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Holistic Addiction Treatment: Herbal Therapy

Traditional methods like pharmaceuticals and behavioral therapies are not the only possible treatments that can be used to help individuals going through addiction recovery. In fact, there are many ways in which herbal therapy can be used to aid someone in this process, whether they are going through withdrawal, general addiction treatment, aftercare, or post-treatment recovery.

What is Herbal Therapy?

natural medicine

Herbal therapy uses natural substances instead of pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms related to addiction.

Also called botanical medicine or herbalism, herbal therapy refers to the use of plants for medicinal purposes, either in addition to or instead of pharmaceuticals. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, one may use the “seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers” of a given plant in order to treat or aid someone through a particular medical issue. “Herbalism has a long tradition of use outside of conventional medicine,” but it is “becoming more mainstream” as the further analysis of these methods has shown their merit and the quality control of the different substances continues to approve.

Herbal therapy can be used to treat a number of common issues, among them cravings, withdrawal symptoms, mood and anxiety problems, and other medical concerns associated with addiction recovery. These treatments have gained more popularity over the years but have always been a part of the medicinal world.

Why Do People Use Herbal Therapy?

Sometimes, individuals reach out to this type of treatment because they believe it will be safer, healthier, or have fewer side effects than using pharmaceuticals to treat their specific medical issue. In other cases, they may have specifically experienced extreme side effects before as the result of using certain medications and may be looking for an alternative route of care.

In the case of many recovering addicts, the thought of using pharmaceuticals to treat their addiction can seem problematic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies,” but other individuals prefer to use herbalism in place of or in conjunction with pharmaceuticals. This is often because the former is believed to have a more natural element and avoid the threats many traditional medications pose on sobriety and recovery.

What are the Benefits of Using Herbalism as an Addiction Treatment?

There are quite a few benefits to this type of treatment for substance abuse disorders. For one, there are a number of different herbs that have ways of helping with specific issues associated with addiction. For example:

  • Kudzu can be helpful in the moderation of alcohol intake and aids in cutting cravings.
  • Kava can be used to treat insomnia, a common symptom of different withdrawal syndromes.
  • St. John’s wort has been known to be a helpful treatment for depression, another symptom that often accompanies withdrawal from different addictive substances.
  • Vitamin C has been known to remove toxins that often stay in the body after long-term drug abuse.
  • Milk thistle can be very healing for the liver, an organ that is often damaged by excessive drinking and drug use.
  • Taking magnesium can revitalize the nervous system after prolonged drug abuse, especially because the use of harmful substances often result in decreased levels of magnesium in the body.

There are also a number of other botanical solutions to addiction recovery, withdrawal, and the symptoms of both, but it all depends on the individual and whether or not these treatments work for them.

Another way in which using herbalism may benefit you is the possibly decreased need for expensive medicines. Most herbal supplements and treatments are available in health food stores or over-the-counter rather than by prescription only like many medications. However, this is because a large number of herbal products are not regulated by the FDA.

What are the Drawbacks of Using Herbalism as an Addiction Treatment?

As stated previously, “No organization or agency regulates the manufacture or certifies the labeling of herbal preparations” (UMMC). Because of this, certain herbal solutions may present a problem for consumers in the way they are packaged and/or shipped or because they do not describe all of their ingredients. Cases of contamination have been reported with certain herbal products, which is news you will need to stay aware of if you decide to use one of these treatments (National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health).

In addition, many individuals believe these products are completely harmless because they claim to be more natural than medicines. This is not true, and they still can create side effects in some cases. You should always be aware of what you are introducing to your body and all the possible benefits and drawbacks of any specific herbal treatment.

What is the Best Way to Use Herbal Therapy for Addiction Treatment?

The best way to use this treatment is to

  • Research a specific herbal therapy type and consider how its possible benefits may be of interest to you in your current state of recovery
  • Discuss your feelings with a qualified herbalist and ask them any questions you may have on the validity of a specific treatment
  • Tell your doctor that you are considering taking an herbal treatment for your addiction syndrome and that you want to be certain it will not conflict with any medications you may be on or cause any dangerous side effects
  • Understand that if you do decide to utilize one of these treatments that it may still cause certain side effects and that you should consult a doctor immediately if any of these become a problem or become harmful

In the past, the FDA has issued public health advisories for certain herbal treatments (like St. John’s wort) as having potential health risks and/or for causing possible complications when mixed with other medicines. If you discuss these treatments with your doctor as well as with an herbalist, you will not be surprised by any side effects that could possibly be associated with them.

However, addiction treatment boils down to what helps you and what makes you comfortable. Certain herbal treatments may work for you while others may not, and it is important to choose those that help you instead of what may have worked for a friend. “Nearly one-third of Americans use herbs,” and the best way to make sure you are doing so safely is to discuss it with a trained medical professional (UMMC).

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