Natural treatment of Substance Addiction

An addiction is a dependence - either physical or psychological, or both - on a substance that creates an overwhelming craving for it, which can damage health, relationships and work. That substance may be legal, such as alcohol or prescription medications, or illegal, such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines.

Many substances may be 'abused'. That is, they are taken for a non- medical reason, such as an athlete using steroids or growth hormones, or a person with anorexia using laxatives or ipecac syrup to lose weight.

More than 76 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with an alcohol problem, and at least 15 million with drug use disorders. Intravenous drug use, which has been reported in 136 countries to the World Health Organization, is one of the major risk factors for the spread of HIV/ AIDS .

Alcoholism and substance abuse can cause premature death from overdoses, damage to the body or accidents caused by impaired judgment. Even something that may seem harmless such as sniffing model airplane glue or hairspray can cause sudden death.


This is a disease that occurs when drinking alcohol affects physical or mental health as well as social, family, or work responsibilities. The disease is divided into dependence and abuse.

Dependence, the most severe form of alcoholism, is characterized by a physical dependency on alcohol, which results in with- drawal symptoms when intake is reduced or stopped, and tolerance, a need for greater amounts of alcohol to feel its effects.

Abuse has not reached the point of physical dependency but has developed into what might be called a problem drinker.

Alcohol can impair judgment and concentration, erode the lining of the oesophagus and stomach, interfere with the absorption of vitamins, result in liver disease , affect the heart muscle and cause nerve damage, memory loss , birth defects such as foetal alcohol syndrome and sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction  and cessation of menstruation. It increases the risk of cancer of the larynx , oesophagus, liver and colon.

Illegal Drugs

A number of illegal drugs can cause addiction and serious health problems, even in young, other- wise healthy people.

The most common hallucinogens include LSD, mushrooms and peyote, as well as phencyclidine (PCP or angel dust), and ketamine (Special K). These drugs produce euphoria and decrease inhibitions, bur in larger doses can cause numbness and changes in perception, paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis and even death.

Cocaine is highly addictive. Using the drug causes feelings of intense euphoria, increased confidence and energy, and decreased inhibitions.

Methamphetamine and ecstasy elevate mood, increase energy, stamina and alertness, and de- crease inhibitions. These amphetamines also increase blood pressure  and heart rate, and can cause heart attacks  and strokes in healthy young people.

Heroin and other opioids, some of which are legal pain relief available by prescription, dull pain, produce euphoria and may enhance sexual pleasure. But tolerance can develop very quickly, and when it does, more of the drug is required for effectiveness, and numerous physical problems can develop as a result, including drug overdose. Withdrawal symptoms requires medical supervision.


Family history plays a role in substance addiction. Children of alcoholics and drug abusers have a higher chance of developing substance addiction themselves. Depression (pp.364-5) and other mental disorders may make people more prone to alcohol and substance abuse. Low self-esteem, conflict with relationships and anxiety  may also con- tribute, along with peer pressure and a stressful life style.

The person takes the substance and cannot stop - in many cases, such as nicotine, alcohol or drug dependence, at least one serious attempt was made to give up, but unsuccessfully.

Withdrawal symptoms - when body levels of that substance go below a certain level the patient has physical and mood-related symptoms. There are cravings, bouts of moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, a feeling of being depressed and empty, frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment.

There may suddenly be increased appetite. Insomnia is a common symptom of withdrawal. In some cases the individual may have constipation or diarrhea. With some substances, withdrawal can trigger violence, trembling, seizures, hallucinations, and sweats.

Addiction continues despite health problem awareness - the individual continues taking the substance regularly, even though they have developed illnesses linked to it. For example, a smoker may continue smoking even after a lung or heart condition develops.

Social and/or recreational sacrifices - some activities are given up because of an addiction to something. For example, an alcoholic may turn down an invitation to go camping or spend a day out on a boat if no alcohol is available, a smoker may decide not to meet up with friends in a smoke-free pub or restaurant.

Maintaining a good supply - people who are addicted to a substance will always make sure they have a good supply of it, even if they do not have much money. Sacrifices may be made in the house budget to make sure the substance is as plentiful as possible.


Taking risks (1) - in some cases the addicted individual make take risks to make sure he/she can obtain his/her substance, such as stealing or trading sex for money/drugs.

