Please Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only & we highly recommend that you consult your GP, Keyworker or Pharmacist before changing or adding vitamins, minerals or supplements into your daily routine.
And I know there are a lot of people out there grappling with the same problem.
You may feel like you need something to get through the day.
And then something else to fall asleep at night.
And you just have no idea how you could possibly live without these substances.
I’m here to tell you that you can. And you can thrive.
These 9 nutrients, vitamins and supplements have helped me minimize withdrawal symptoms, overcome my addictions, and get on with my life.
And even if you don’t struggle with addiction, these nutrients are still great for optimal brain function and mental health.
How Does Nutrition And Supplementation Impact Addiction?
Addiction is not simply a psychological issue.
Historically, most drug treatment programs have included counseling and 12-step approaches like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
But these traditional approaches are not very effective.
In her book Seven Weeks to Sobriety, Dr. Joan Mathews Larsen points to studies showing that AA has a success rate of about 25 per cent.
This is because they address the psychological aspects of addiction without considering the physical aspects of the disease.
And Dr. Charles Gant worked as the physician and psychiatric consultant for the New York State prison system, and dealt with hundreds of drug users and traffickers.
He realized that they wouldn’t overcome their addictions without addressing their physical health:
“Unless the biochemical imbalances which are the true causes of substance problems are corrected, the benefits of psychological counseling will be marginal for most people.”
— Dr. Charles Gant
Addiction is a chronic brain disease. Studies show that drugs physically change the structure and functioning of the brain, and these documented brain changes lead to cravings (96).
And in my experience and research, high-quality bioavailable nutrients are an important aspect of combating and correcting this.
Research shows that vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause metabolic imbalances that create addictive cravings (97, 98).
Dr. Roger Williams, an American biochemist who discovered pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), found that rats that were deficient in certain vitamins consumed more alcohol than those that were not vitamin deficient. But once those vitamin deficiencies were fixed, alcohol consumption decreased (99).
So, without further ado, let’s get into nutrients and supplements that helped me the most. with my addiction and withdrawal, and explore the research behind them.
Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is the most bioavailable form of choline.
Choline is an essential B vitamin that most people don’t consume enough of, because very few foods in the Western diet contain it. That’s why I recommend supplementing with it.
Citicoline has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects, and enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine and dopamine, which are two neurotransmitters that are critical for optimal brain function. It also increases the number of acetylcholine and dopamine receptors in your brain (2-7).
Overall, citicoline is one of my favourite supplements for optimal brain function and mental health.
And there’s evidence that it helps reduce addiction to drugs (1).
In one study, people previously addicted to cocaine took 500mg of citicoline twice daily for two weeks and experienced a reduction in cravings for the drug (8).
In another study, people with cocaine dependence and bipolar disorder who supplemented with citicoline reduced their cocaine use. Researchers had directed them to not consume cocaine during the study, and at the end of it, the researchers found less cocaine in the urine of the participants (9).
The commonly-prescribed antidepressant Wellbutrin is anticholinergic, meaning it inhibits the physiological action of acetylcholine. I took it for multiple years, and I experienced gradual cognitive decline during that time.
Once I got off Wellbutrin, I felt pretty terrible. But once I started supplementing with citicoline, I noticed an improvement in my cognitive function because it increased my levels of acetylcholine and dopamine. I still take it to this day because it helps me focus, improves my mental energy, and clears brain fog.
Citicoline is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.
It’s known to produce a calming effect on the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing the production of both GABA and dopamine in the brain. Unlike prescription anti-anxiety medication, it does not cause sedation and drowsiness (13, 14, 15).
Considering all of this, it’s not too surprising that it has anti-addictive properties and can help reduce withdrawal symptoms.
According to the research, it’s particularly helpful when it comes to withdrawal from nicotine and opioids (16, 17).
I find that theanine improves my mood, helps me focus and cancels out the jitters of my morning coffee. It’s sort of like meditation in a pill. My mind has a tendency to jump around a lot, and theanine helps me “zero in” on what I’m doing.
