When we think of the effects of drugs and alcohol use, did you think of the short-term, or addictive effects of these substances? Did you know, these substances cause changes to brain function that can have long lasting physical effects? When a person chooses sobriety, unpleasant physical and emotional side effects begin to occur, as the body begins to struggle to live without these substances. This is known as withdrawal. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms can vary greatly depending on the length, and type of substance use, the extent of physical and metabolic damage, as well as the individual’s body and brain chemistry balance. Withdrawal symptoms are managed at Canadian Health Recovery Centre by addressing key underlying imbalances, and supporting the body’s detoxification pathways through targeted nutritional therapy.
Drugs and alcohol impair key neurotransmitters, causing the brain to become imbalanced. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is part of the “reward circuit” of the brain associated with addictive behaviour. As substance abuse increases the levels of dopamine in the body. Dopamine is often deficient in the early stages of abstinence, as withdrawal from chronic drug and alcohol use causes a decrease in the transmission of dopamine. This causes the symptoms of withdrawal to increase – especially cravings, as the brain looks to increase dopamine levels as it once did through substance abuse. As drugs and alcohol clear the body, our goal at this stage is to nutritionally support the body through targeted amino acid therapy and return it to a sense of well-being.
Another important consideration and commonly ignored component of drug and alcohol withdrawal is adrenal fatigue or exhaustion. This can often be brought on by the over use of alcohol, drugs, or stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Cravings for these substances are signs of the body’s need for energy to relieve the adrenal fatigue. In active addiction the influx of toxic substances and high amounts of stress brought on by the addiction lifestyle, leads to increased levels of strain in the body and subsequently increased long-term levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As the body and mind are constantly assaulted by the increased stress, levels of cortisol remain too high, and the adrenal glands become fatigued to the point where they are unable to keep up with the demand. The withdrawal process is often a catalyst for stress in itself as the body tries to live without substances. Customized adrenal support, through the use of key nutrients and adaptogenic herbs, enhance the body’s ability to deal with stress, anxiety, and fatigue while working to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction recovery whether it be from alcohol or other substances, must begin with addressing nutritional deficiencies, as the first stages of detox can be difficult if body imbalances are left unattended. It is only through proper nutritional therapy that the body be supported through this process and long lasting recovery can be found.
Melissa Blackburn – Borg CNP, RNCP, ROHP
Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioner