“I need some help with alcohol,” is a common line I hear when a new client is reaching out to inquire about working with me. Usually these phone calls turn into appointments but occasionally the response is “I can’t afford that, or, “Another therapist will see me for less.” I’m always a little sad about these responses because I know that by the time I receive this phone call, alcohol has already become a serious problem and the person on the other end of the line is facing some consequences. I want to say, “How much is rehab?” or, “How much will a divorce cost you?” I could even address a more common consequence, “What are the fees for a DUI? “ All of these consequences certainly cost less than seeing me for the few sessions I need to help someone gain tools for sobriety or decreased alcohol use.
Supplements and Alcohol?
What does nutrition have to do with alcohol use? Well, everything. Just like cravings for sugar, pizza, or ice cream, cravings for alcohol stem from a body out of balance. Alcohol lowers anxiety, can temporarily lift depression, calms mania and irritability, raises low blood sugar, and relieves stress. These are some pretty amazing outcomes from one substance. However, when we rely on alcohol for any of these purposes regularly, we need more— and more often— to produce the same result. That side effect of intoxication is not a long term solution to anything. Alcohol and work, driving, and being present for relationships just don’t mix and pretty soon the alcohol is creating more problems than it is “fixing.”
Alcohol cravings can originate from the following:
- “I need to calm down/de-stress.”
- “I feel a drop in mood in the late afternoon and don’t like it.”
- “My depression feels less intense when I drink.”
- “I haven’t eaten all day, I’ve bottomed out and will feel better after a drink.”
When alcohol is desired as a way to calm down or de-stress, we are likely low in GABA, that wonderful neurotransmitter that is our body’s natural Valium. When we are low in GABA, we feel overwhelmed, overstressed, and have a difficult time calming down. Alcohol cravings are common when GABA levels are low.
Instead of reaching for alcohol, try a GABA supplement like GABA Calm.
Someone invented the term “Happy Hour,” and it was likely someone low in serotonin who needed a pick-me-up in the late afternoon.
Thinking about alcohol in the late afternoon to bring up your mood could be related to lower serotonin. When the sun starts going down, our bodies use serotonin to begin making melatonin, a hormone involved in helping us sleep. If serotonin levels are on the low side, you can feel this drop as a drop in mood. You might also experience anxiety, have a difficult time not worrying, or have panic attacks.
Alcohol briefly raises serotonin levels, as does sugar and other empty carbs. Brief is the key word, which is why you sometimes need to keep drinking to get that same relief effect.
Instead of reaching for alcohol, try the amino acid 5-HTP, which raises serotonin naturally. If the afternoons are when your cravings for alcohol are most intense, try5-HTP in the mid-afternoon, an hour or so before you would usually start dreaming of your favorite cocktail.
Alcohol temporarily relieves depression. The problem with using alcohol for this lift is that it doesn’t last, and it makes the depression worse when the alcohol is out of your system.
If you cannot remember being without depression, you may have a genetic predisposition towards omega-6 deficiency (specifically an ability to make enough prostaglandin E1 (PGE1)). Without this important essential fatty acid, you will battle depression. Alcohol stimulates production of PGE1 which provides miraculous relief if you fall into this category.
If your first experience with alcohol was memorable and magical, this may be you. The problem with alcohol and low omega-6 is that as soon as the alcohol is gone, the depression comes back with a vengeance. To keep it away, more and more alcohol is required and we all know the toll that takes on life and relationships.
Instead of reaching for alcohol, try gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which easily converts to PGE1.
Alcohol is a potent sugar and can quickly raise blood sugar levels. If you are skipping meals and/or eating sugar and empty carbs, your desire for alcohol might simply be because your blood sugar has dropped too low.
This alcohol craving is no different than a craving for a candy bar, ice cream, or pasta. The brain needs glucose and when it’s low, you will experience cravings for a quick fix.
Instead of reaching for alcohol do these three simple things: 1) Eat regularly - don’t skip meals 2) Eat less carbs and more good fats, as well as protein, with each meal 3) Before your usual crash time have a blood-sugar-helper snack like nuts, full fat yogurt (not the kind with tons of sugar added) or some turkey and cheese.
Not the Final Chapter
This is not an exhaustive list of reasons for alcohol cravings - only the most common. If alcohol has already influenced your life in a very negative way, you may need the guidance of a practitioner who can do a full assessment and help you decide on a course of treatment. This information is not a substitute for professional guidance.
I will be creating an online course devoted to alcohol use education from a nutritional perspective. If you are interested in this topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.