However, too much theanine can also make people anxious. This is because theanine increases alpha brain waves, and I found out that very high alpha brain waves can actually cause anxiety as well. I usually take just 200 mg, but you should experiment and see how much you can tolerate.
Theanine is available in this anti-anxiety supplement, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my anxiety over the years.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that the body cannot produce itself.
They are found primarily in fish and are necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system (18).
They can support your mitochondria and increase your brain’s growth hormone, and have been shown to improve mood, sleep, learning and memory. They also protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (19-21).
Considering all this, it’s not too surprising them that omega-3 fatty acids can also help addicts and reduce their withdrawal symptoms.
Research shows that increased anxiety is one of the primary reasons why substance abusers and alcoholics tend to relapse (23, 24).
And one study found that giving omega-3 fatty acids to substance abusers significantly reduced their anxiety (22).
Smokers have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and treatment with fish significantly reduces their level of dependence (25, 28).
Other studies have shown that omega-3 supplements reduce cravings for nicotine and reduce the number of cigarettes people smoke daily (26, 27).
Researchers have also studied the relapse rates of cocaine addicts discharged after a period of detoxification. And they found that the cocaine addicts who relapsed had significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in comparison to addicts who didn’t relapse (29).
“These bipolar mice, like some bipolar patients, love alcohol. The mice on DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) drank much less; it curtailed their alcohol abusive behavior. There is now substantial evidence at the molecular level that omega-3 fatty acids work on the brain in ways similar to psychiatric drugs.”
— Dr. Alexander B. Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D.
Unfortunately, most people don’t consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet. That’s why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. I now take this one. I find that I have a brighter outlook on life when I take krill oil consistently.
4. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
It can also reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
In one study, alcoholic patients treated with ALCAR stayed sober for longer because it reduced their cravings (48).
ALCAR can also help treat opiate addiction and withdrawal.
And research in rats shows that ALCAR can significantly decrease alcohol consumption and reduce the onset of tremors during alcohol withdrawal. Researchers concluded that it should be considered in the treatment of alcohol dependence (50).
It’s included in the Optimal Brain supplement.
5. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) and/or Glutathione
As I’ve discussed before, it can help treat several mental illnesses.
But it can also reduce addiction and cravings during withdrawal (32-34, 41, 42, 45):
- In a small study, 13 people abstaining from cocaine were given NAC or placebo over two days. The participants who received NAC witnessed a significant reduction in their withdrawal symptoms and cravings for cocaine. Follow-up studies also showed that NAC reduced desire and interest in cocaine (35-37).
- Smokers voluntarily reduced their cigarette use by around 25% after two weeks of supplementing with NAC (38, 39).
- Young marijuana users claiming to be addicted to marijuana supplemented with NAC twice daily for four weeks and experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms of addiction (43, 44).
- And it’s not just addiction to drugs. NAC also shows promise for the treatment of gambling addiction. A randomized control trial with 27 pathological gamblers showed that gamblers who supplemented with NAC scored 60% lower on the “Obsessive Compulsive Scale for Pathological Gambling.” (40).
Oxidative stress can change neuronal pathways and cause addictive behaviour. But glutathione can reduce oxidative stress and therefore decrease the development of addiction (46).
NAC is included in Optimal Antiox, along with a number of other antioxidants and nutients that can help you overcome addiction and manage withdrawal.
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.
Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system.
This means your entire body needs it to function properly and a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including addiction.
Researchers have concluded that chronic vitamin D deficiency is an environmental factor contributing to drug use. And supplementation should be considered for the effective treatment of drug abuse and addiction (51-54).
Other studies have discovered that:
- Vitamin D protects against the dopamine-depleting effects of methamphetamine (52-54);
- There is also a positive association between vitamin D deficiency and severity of alcohol-use disorders (55); and
- Patients prescribed narcotic pain medication – such as morphine, fentanyl or oxycodone – end up having to take higher doses if they are deficient in vitamin D (56).
I take this Vitamin D supplement every day to optimize my levels.
Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. This includes neurotransmitter and hormonal activity, both of which can have a huge effect on your mood and brain function.
Magnesium is one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, as most people are deficient.
The mineral has been shown to decrease dependence on opiates, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamine and alcohol, and reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms when stopping these drugs (84).
It can also lower relapse rates, particularly with cocaine and amphetamine addicts (84).
And researchers have concluded that magnesium supplementation can decrease nicotine addiction in heavy smokers.
It does this by naturally improving the stimulation of the reward system, which reduces the need for stimulation by nicotine or by others addictive substances (85).
Studies have also found that magnesium deficiency is very common in people dealing with alcohol addiction and withdrawal. And supplementing with magnesium diminishes withdrawal complications, reduces the severity of their withdrawal symptoms, and lowers their need for anti-anxiety medication (86, 87).
It can also help treat addiction and withdrawal.
Research shows that opioid users have lower levels of zinc (72-75).
And in the case of alcoholism, alcohol is known to deplete zinc from the body. Over time, chronic alcohol consumption can produce a downward spiral in which zinc deficiency causes chronic stress, driving a person to drink more alcohol, which further depletes zinc and causes more anxiety in the long run.
In animals, zinc reduces the intensity of morphine dependence, and zinc chelators worsen withdrawal symptoms (76, 77, 78).
However, I still recommend at least short-term zinc supplementation to ensure you get enough.
I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement for that reason.
9. Vitamin C
It might seem unbelievable but there is research demonstrating vitamin C’s usefulness in overcoming addiction and reducing withdrawal symptoms.
First of all, vitamin C levels are significantly lower in drug addicts (68).
And high doses of vitamin C have been shown to increase endorphin levels, decrease opioid use, and reduce the withdrawal syndrome of heroin addicts (58).
The chronic administration of vitamin C can also prevent the development of tolerance and physical dependence on morphine (59, 69).
When I weened off psychiatric medication, I took large doses of vitamin C every day. By large doses, I mean about 10 grams spread throughout the day. I noticed it reduced stress and helped calm me down.
And other research shows that long-term vitamin C deficiency contributes to nervousness and emotional instability. And there was a 35% reduction in mood disturbance in hospitalized patients after vitamin C treatment (60, 61).
Foods that contain vitamin C include green peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage.
But it’s best to supplement with it. That way, you know you’re getting enough.
VITAMINS FOR WITHDRAWAL FROM ALCOHOL ADDICTION
According to a 2014 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than half of Americans aged 12 and older use alcohol. Chronic alcohol use causes a change in brain chemistry over time, so when alcohol is eliminated, withdrawals can occur. These may range from depression, anxiety, sleep problems and fatigue to seizures, fever, and hallucinations.
Alcoholism causes deficiencies in B vitamins as well as vitamins C and A, so supplementing these nutrients is important for recovery. Other nutrients are also useful for minimizing actual withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. One such nutritional supplement is evening primrose oil. This essential fatty acid supports brain function and may be helpful in reducing symptoms of withdrawal.
Alcohol damages the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar. L-glutamine, an amino acid, reduces cravings while balancing blood sugar levels. Vitamin C is also commonly used to strengthen your immune system, which has been weakened by the stress of alcohol use. It also helps to rid the body of excess alcohol during the withdrawal period.
Managing withdrawal is only part of the picture. You also need to rebuild your body’s systems that have been damaged by alcohol abuse. B vitamins are typically very deficient in alcoholics. Therefore, the B complex is vital and is often given via injection during recovery. In addition, extra B6 can help reduce the anxiety and stress of the recovery process. Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, helps the body to detoxify.
The brain’s ability to process the essential amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan is compromised with alcohol use. Tyrosine promotes alertness while tryptophan is key to the production of serotonin – a vital nutrient for proper sleep and the ability to be calm. An amino acid complex is often given not only to reduce withdrawals but also to help the liver regenerate damaged cells and to help with proper brain function. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), inositol and niacinamide may also be used to ease stress and anxiety. Glutathione and L-methionine are useful in protecting the liver and reducing alcohol cravings.
