate repair of the BBB but they would be unable to do the job if you didn’t also take care of several potential problems:
Firstly chronic over activation of the body’s stress responses causes accelerated breakdown of the BBB, you can train your brain to switch off stress responses and combat overactive stress responses with my relaxation response brain training programme the: The Stress Solution (insert link).
Secondly high blood sugar damages the BBB. You may already know you have high blood sugar because you have some form of diabetes however you may have high blood sugar and not know it. There are many things that you can do to lower your blood sugar the most basic of which is to avoid eating carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index; you can look up the GI of carbohydrates online anything above 70 is unacceptable. You can also avoid eating excessive amounts of carbohydrates by following a low glycaemic load diet. If you’re serious about your health you can buy a blood sugar meter and test yourself. For more on testing, correcting and maintaining healthy blood sugar for optimum health see Blood Sugar Control (insert link).
Thirdly elevation in an inflammatory chemical called homocysteine from B vitamin deficiency also causes breakdown the blood-brain barrier and as already mentioned deficiency of B vitamins is common among heavy drinkers. Instead of testing your homocysteine levels immediately you could put yourself on the B vitamins for a while and then test your homocysteine if you haven’t made a full health recovery.
Supplements for repairing the blood-brain barrier
Combining a specific form of vitamin B5 called pantethine with acetyl l carnitine has been shown to specifically prevent and repair damage to the BBB from alcohol {insert reference}.
Pantethine dosage: {}
Acetyl l carnitine: {}
Several antioxidants are also useful for healing the BBB:-
Curcumin from turmeric {}
Resveratrol {}
These are a type of antioxidant commonly found in tea particularly green and white tea. So drink copious amounts of green tea, many people find the taste of green tea unpleasant firstly because they using boiling water which produces a bitter taste, the perfect temperature for producing green tea is 80° C, secondly the quality of green tea used in green tea tea-bags is usually awful so I recommend buying loose leaf green tea and drinking it by the pot full.
Detoxifying the Liver
As you know prolonged heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, the good news is the liver is a highly repairable organ albeit that it does take robust treatments to stimulate it to repair.
Alcohol inhibits the liver’s ability to metabolise fat and regular consumption of alcohol can lead to an accumulation of fat in the liver know now is fatty-liver. Mainstream medicine largely considers this to be irreversible however I have seen it be reduced and resolved with aggressive liver detoxification, I believe the single most powerful treatment you can do to reverse fatty-liver is fasting and this is a central part of my liver detoxification protocol.
There are also several herbs most famously sylimarin that have liver detoxifying effects. My liver detoxification/regeneration treatment {insert link} consists of several days of fasting followed immediately by taking very high doses of liver cleansing herbs, vitamins and minerals this kick starts the regenerative systems in the liver and is followed by a healthy and of course alcohol free diet I have seen people recover from serious liver disease.
The liver detoxification technique I’ve just mentioned is very aggressive and not appropriate for someone in the early stages of recovery from years of alcohol abuse. Be safe, come off the alcohol first and eat healthily for several months before attempting this aggressive detoxification, the liver will be two-week and you shouldn’t be fasting when you have nutritional deficiencies. Correct this situation by taking a few nutritional supplements such as B complex, magnesium, omega-3 fish oils, a multi-mineral, a probiotic, the leek and chicken stock soup mentioned above etc then take a medium sylimarin for a week or two then allow the liver to rest and after all this you may be ready for fasting and aggressive herbal treatments. Ideally consult a local naturopathic or functional medicine practitioner such as myself skilled in this type of work.
Neuroplasticity and Alcohol
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to grow and maintain new connections, you can think of neuroplasticity the brain behaving in a similar way to the way our muscles behave if you regularly exercise a part of the brain it will grow bigger and when you underuse a part of the brain it shrinks just like a muscles respond to being exercised or not.
Neuro plastic changes are constantly taking place and if you spend quite a lot of your time inebriated under the influence of alcohol your brain is literally shaped and developed under the influence of alcohol so that it gets used to doing things with the altered balance of neurotransmitters that alcohol causes and when you then take the alcohol away you may find lots of things are quite difficult to do because your brain hasn’t grown the ability to do them without the influence of alcohol.
The good news is however that because neuro plastic changes never stop and continuously change the brain after a period of abstinence your brain can develop and change shape to the new alcohol free neurotransmitter balance. The bad news is that if your body is in a poor condition this may take quite a while and you may feel out of sorts for some time.
In 2013 I began experimenting with combinations of natural remedies to boost the production of a protein in the brain called BDNF. Basically BDNF is like a growth hormone in the brain, increases the brain’s ability to make new connections in other words it increases neuroplasticity. You can roughly guess your own level of neuroplasticity by answering the question do I find it easier or harder today to learn new things than I did five years ago, if your neuroplasticity is good you’ll actually find it easier. If you feel that your drinking has negatively impacted on your neuroplasticity you could attempt my BDNF boosting treatment, but I must emphasise that if you just take the BDNF boosting remedies without eliminating the enemies of BDNF including elevated stress responses, inflammation, poor diet lacking in vegetables and too high in high GI carbohydrates then it just won’t work well; however when you put the whole package together including short bursts of high-intensity interval exercise improvement can be dramatic.
Preventing breast cancer
Alcohol significantly increases the risk of breast cancer, consuming the natural form of folic acid called L-methylfolate at the same time as drinking might mitigate this effect and the natural remedy indole-5-carbinol has anti-breast cancer properties like Tamoxifen but without the side effects; you could use these two remedies as a protective stop gap while you work on your drinking problem.
