09/20/2010 06:30 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

What an Addict or Alcoholic Really Needs

September is National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month. I know this is not one of those subjects that just fit into a simple medical answer. Addictions fill a hole in the person. That hole could be filled by many other addictive behaviors: smoking, eating, gambling, work, almost anything. I've treated addictions for many years and have always seen the problem as larger than just the chemistry of the body. But I have also found that caring for the body helps.

So what does an addict need? I think addicts need what everyone needs, some basic respect and acceptance. Whatever the hole in their lives they are trying to fill is real for them, they just chose the wrong filler. And sometimes it takes some compassion to understand that.

Many of the addictions have their root in chemical imbalances, which may have genetic aspects to it. Think of a simple addiction. Did you ever wonder why we crave sugar? Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana tend to throw off sugar balances. Using substances that balance sugar cravings such as chromium and alpha lipoic acid can be helpful in reducing cravings for other addictive substances. If you are uncomfortable with one form of counseling or treatment, don't stop seeking help. Find someone you can trust to work with you. We're all in this together and no one is uniquely perfect. Take care of yourself.

Most addictions create an additional stress on the body's nutritional needs. Nutrients that
should be going to maintaining the body's strength and recuperation are being used by
the drugs or alcohol that are consumed. Essential vitamins and minerals that are depleted need to be replenished. Amino acids, the substances that form proteins in the body, also form the neurotransmitters that send messages to the brain. So if our bodies are depleted of the basic substances we need for our brain to function, our brains start to degenerate. Different addictive substances have different effects on the brain, but they all do their damage.

Rhodiola rosea, a Chinese herb, which has been studied to help in reducing stress, increases two brain transmitters, serotonin and dopamine levels. It is just one example of how herbal medicine can contribute to the treatment of addictions.

Prayer and meditation are the most natural substitutes for the ecstasy of addictive substances, without the side effects or the costs. Forgiving yourself is also one of the most powerful tools in moving forward in our lives.

If you have problems with addictions you need to monitor your body's health. This includes liver function, vitamin status and general health screens. You can find more information on these tests at

Even if you do drink, smoke or use drugs, take care of your body. Make it as strong and healthy as you can.


Government Resources

The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA)


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA)
Al-Anon & Alateen

Information on Drug testing here.

For more information on nutritional counseling for addictions visit here.