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Opinion on a Holistic Approach to Early Recovery

Written by Eliza Player on Tuesday, 05 June 2012. Posted in Voices in Recovery, Breaking News, From Professionals

Addiction Recovery

This really great article from Maura Henniger, N.D. (Naturopathic Physician), in the Huffington Post, really got my brain thinking about early recovery, and I really want to share this valuable information with you, along with some of my personal experience speckled throughout. Maura discusses a holistic approach to health in early recovery, covering the issues of withdrawal and insomnia. She discusses natural medicine, as it has worked with her patients in early recovery.

Early recovery was the toughest time for me, and I am sure so many of you feel exactly the same. Looking back on it, I remember waking up, feeling like crap, for months. Not like dope sick crap, but just a little crappy around the edges. My mind rambled inside itself, reminding me, "You know what would make you feel better?" Whispering in my ear, letting me know that I really could use just a taste to take away the rough edges. I always preferred the smooth and hazy edges that heroin gave me, and in those early days of recovery, it seemed everything was ultraviolet and jagged.

And I was so tired, a tired like I had never felt before. I remember in the first few weeks after getting clean, the tired sunk deep into my bones, like my whole body was weighted down with exhaustion. It seemed like it took an hour to walk several blocks, as I could barely drag my feet behind me, barely enough energy to propel myself forward.

I remember walking through the Marigny, many, many years ago just four days after quitting. The sickness had somewhat subsided, and I nearly crawled my way to the Quarter, to work at a little bar on Lower Decatur. I remember my shoulders sagging, seemingly to touch the streets of New Orleans because I simply could not lift them any higher. My feet shuffling slowly towards the bar, as I was unable to even lift them an inch. After the first few weeks, a little energy would come back, in light, small bursts at first. It was probably a year before I did not feel tired all the time.

Reading Maura's article, I think about all the things I could have done differently. At the time, I was doing all I could handle. But, if I had been armed with this holistic information, I think I would have tried anything that helped. It was that long-term, pervading feeling of exhaustion and slight sickness that always sent me back to relapsing.

Many years later, I am much healthier than I ever was before, and I realize how great it feels. I am not going to lie, though, I could come a lot farther improving my health. I could exercise a lot more, and I could eat better. I could always cut out caffeine and sugar, and I clearly realize how hard this will be for me. I think that if I had been armed with this information five years ago, when I got finally got clean and was able to stay clean, I would be even more healthy today. We all do things a little differently, though, and if we are armed with as much information as possible, we can make better choices for ourselves, our recovery, and our health, in general. So, I want to share this information from Maura Henniger, in hopes that this information could be a valuable resource for someone out there.

According to Maura, an addict in early recovery will often begin attending 12-step meetings, therapy, and perhaps be taking medication to ease both the mind and body in this precarious time. Natural medicine complements all these paths that can be followed in early recovery. Maura mentions proper nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy, amino acid therapy, mind-body approaches, and exercise are all part of the programs she prescribes to her patients in early recovery. Her goal is to decrease the probability of relapse, as well as getting the addict/alcoholic on the road to healthy, fulfilling, and fictional life as quickly as she can.

This article is the first of a two-part series addressing a holistic approach to early recovery. She discusses withdrawal and insomnia because those things hit us first, and they smack many of us in the face. I know they smacked me in the face. I will definitely put up the second part of this series, as I am really interested in reading the rest of it!


The severity of withdrawal has a number of variables, and again, we are all different. Some of those variables include how long one has been in active addiction, how much drugs or alcohol are consumed, the extent of physical and metabolic damage, and the individual's biochemistry. If left untreated, withdrawal can progress through or stop at one of four stages.

Holistic medicine is most effective during the first stage, where higher levels of withdrawal require "more conventional forms of intervention." Stage one begins within 2 to 6 hours after the last shot, drink, line, etc. This stage is marked by mild agitation, anxiety, restlessness, tremors, loss of appetite, insomnia, racing heartbeat, and high blood pressure. Just reading this, I remember all of that.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals the body makes in order to allow nerve cells to pass messages, such as pain, touch, and thought, from cell to cell. Amino acids are the "precursors" of these neurotransmitters, meaning that amino acids help make up these neurotransmitters. During substance abuse, the balance of these amino acids can change dramatically, and if an addict or alcoholic has low levels of particular amino acids, their symptoms of withdrawal will be more intense, especially when it comes to cravings. At this first stage of withdrawal, Maura says it is best to decrease cravings as much as possible.

