Written by: Rebecca Baird
This article explores addiction and how most addictions are caused by biological imbalances. There is much research on the causes of addiction, but at this time the most widely used prescription for addictions is the different “Anonymous” groups; Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, and a host of others are all trying to solve the problem of addiction from a 12 step program perspective. There is scientific proof that the cause of addiction is more than just behavioral and is biological. Research has shown that L-Glutamine, GABA (gabapentin), and proper nutrition is instrumental in helping patients become free of addictions to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and any other substances, within a three week period of time.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, and a host of others are all noble attempts to cure addiction from a 12 step program perspective, but the fact is that there is scientific proof that the cause of addiction is more than just behavioral and is in fact biological. By looking at the effects of these biological imbalances in an addict and adding proper nutrients, the cravings for the addictive substance can be completely halted. This comes from research studies done by Julia Ross (2008) and many other psychologists and physicians in the specific field of addiction. The substance abuse and addictions studied include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, speed, opiates, tobacco, and prescription drugs (p. 3).
Historically, anonymous groups have been the only option for substance abusers to turn to. This has worked for some, but the majority of people who have trouble with substance abuse go from one substance to another to try to take care of their cravings. Alcohol and drug treatment centers, such as the one in San Francisco where Ross (2008) practiced, who use anonymous groups and prescription drugs to curb the substance abuse, find that 80% to 90% of all clients would relapse back into their addiction. Most alcoholics and drug users will substitute the addictive substance with sweets and refined foods because, as Ross points out, “sugar is almost identical to alcohol biochemically. Both are highly refined, simple carbohydrates and are instantly absorbed… skyrocketing blood sugar levels and temporarily raise potent mood chemicals in the brain” (p. 6-7).
Chastain (2006) states that the pharmacological approach to the treatment of alcoholism are the drugs Disulfiram, Naltrexone, Acamprosate, Tiapride, and Naranjo which have serious side effects including “nausea, vomiting, pounding in the chest, decrease in blood pressure,” sedation, sleeplessness, excessive sweating, tremor, headache, and Disulfiram has been known to produce hepatitis (p. 333). This study also showed the effects of alcohol on the protein molecules in the brain; alcohol has a detrimental effect on neurotransmitter activity in the brain (Chastain). Head (2006) shows that the use of traditional medicine, used to alleviate problems caused by addictions, only mask the symptoms and at times actually cause addiction to the medication used to help stop the initial addiction. Many of these pharmaceutical drugs are used to increase serotonin in the brain which has been noted is depleted in most addiction patients (p. 321).
A study done by Blum et al. (1990) illustrates that experimentation done on humans and animals prove that nutrient deficiencies can be the cause of addiction and hinder the recovery of addicts (p.12). These deficiencies have caused a deficit in the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (Blum et al.). Serotonin, as stated by Fusar-Poli et al. (2007), has been implicated in a wide variety of functions such as mood, anxiety, sleep, aggression, and sexual and cognitive functions (p. 31). As study done by Kapus et al. (2008) showed that anxiety disorders, in mice and in humans, are caused by a lack of serotonin in the brain. The use of GABA can lead to a safer therapeutic approach to anxiety disorders than the use of narcotic approaches or sedatives (p. 239). A study done by Markus et al. (2008) showed that serotonin levels increased with the use of tryptophan which elevated overall mood and sense of well being in the study group. A study done by Fusar-Poli et al (2007) showed that tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and the lack of tryptophan has noticeable effects on serotonin levels in the brain (pp. 31-44).
Nutritional supplement which Ross (2008) suggests would increase serotonin levels in the brain include L-tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. Johns Wort, Melatonin and vitamin B6 (p.3). Blum et al. (1990) established similar results in their study which stated that supplementation of the amino acid L-tryptophan converts to serotonin in the brain (p. 12). Markus et al. (2008) also concluded that the use of tryptophan sources were advantageous to the availability of essential amino acids to brain chemistry (p. 107). Fusar-Poli et al. (2007) also concurred that the lack of tryptophan had a significant lowered effect in the brain activity which is normally present in happy individuals (p. 33).
Supplementation with L-tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. Johns Wort, Melatonin, and Vitamin B-6 is just one way to increase serotonin levels in the brain to bring about recovery from addictions. Diet can play a major role in raising serotonin levels as well. According to Ross (1999) whole food carbohydrates can raise serotonin levels in the brain and give the needed nutrients to fuel the body (p. 291). Ross (2008) states that food items which naturally raise serotonin levels are 25-30 grams of good quality protein per meal; this includes eggs, chicken, cottage cheese, and red meat. Low starch green, yellow, red, and purple vegetables, avocados, olive oil, coconut milk, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, fruit, squash, beans, potatoes, rice and corn. The foods to avoid are sweets, white flour products, caffeine, sugar substitutes, and fried foods (p.1). Diet alone can raise serotonin levels, but studies have shown that serotonin will also rise naturally after doing moderate exercise outdoors (Ross, 1999, p. 217).
