A Holistic Approach to Alcoholism

A holistic approach to alcoholism understands that the roots of alcoholism lie in an imbalance or depletion of neurotransmitters in the brain that is caused by the alcohol itself, nutritional deficiencies, low blood sugar, allergy, poor diet, hypothyroidism, toxins in the environment, childhood abuse, chronic stress, brain trauma, or many of the other things that disrupt neurotransmitters.

However, these biochemical roots affect every aspect of an individual's life. It alters personality, cognitive functioning, and spiritual connections. It impacts the physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual levels deeply.  

We'll call these other issues, secondary contributors to alcoholism. Although they are not the core root, if they are not addressed they have the power to sabotage recovery. 

The physical, emotional, and spiritual elements are deeply intertwined. The biochemical/physical impacts the spiritual and the psychological and the spiritual affects the biochemical and psychological and vice versa. 

When an individual addresses the true biochemical roots of their addiction with a holistic approach to alcoholism, physical healing begins and biochemical repair is essential to success in long-term sobriety. Deep spiritual and emotional healing can't be complete without it. However, if one only addresses the biochemical and neglects the spiritual and emotional then they are still at risk of relapse and cravings.

The damage that is done on the physical level has a great impact on the psychological and the spiritual. When your brain and body systems aren't functioning properly, it has a profound impact on emotional and spiritual health which is often exhibited in a variety of negative psychological symptoms.

Incorporating a holistic approach to alcoholism into your recovery plan helps the individual to heal on all these levels and therefore increases the success rates of long-term sobriety quite drastically.

Unique Aspects of a Holistic Recovery Approach to Alcoholism

Alcoholism is unique from other disorders in that it often destroys marriages or relationships or alienates family and friends. Family members and friends must often distance themselves from the alcoholic in order to save their own sanity and in some cases protect themselves emotionally and/or physically. When this occurs, the alcoholic is left in a position without much support. For those who stick around, there is usually a great deal of damage done to the relationship and healing is required.

Another unique component to alcoholism is that after one engages in the alcoholic lifestyle for an extended period of time, it then becomes a learned behavior to some degree. They learn to respond to stress, pain, sadness, anger, etc. by taking a drink or a drug. It becomes a habitual response without thought. These types of behaviors must be unlearned and replaced with healthier behaviors. Habits and routines must be broken. A new lifestyle needs to be embraced.

Alcoholism recovery is also unique in that there is likely to be a great deal of shame, guilt, and remorse for actions and behaviors that the alcoholic engaged in while intoxicated, which must be dealt with in a healthy manner to keep them from interfering in sobriety.

Depending on factors such as each individual's background and how long one has been living with alcoholism, there can be a variety of other secondary factors that need to be taken into consideration and addressed, such as relationship issues, childhood sexual or physical abuse, impact on marriage, parenting issues, and interpersonal skills. Many people who've lived with alcoholism for a long time may be lacking in a variety of social skills that are necessary to get through life. These factors will not apply to everyone, but for those who it does, this is where traditional counseling is called for.

And yet another exclusive aspect of alcoholism is that sometimes the individual goes through a grieving period when they begin recovery. Giving up alcohol is like losing a very good friend or a loved one. Emotional support is crucial for those who have this experience.

With all these different factors weighing in the alcoholism recovery equation, to address only one aspect will not lead to successful long-term sobriety. All issues must be addressed simultaneously or they become possible triggers for relapse and undermine recovery.

A holistic approach to alcoholism may include the following:

Biochemical repairs that address the physical as well as the psychological.

  • identify neurotransmitter imbalances and metabolic disorders
  • nutritional support during detox and later
  • changes in diet and nutrition
  • recognizing environmental factors
  • addressing nutritional deficiencies
  • individualized diet plans
  • dietary and nutritional counseling
  • exercise

Counseling, groups, or seminars for social and emotional issues

  • childhood physical, emotional or sexual abuse and neglect
  • dealing with loss and grief of alcoholism
  • coping skills
  • parenting skills
  • lifestyle adjustment
  • communication skills
  • assertiveness training
  • what to do with loneliness, boredom, too much time on your hands
  • repairing relationships

Nurturing Spiritual Health

  • developing a relationship with yourself
  • connecting more deeply with yourself
  • healing relationships
  • engaging in spiritually fulfilling activities
  • forgiveness of self
  • activities that make you feel whole, complete, and connected
  • deep and meaningful activities
  • mindfulness-based meditation
  • deep breathing exercises
  • communing with nature

Another very important component in the holistic approach to alcoholism is that treatment is individualized and personalized according to each person's needs and issues.

One person may have many secondary issues while another individual may have none or only one. Treatment approaches will vary to some degree in the biochemical aspect as well as the emotional and spiritual aspects.

Someone who has been drinking for 20 years may have a lot more complex biochemical and social issues than someone who became an alcoholic two years ago after their husband died.

An individual who lived with childhood sexual, emotional, or physical abuse or neglect may have more challenges to face than someone who had a loving childhood. Their alcoholism recovery plan would likely include a lot more focus on the counseling aspect.

One person may need a great deal of counseling and training in areas such as communication and assertiveness while others may be quite competent in these areas. Some people may adjust easier to a new lifestyle while another may struggle a great deal.

All these details need to be taken into account and adjusted for specifically for the individual.

If you'd like to learn more about the biochemical and holistic approach to alcoholism, and how I've used it to achieve more than 30 years of uninterrupted sobriety without cravings, you can read my story in Get Sober Stay Sober: The Truth About Alcoholism. Alternatively, if you'd like a more complete program, you can find everything you need to get started on the road to recovery in my Clean and Sober for Life Jump-Start Program. If you'd like a more personal touch, I am also available for sobriety coaching.

The use of a holistic approach to alcoholism empowers the individual and provides them with the strongest defense possible to attain and maintain life-long sobriety that is free of cravings.