One study suggested that alcoholics treated with a particular combination of amino acids, along with a multi-vitamin, had reduced withdrawal symptoms and less stress. Another study suggests that kudzu, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat alcoholism, might also help to reduce cravings.

Homeopathy is another way Maura supports her patients in early recovery. Homeopathy is using diluted natural preparations to ease symptoms. According to Maura, "By its nature non-toxic, homeopathy stimulates a person's bodily systems to deal with stress and illness more efficiently." There are a variety of these homeopathic remedies that are used in early recovery, and it is a very individualized treatment. Some of these remedies include, Arsenicum album, Nux vomica, and Lachesis.

Maura points out that in the early stages of recovery, most addicts and alcoholics have a degree of "adrenal burnout," which is caused from chronically producing the body's stress hormone, cortisol. Often alcohol, carbohydrate, and stimulant cravings result from adrenal fatigue. Supporting adrenal function not only eases withdrawal symptoms, but it also supports long term sobriety. Maura recommends the herbs ashwagandha, rhodiola, and ginseng, as well as the amino acid tyrosine.

Maura also gives her patients "daily green drinks," for the extreme fatigue of detoxification. These drinks contain chlorella, which has high levels of chlorophyll that can assist with oxygen uptake fo the red blood cells. It contains magnesium for energy and supporting the pathways of detoxification in the liver. Electrolyte imbalance can also occur in withdrawal, but Maura points out that a lemon has close to the same amount of potassium as in a cup of any sports drink, so she also has her patients squeeze the juice of a lemon with a teaspoon of salt, some Stevia, and either seltzer or still water.


Maura claims that a full recovery is not possible without consistent, good quality sleep. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver and adrenal glands do most of their repair work between the hours of 1AM and 3AM. The digestive system also prepares to eliminate toxins from the body while sleeping. Proper brain function does not happen without enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can result in anxiety and depression, which can then result in relapse.

Maura hopes to get her patients sleeping eight to nine hours a night. I remember the insomnia for those first few days was one of the worst parts of the hells of withdrawal. I prayed and prayed for just a few moments of sleep, just a few moments of relief from that horror. Even an uninterrupted hour of sleep would have been such a blessing! Maura recommends phosphatidyl serene for patients who have trouble falling asleep, which is generally due to an elevated level of the stress hormone, cortisol. L-theanine, which is a calming amino acid found in green tea, increases dopamine, serotonin, and the inhibitory neurotransmitter glycine. Melatonin, which is the main hormone in the pineal gland, regulates your sleep and wake cycle. Addicts and alcoholics often have unregulated sleep patterns, and their melatonin production is either inhibited or low. Short-term melatonin can help correct that imbalance. Maura also recommends valerian, lavender, passionflower, passionflower, lemon balm, and skullcap. The correct homeopathic mixture of these herbs can treat insomnia.

Just putting down your drink or drug of choice, is merely the first step. Eventually an addict or alcoholic will realize that staying sober is just the beginning. In the second half of Maura's two part series, she discusses diet and proper vitamin supplementation that can increase the likelihood of staying clean and sober.

If you know someone struggling with addiction who may benefit from alternative medicines, click here for more information.

About the Author

Eliza Player

Eliza Player

I have been writing as long as I can remember, even carrying tattered notebooks with me through the streets and strip clubs of New Orleans, in the midst of my heroin addiction. I lived a life saturated in heroin until Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, leaving me to fend for myself, eventually facing my demons and coming face to face with my addiction. I have been clean for five years, and since then I have become a mother, graduated college, and started a writing career. I have a B.A. in Mass Media Communication, with a minor in Journalism. I have also written one published book, Through Both Hell and High Water: A Memoir of Addiction and Hurricane Katrina, which tells the story of those dark days I spent in New Orleans after the storm, battling with addiction amidst a natural disaster. I am the blogger and news curator for RecoveryNowTV, and I love sharing the stories of the world, as well as my own personal journey, with my readers. I hope that my words can touch others out there, struggling with addiction.

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