Vitamin B1
Alcohol burns up B vitamins in general but especially vitamin B1, so on days you drink anything above tiny amounts take a B-Complex, ideally bringing your B1 levels up to 100 mg a day to protect your nervous system from the thiamine deficiency damage seen in alcoholics.
Alcohol and Weight loss
Weight for weight ethanol (the alcoholic part of a drink) contains about the same amount of calories as butter, next time you hold a glass of wine or beer use your finger to estimate how much of the glass would be 12% for wine all 5% for beer and then imagine filling your glass to that level with butter and eating it, that’s how many calories each glass contains. If you’re overweight this can have significant impact on your health for being overweight increases your mortality risk in several ways including increased risk of heart disease and cancer, so if you’re overweight be aware that alcohol is a very high calorie containing food.
General remedies for recovery from excessive alcohol
To improve the health of the liver add magnesium selenium and zinc, zinc often becomes deficient from excessive alcohol consumption because alcohol causes us to excrete zinc at a faster rate. Also add omega-3 fish oils to improve both brain and liver function.
What’s a safe amount to drink?
UK guidelines for how many units of alcohol we should consume to avoid health complications have been significantly reduced. The new safety guidelines are based on a lot of research.
The latest research clearly shows the consumption of alcohol significantly increases the overall risk of developing cancer and that the ability of moderate alcohol consumption to reduce heart disease is very minimal and perhaps only applies to people after middle age when heart disease becomes more of a risk factor. Furthermore the improved life expectancy obtained by a reduction in heart disease is only achieved by consuming truly tiny amounts of alcohol like a third of a standard glass of wine day which is a pointless and impractical amount of alcohol to consume.
My previous review of the research suggested that middle-aged men in particular received the greatest benefit because it seemed that moderate alcohol consumption would reduce the risk of heart disease in both men and women but that even moderate amounts slightly increase the risk of breast cancer but given that the risk of breast cancer is inherently low in men this disadvantage was outweighed by the potential advantage of reduction in the risk of mortality from heart disease. However the new research suggests that men, even post middle-aged men receive no benefits from regular alcohol consumption whatsoever and that it is post middle-aged women that receive some benefits but only from consuming pointlessly small amounts.
My criticism of the new findings is that when they looked at overall risk they included the risks to your health from accidents and injuries associated with alcohol consumption, in other words they lumped together everything from a reduction in the rate of heart disease to an increase in the risk of cancer and the increased risk of having a personal injury or even a fatal traffic accident to assess the overall effects of alcohol consumption on health. But I never drink and drive, I only consume one glass of wine (a quarter bottle) a day at home and this is insufficient to intoxicate me enough to pose any significant risk from injury, I just don’t get drunk enough on a glass of wine to mess up in the kitchen and cause a gas explosion. Of course the reality is that most people that drink alcohol to over consume either on a daily basis or with periodic binge drinking and both of these are very detrimental to your health.
The bottom line of the new researches the idea that a little bit of alcohol is actually good for you is pretty much a red herring because in the real world no one consumes such small amount of alcohol and as soon as you consume more than minuscule amounts of alcohol you are increasing your chances of developing some pretty unpleasant conditions most notably cancer and liver failure. If you are a sufficiently moderate drinker to not put yourself at risk of accident or injury the increased risk from cancer and liver failure are very moderate increased risks and you could decide that they’re not worth worrying about; if on the other hand you drink more than moderately the evidence is really solid that it’s poisonous. 
The new recommended units are a maximum of 14 units a week, this must be spread out as opposed to consumed all in one go and include two days without any alcohol consumption at all.
How Calculate Units of Alcohol
To work out units of alcohol multiply the volume of the drink in millilitres by the percentage volume of alcohol then divide the number by 1000.
So for example: a 500 mil bottle of beer containing 5% volume of alcohol contains 2.5 units of alcohol, the maths is 500 X 5÷1000 = 2.5 so actually one of these bottles a day for five days and then two days rest would match the new guidelines.
Another example would be a bottle of wine containing 13.5% volume of alcohol contains about 10 units of alcohol, the maths is 75 X 13.5÷1000 = 10.1
So a quarter of a bottle of wine a day for five days followed by two days rest to be practical quarter of a bottle of wine a day for four days would be okay.
Alcohol triggers a neurotransmitter known as GABA, which is helpful in creating a feeling of calmness and euphoria. Excess GABA can affect the control of muscles and slow down the reaction in the brain, therefore a motivating chemical known as glutamate is released by the brain so as to keep the GABA levels in check. Once alcohol is taken away, the levels of glutamate stays high and may cause bad temper and uneasiness. To get rid of these feelings, the brain desires for more alcohol. As more glutamate and GABA are released, the brain cells alter their structure so as to accommodate the extra chemicals, making them highly reliant on these high levels. As soon as you withdraw alcohol, agonizing emotions and physical responses are triggered.
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Hi my name is Peter Smith I specialise in treating and coaching people how to live well with mental health problems, digestive health problems/IBS, sleep problems and type II diabetes using natural therapies.
I used these techniques to overcome and live well with my own bipolar disorder and IBS. I've been in practice as a natural medicine practitioner since 1988.

What I Treat

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If you’d like treatment for any of the issues discussed in this article I specialise in treating and coaching people how to obtain better mental health with natural remedies and self-help techniques. If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises I’m available for private consultations and I’m available for private consultations at my London clinic and online for people that live too far away.
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