Taking risks (2) - while under the influence of some substances the addict may engage in risky activities, such as driving fast.

Dealing with problems - an addicted person commonly feels they need their drug to deal with their problems.

Obsession - an addicted person may spend more and more time and energy focusing on ways of getting hold of their substance, and in some cases how to use it.

Secrecy and solitude - in many cases the addict may take their substance alone, and even in secret.

Denial - a significant number of people who are addicted to a substance are in denial. They are not aware (or refuse to acknowledge) that they have a problem.

Excess consumption - in some addictions, such as alcohol, some drugs and even nicotine, the individual consumes it to excess. The consequence can be blackouts (cannot remember chunks of time) or physical symptoms, such as a sore throat and bad persistent cough (heavy smokers).

Dropping hobbies and activities - as the addiction progresses the individual may stop doing things he/she used to enjoy a lot. This may even be the case with smokers who find they cannot physically cope with taking part in their favorite sport.

Having stashes - the addicted individual may have small stocks of their substance hidden away in different parts of the house or car; often in unlikely places.

Taking an initial large dose - this is common with alcoholism. The individual may gulp drinks down in order to get drunk and then feel good.

Having problems with the law - this is more a characteristic of some drug and alcohol addictions (not nicotine, for example). This may be either because the substance impairs judgment and the individual takes risks they would not take if they were sober, or in order to get hold of the substance they break the law.

Relationship problems - these are more common in drug/alcohol addiction.


Some substance/alcohol abusers who are not technically addicted may also suffer from or cause some of the descriptions mentioned above, but they do not usually have the withdrawal symptoms of an addict or the same compulsion to consume the substance.

As the problem of drug abuse, especially among young people, has escalated over the years, more and more programmers have been designed to prevent substance addiction. Several research studies have shown that for each dollar spent on prevention, a savings of up to $10 in treatment for alcohol or other substance addiction is realized.

Families should be open about discussing substance abuse and its harmful effects. The goals of family-based prevention programmers are to improve family bonding with effective parent-child communication, parental involvement, education about drugs and moderate, consistent discipline.

Prevention can, and should, begin as early as pre-school and continue through secondary school by focusing on such risk factors as aggressive behaviour, poor social skills and academic difficulties. Programmers are designed to improve skills such as self-control and to develop emotional awareness, communication skills and social problem-solving, and provide academic support, especially in reading. Prevention programmers can be presented in schools, clubs, faith-based organizations and through the media.

Peer pressure becomes a major factor by secondary school, and there are programmers that can reinforce anti-drug attitudes, teach drug-resistance skills, and strengthen personal commitment against drug abuse. Interactive techniques, such as peer discussion groups and parent role-playing, are effective in teaching children about substance abuse and reinforcing drug-resistance skills. 

When alcohol or another sub- stance interferes with relationships and work, it is a problem.

A man who drinks five or more drinks a day, or 15 or more a week, or a woman who drinks four or more a day, or 12 or more a week, or anyone who drinks five or more drinks at one time at least once a week is at risk for alcoholism.

One drink equals 4.5 cl (1 ½ oz) of liquor, a 15 cl (5 oz) glass of wine, or a 35.5 cl (12 oz) bottle of beer.

Alcohol is measured by units in the United Kingdom. Men are advised not to drink more than three to four units a day, women two to three. A unit equals 0.3 oz (10 ml) of pure alcohol - or one single pub measure of liquor, one small glass of wine, or a half-pint of regular-strength beer.

Different blood and laboratory tests can check for the presence of drugs or alcohol in the body, bur cannot determine if the person is addicted. That diagnosis is based on symptoms of drug use. Other tests, such as liver function, complete blood count and serum magnesium, uric acid, total protein and folate can show damage from excessive drinking. 

Although anybody, regardless of age, sex or social status can potentially become addicted to some substances, there are certain factors which may increase the risk:

Genetics (family history) - anybody who has a close relative with an addiction problem has a higher risk of eventually having one themselves. It may be argued that environmental and circumstantial factors that close family members share are the prominent causes.

Alcoholics are six times more likely than non-alcoholics to have blood relatives who are alcohol dependent. Researchers from the Universidad de Granada, Spain, in a study revealed that "the lack of endorphin is hereditary, and thus that there is a genetic predisposition to become addicted to alcohol".

Geneticists believe that the reason some people try cigarettes and do not become smokers, while others do so very quickly is probably linked to the type of genes we inherit from our parents. Some people can smoke once in a while, throughout their lives, and never seem to become addicted, while others are unable to stop smoking without experiencing the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. It is most likely that the way the receptors on the surface of our brain nerve cells respond to nicotine is influenced by our genes.

Gender - a significantly higher percentage of people addicted to a substance are male. According to the Mayo Clinic, USA, males are twice as likely as females to have problems with drugs.

Having a mental illness/condition - people with depression, ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and several other mental conditions/illnesses have a higher risk of eventually becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol or nicotine.

Peer pressure - trying to conform with other members of a group and gain acceptance can encourage people to take up the use of potentially addictive substances, and eventually become addicted to them. Peer pressure is an especially strong factor for young people.

Family behavior - young people who do not have a strong attachment to their parents and siblings have a higher risk of becoming addicted to something one day, compared to people with deep family attachments.

Loneliness - being alone and feeling lonely can lead to the consumption of substances as a way of copying; resulting in a higher risk of addiction.

The nature of the substance - some substances, such as crack, heroin or cocaine can bring about addiction more rapidly than others. For example, if a group of people were to take crack every day for six months, and another identical group of people were to drink alcohol every day for the same period, the number of crack addicts at the end of the six months would be a lot higher than the number of alcoholics. For some people trying a substance even once can be enough to spark an addiction. Crack, also known as crack cocaine or rock, is a freebase form of cocaine that can be smoked.

Age when substance was first consumed - studies of alcoholism have shown that people who start consuming a drug earlier in life have a higher risk of eventually becoming addicted, than those who started later. Many experts say this also applies to nicotine and drugs.

Stress - if a person’s stress levels are high there is a greater chance a substance, such as alcohol may be used in an attempt to blank out the upheaval. Some stress hormones are linked to alcoholism.

How the body metabolizes (processes) the substance - in cases of alcohol, for example, individuals who need a higher dose to achieve an effect have a higher risk of eventually becoming addicted. 

Treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction often requires a combination of behavioural therapies and medication. If physical withdrawal occurs, those symptoms must be treated first. The longer the treatment programmes, the more chance of success; people who have spent three months or longer in a treatment programme have a higher success rate.

• DETOXIFICATION Suddenly quitting alcohol and some drugs, such as heroin, can cause physical with- drawal symptoms, so a process of detoxification, often in a hospital or other supervised setting, must be done. Delirium tremens (DTs) in alcohol withdrawal can be fatal without treatment.

• MEDICATION There are several medications that can help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal, sup- press the craving for the drug and block the effects.

Disulfiram encourages abstinence by causing unpleasant side- effects if any alcohol is ingested. Naltrexone decreases the cravings for alcohol. It is sometimes also used to treat heroin addiction. Methadone, a narcotic itself, reduces the craving for other, more harmful narcotics such as heroin, and prevents withdrawal symptoms. The dose of methadone or other substitutes, such as LAAM, is gradually reduced, although some people may have to take a maintenance dose of methadone for months or even years.

Unfortunately, there is no medication available for treating addiction to many of the other popular street drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy. However, medication can be used to treat seizures and psychotic reactions that sometimes result from these drugs.


• PSYCHOTHERAPY There are several different types of behavioural therapies that are used to help patients abstain from alcohol or drug use. Cognitive behavioural relapse prevention teaches patients different ways to think and act in order to avoid drug use. Contingency management uses a system of rewards and punishments to make abstinence more attractive than drug use.

• EDUCATION AND JOB REHABILITATION Job skills are important so that the patient can find work and not return to old habits.

• RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT PROGRAMMES Some patients may find a programme in which they stay full-time for weeks or months to be most effective.

• TWELVE-STEP PROGRAMMES Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of several support groups, and it has been very successful in treating recovering alcoholics by offering emotional support and encouraging abstinence. There are other groups available to provide sup- port for family members.

• THIAMIN Also known as vitamin B 1, thiamin is helpful in acute alcohol withdrawal. Thiamin supplements can be taken orally; bur injections are more effective for the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. 

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