There’s no way around it—when you drink heavily for a long period, your body takes a hit. Overcoming alcohol use disorder can be a long and difficult process, and different people have different needs. But one often-overlooked aspect of beating addiction is nutrition in recovery.
When you’re in recovery from alcohol addiction, nutrition can play a major role in helping your system bounce back. The right combination of vitamins and supplements can not only help you feel physically healthier, it can also help you overcome alcohol cravings and common long-term withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression.
In this post, we’ll discuss the relationship between alcohol and nutrition, plus 12 of the best supplements and vitamins for alcoholics in recovery. These include supplements for alcohol cravings, repairing your liver, and rebalancing your nervous system.
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Nutritional Deficiencies Caused By Alcohol
Alcohol interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Although small amounts of alcohol may not have a big impact on your nutritional health, many chronic, heavy drinkers struggle with significant nutrient deficiencies. These deficiencies can have long-term physical consequences. Good nutrition in recovery can also boost your mental health—an important factor in maintaining your sobriety.
The amino acid L-glutamine is one good example. Not only does it play an important role in your immune system and intestinal health, it also impacts the health of your brain—including some of the chemicals that regulate anxiety and depression.1 Because alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to synthesize and absorb L-glutamine, people who drink heavily are often deficient in this amino acid, which can impact their mental health.
Because alcohol impairs the absorption and metabolization of vitamins, it can also cause deficiencies in important vitamins like A, B, C, D, E, and K. These deficiencies can impact your vision, bones, blood, and even lead to severe neurological damage. And although alcohol itself does not limit the absorption of minerals, alcohol-related problems can result in deficiencies of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.2
Caring for your whole self as you overcome alcohol addiction is critical to lasting success. Restoring your body’s nutrient levels after quitting alcohol can benefit both your physical and mental well-being. This contributes to greater stability in recovery, making it easier to stick with sobriety.
12 Best Supplements For Alcohol Recovery
DL-phenylalanine is an essential amino acid which plays an important role in the functioning of your nervous system. If your body is deficient in this amino acid, it’s common to experience fatigue, confusion, memory problems, a decrease in alertness, and to have a reduced appetite. D-phenylalanine also slows the breakdown of endorphins, which act as the body’s natural painkiller, prolonging their release into the body.
If you’re in recovery from alcohol use disorder, adding this supplement into your diet can help with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and many other issues that might trigger alcohol cravings. DL-phenylalanine can also be a useful supplement for alcohol withdrawal.
L-glutamine is another great supplement for anyone trying to reduce their alcohol consumption. This amino acid occurs naturally in the body and many protein-rich foods, and is a building block for some of the brain chemicals that regulate anxiety and depression.
It also plays an important role in the immune system and intestinal health. As Chris Scott of Fit Recovery explains in our interview above, “[L-glutamine] also helps to repair the gut. A lot of people have leaky gut [syndrome] that can linger for years after quitting drinking. L-glutamine goes into the digestive tract and can help increase the stability of the wall, so you absorb other nutrients better.”
Many people who struggle with their drinking don’t have enough L-glutamine in their systems. Adding this nutrient can help boost mood in recovery and reduce withdrawal symptoms, making it one of the best supplements for alcohol cravings.
3. Vitamin B
Many individuals who drink large quantities of alcohol are deficient in vitamin B1, or thiamine. In fact, this is one of the main vitamins given to people going through medical detox from alcohol. Vitamin B1 deficiency can cause weight loss, irritability, fatigue, and in extreme cases lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also known as wet brain.
Deficiency in vitamin B3, or niacin, is also common in heavy drinkers. Taking a B3 supplement in recovery can help regulate your metabolism, maintain neurotransmitter balance, and even improve your ability to stay sober.3 All in all, a regular B-complex is one of the most important vitamins for recovering alcoholics to take.
Taurine is an amino acid known to lower levels of acetaldehyde—a toxic metabolite produced when your body breaks down alcohol. Chronic, heavy drinking can reduce taurine levels in the body, and adding it back in appears to help with withdrawal symptoms and detox. In one study, patients who took taurine supplements experienced fewer severe withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium and hallucinations.4
Glycine is another amino acid used to make proteins in the body. It can be an especially good alcohol recovery supplement for people with liver damage. Studies show that glycine is useful in treating both alcoholic hepatitis and carcinoma caused by alcoholic cirrhosis. Even if you are not suffering from these conditions, taking glycine may help protect your liver if you have a history of heavy drinking.
6. Dihydromyricetin (DHM)
Dihydromyricetin (DHM) is an over-the-counter herbal remedy well-known for soothing hangovers. Research shows that DHM can increase the efficacy of enzymes that metabolize alcohol, helping your body to eliminate it faster. DHM also appears to reduce inflammation and fat accumulation in the liver, helping to guard against alcohol-related liver disease.
7. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is an herb native to Mediterranean countries. It has long been used as a traditional remedy for a variety of illnesses, including liver damage. Although research is ongoing, there’s some evidence that milk thistle can help reduce the symptoms of cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis. If you’re working on reducing your drinking, milk thistle can be one way to protect your liver from the damaging effects of alcohol.
People who drink alcohol are at higher risk of calcium deficiency, since alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to properly absorb this vital nutrient. This can increase the chances of developing osteoporosis, especially for women.5 If you’re currently drinking, trying to cut back, or in recovery, taking calcium supplements is another great way to protect your overall health.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound that naturally occurs in the cannabis plant. More research is needed, but early studies suggest that CBD may help with pain management, anxiety, alcohol cravings, and even liver and brain damage linked to excessive drinking. Despite its presence in marijuana, CBD itself does not cause an individual to feel high. If you can find a pure or reliable source of CBD, it might be worth trying as a supplement for alcohol withdrawal.
Chronic alcohol use causes the body to excrete too much magnesium and other electrolytes through urination, often resulting in a magnesium deficiency.6 Chronically low levels of magnesium can cause nausea, heart palpitations, stiffness, muscle spasms, general body weakness, and increase the risks of high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes.
Some evidence suggests that taking magnesium supplements in recovery can help with liver function and depression, and it may lessen cancer risk.7
Although evidence is still limited, omega-3 fatty acids show promise as an excellent alcohol recovery supplement. Early research suggests that omega-3 interventions may help control issues related to alcohol dependence, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and potentially prevent relapse.8 Omega-3 supplements may also improve sleep, reduce inflammation, and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
12. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another important vitamin for recovering alcoholics. Alcohol can cause malnutrition, malabsorption, and increased urinary excretion of the vitamin, leading to vitamin C deficiency.9 This deficiency can cause you to feel tired, irritable, and weak. Severe deficiency, called scurvy, may result in anemia, bruising, and dental issues. Taking a vitamin C supplement can help you feel better, which is essential to maintaining your sobriety.
Of course, these are only 12 helpful options—there are many vitamins and supplements for alcoholics you can take to aid your system in recovery. We recommend speaking with your doctor about how heavy drinking has impacted your body, and which supplements will be the most safe and useful for you as an individual. Other new habits, such as regular exercise, mindfulness practice, and a healthier diet, can all contribute to boosting your health in recovery.
In addition to supplements for alcohol cravings, there are several prescription medications that can help you cut back or quit drinking. Naltrexone can help retrain your brain to be less interested in alcohol over time, while acamprosate, baclofen, gabapentin, and topiramate can all help reduce cravings for alcohol. Learn more about medications for alcohol cravings, and other ways to round out your support system in recovery.