Fusar-Poli et al. (2007) points out that psychological problems stem from depletion, or low levels, of essential chemicals in the brain. These psychological problems can manifest themselves as depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, aggressive behaviors, and lack of sexual and cognitive functions (p. 31). The chemicals which control these functions are serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA), and opioid systems in the brain.
The addition of essential amino acid supplementation is highly useful in alleviating these psychological problems, which are the symptoms of low levels of essential chemicals in the brain. One study done by Pålsson et al. (2007) showed that the amino acid L-arginine could have therapeutic effects on the cognitive dysfunctions in schizophrenia. The study shows that these amino acids could be used to alleviate the problems associated with drug use and schizophrenia (p. 9-15). Also, in this study, L-lysine was shown to protect mice from the effects of PCP. The study done by Blum et al. (1990) showed that the amino acids L-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine convert to dopamine and norepinephrine; and L-glutamine converts to GABA (p. 12). A study done by Porter et al. (2007) showed the positive effects of the amino acid tryptophan on cortisol in saliva. The participants in the study were elderly individuals who had recently recovered from depression and healthy elderly. The study was done using two amino acid mixtures; one which contained tryptophan and one which did not contain tryptophan. The study showed a definite difference in the positive effects of tryptophan on depression (p. 71-75).
Nutrition therapy is an emerging successful alternative to traditional substance abuse therapy and offers people suffering from substance abuse real and lasting relief from the substance abuse prison. The detoxification process can be painful and cause many substance abusers to think twice about going through the pain of quitting. According to Chastain (2006) “Excessive glutamate activity, during withdrawal, contributes to cell death and thus frequent withdrawal may lead to irreversible alcoholic brain damage.” It is also interesting to note that “chronic alcohol use leads to reduced brain levels of endorphin, which contribute to the negative emotional states that accompany alcoholic withdrawal” (p. 330, 332).This is where nutrition therapy comes into play in the form of several essential amino acids.
A study done by Crokford, White, and Campbell (2001) showed that supplementing with GABA was instrumental in helping the patient become free of the addiction to benzodiazepine, as well as cigarettes and any other substances, within a three week period of time. The result also showed that using GABA left no withdrawal symptoms as the patient went off the addictive substances. Crokford et al. goes on to state that “It has been reported that GABA is helpful in the management of pain syndromes, anxiety, and alcohol withdrawal” (p. 287). A study done by Gass and Olive (2008) shows that treating cocaine use by supplementing with the amino acid L-cysteine can reduce cravings, withdrawals, and relapse in patients. The study also showed that after a four week period of time the results showed that L-cysteine was still instrumental in reducing or alleviating all cravings and withdrawals in these patients (pp. 218-265).
According to Head (2006) the use of Alpha-lipoic acid, amino acids acetyl-L-carnitine, L-arginine, L-glutamine, taurine, N-acetylcysteine and other supplements are instrumental in the alleviation of addictions, are typically without side effects, and address nutrient deficiencies, oxidative stress, and other etiologieal factors (pp. 294-329). A study done by Roberts (2005), shows the effectiveness of GABA on addictions; specifically cocaine addiction. The positive results from this study have prompted studies on humans to see if GABA has the same positive effect on lessening or completely alleviating the cravings and withdrawals associated with addictions (p. 18-20). In studies done by Ross (2008) all addictions were alleviated by the use of supplemental L-tryptophan, L-tyrosine, GABA, DL-phenalanine, and L-glutamine. The specific use of L-glutamine has shown significant results in alleviating cravings of addictive substances (p. 3).
In conclusion, this paper has shown that there is scientific proof that the cause of addiction is more than just behavioral and is in fact biological. By looking at the studies and the conclusions of the studies, the effects of these biological imbalances in an addict and by adding proper nutrients, the cravings for the addictive substance can be completely halted. The lack of proper nutrition may be just the beginning of the reason for addiction. The social, psychological, and economic reasons which people give for their substance abuse should be studied to see if there is a correlation between these factors and substance abuse. There should also be more research done on the effects of long term use of amino acid therapy, but as it stands now there are no know side effects to the use of amino acids as a tool in nutritional addiction therapy.
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