VITAMINS FOR OPIATE ADDICTION
Opiates can be acquired illegally as well as by prescription, and they are easy to abuse because in addition to relieving pain, they create a feeling of euphoria in the brain. For this reason, even people taking opiates legally under the advice of their doctor can become dependent.
Heroin, perhaps the scariest of the opiate drugs, affects your brain’s ability to produce dopamine. Once hooked, users are not able to feel good without the drug. Opiates affect your brain’s ability to produce neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that make you feel happy and good about yourself.
There are four main neurotransmitters affected by opioid use:
- Acetylcholine – Acetylcholine aids in memory and the processing of information. When your brain doesn’t produce the right amount of this neurotransmitter, you feel foggy and forgetful. You may experience learning difficulties and trouble focusing, as well as stress and mood swings.
- Dopamine – Dopamine is important for regulating your mood and energy levels. If you don’t have enough, you feel irritable, anxious and unmotivated. You may experience fatigue, memory loss or a sense of panic.
- Endorphins – Endorphins are important to minimize the feelings of pain, and they also produce that runner’s high when you work out intensely. They create a mental cue that something is enough, whether that’s a pleasurable activity or just when to stop eating. Not enough endorphins can cause body aches and depression.
- Serotonin – This brain chemical helps you to sleep properly and regulates your appetite. When serotonin production goes down, you don’t sleep well and you don’t eat properly, leading to nutritional problems, among other things. You may experience depression, confusion and problems learning.
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – GABA is what keeps you calm and relaxed. If you don’t have enough, you’ll feel restless and anxious. You may experience muscle cramps, headache, muscle pain, stomach cramps, and foggy thinking.
When drugs create the same feel-good reflex as the chemicals in your brain, you get overloaded. To compensate, your brain produces fewer of these important chemicals. This is the reason you go through withdrawals when you quit opiates – your brain chemicals are no longer balanced. In fact, they are dangerously low. Using vitamins and supplements can help get you through the process of healing from opiate addiction.
During withdrawal, vitamin C helps detoxify your body while helping to minimize drug cravings. When used along with vitamin E, it may also improve cognitive functioning. For better sleep and a clearer mind, 5-HTP helps the brain produce serotonin and melatonin. It’s also proven helpful for migraines, depression and other issues. Taking B-complex helps reduce stress on the body while also reducing the fatigue common with withdrawals.
Calcium and magnesium help to relax your muscles, calm your body and nourish your central nervous system. This helps with anxiety as well as muscle aches and spasms during withdrawal. L-glutamine may also be useful because it is what the brain uses to produce GABA. While you can get GABA supplements, they are not as useful as L-glutamine because they do not pass through the blood-brain barrier. Helping your brain make its own GABA is far more effective.
SAM-e is another helpful supplement. Known to treat depression, SAM-e is needed to boost serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. It’s also essential for the production of glutathione. These are some of the most common vitamins for heroin addiction as well as for addiction to other opiates. Your personal plan for recovery may vary.
Here are some other nutritional supplements to consider. Based on my research and experience, these nutrients can help manage addiction and withdrawal, but they aren’t as effective as the other ones above and/or there is less research to support their use:
- Lithium Orotate (79)
- Taurine (80)
- B Vitamins (82)
- Glutamine (83)
- DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA) (81) – I almost included this one in the main list because it has really helped me, but there isn’t too much research on it. I originally wrote about it here.
- D-Serine/Sarcosine (88-95)
Just like mental illness, you can beat addiction. They often go hand in hand.
I’ve learned with time, and with the proper information and resources, people can snap out of their addiction cycle and be happy and calm with themselves without mind-altering drugs and habits.
You may feel like you have no other choice, but you do. You can get on with your life without addictive substances.
Overall, I really believe in the power of these nutrients for tackling addiction and minimizing withdrawal symptoms:
Taking a combination of them can make the transition to sobriety much easier.
I’ve experienced the benefits of them firsthand, and I hope you do too.