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Can CBD Help You Stop Drinking Alcohol? Here Are the Facts



Contents

1. Quitting an Alcohol Addiction—Not Fun or Easy
2. Why Does CBD Ease Withdrawal Symptoms?
     2.1 What Is Inflammation?
     2.2 How Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Chronic Inflammation?
3. CBD—An Anti-Inflammatory of Note
     3.1 How Alcohol Withdrawal Causes Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia
     3.2 CBD for Anxiety, Insomnia, and Depression
4. Can CBD Help Prevent Relapse? What Science Says
5. Six Tips to Quit Drinking and Aid Recovery

Quitting an Alcohol Addiction—Not Fun or Easy

Well, actually, no addiction is easy to quit—not just alcohol-use disorder. For many, it feels impossible. Remember the movie Leaving Las Vegas? The main protagonist is played by Nicolas Cage, renowned for his roles in comedies. But nothing about alcohol addiction is funny, as depicted so heartbreakingly well in this movie. 

Cage's character, Ben, loses his job and goes to Vegas with the intention to end his life with a drinking spree. Enter Sera (Elizabeth Shue), a prostitute he falls in love with. She quickly becomes concerned about his drinking habits and tries hard to save him from his own destructive impulses. However, love is not enough to inspire Ben to embrace sobriety, and their relationship slowly devolves. This sad love story ends with Ben's deathbed scene. 

This and many other more recent films are stark reminders of the cost of this very common disorder. As one researcher, talking to Researchgate, points out: [1]

Alcohol-use disorders are a leading cause of morbidity and premature mortality worldwide, accounting for one in ten deaths among working-age adults in countries like the United States. A treatment for alcoholism has been sought for decades. 

The process of quitting and recovery is known to be a complex, multifaceted issue that requires multiple interventions. 

Quitting an Alcohol Addiction—Not Fun or Easy

Yet could medical science be the discipline that brings an important factor to the table? 

Addiction-recovery specialists now know that if the body isn't sufficiently supported during the withdrawal period, a person is very likely to relapse. It makes sense. Excessive and chronic alcohol consumption leeches all sorts of important nutrients from the body.

Furthermore, research (plus a large body of anecdotal evidence) strongly suggests the utility of cannabidiol (CBD) to ease withdrawal symptoms. In fact, some feel it's a must-have in any recovering addict's arsenal to beat alcohol withdrawal.

CBD is one of many cannabinoids found in Cannabis sativa L. It's also one of the two most well-researched cannabis compounds. The other famous cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), well known for its mind-altering properties, a characteristic CBD doesn't share.

Let's take a look at what research says about CBD for alcoholism recovery.

Let's take a look at what research says about CBD for recovery from alcohol addiction.

Why Does CBD Ease Withdrawal Symptoms?

Actually, the theory behind this notion is pretty simple, and it has everything to do with inflammation. 

1. What Is Inflammation?

Jessie Szalay, writing for Life Science, explains that inflammation is a vital part of the immune system's response to injury and infection. [2]

It is the body's way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. Without inflammation as a physiological response, wounds would fester, and infections could become deadly. 

Szalay goes on to note that if the inflammatory process continues for too long—or if the inflammatory response occurs where and when it is not needed—it can become problematic. 

Chronic inflammation has been linked to certain diseases such as heart disease or stroke, and may also lead to autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. But a healthy diet and lifestyle can help keep inflammation under control. 

What does this have to do with alcohol? Everything, it appears.

Why Does CBD Ease Withdrawal Symptoms?

RELATED: Here's Why CBD Is Inflammation’s Worst Enemy

2. How Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Chronic Inflammation?

A 2010 study explains the two sources that induce alcohol-related inflammation: alcohol-damaged cells and gut microflora, specifically lipopolysaccharide (LPS). 

The authors note that alcohol metabolism leads directly to the production of a reactive oxygen species of gut flora, specifically known for their ability to stimulate the activation of a key inflammation transcription factor. 

Also, alcohol metabolism results in cellular hypoxia, which is known to induce the inflammatory response. (Hypoxia occurs when not enough oxygen reaches tissues.) 

How does alcohol metabolism lead to chronic inflammation?

RELATED: CBD, Gut Health, and Digestion—Is There a Link?

On the whole, the researchers warn, though, information on such inflammation inducers and their contribution to alcohol-related inflammatory conditions is still limited. [3]

Yet we do know that too much alcohol taken over a long period of time causes chronic inflammation in the body. This results in a host of health issues, such as liver disease, severe organ damage, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s…the list goes on.

Interestingly, only a glass or two of alcohol every now and then has the opposite effect. Karen Costenbader, rheumatologist and Lupus Program director at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, explains that moderate alcohol consumption actually reduces biomarkers of inflammation. [4]

"We saw that for women who drank between 5 and 10 grams of alcohol a day, there was a reduced risk of RA (rheumatoid arthritis)," she reported. However, this is less than a glass of wine or beer every day. Alcohol remains poisonous to the body, and its intake should ideally be limited.

Still, what does all of this have to do with CBD?

Alcohol remains poisonous to the body, and its intake should ideally be limited.

RELATED: CBD and Arthritis: Can It Help?

CBD—An Anti-Inflammatory of Note

Cannabidiol is the darling remedy of thousands of Americans, and for good reason. Users take it to ease many health-related issues, and it was recently FDA-approved as an anti-epileptic drug for children with treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Yet researchers are impressed by its anti-inflammatory properties, too. One review, dated 2009, called CBD a "novel anti-inflammatory drug" and concluded that cannabinoids act as an anti-inflammatory because of their interaction with the immune system. [5]

Such observations indicate that targeting cannabinoid receptor–ligand interactions may constitute a novel window of opportunity to treat inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.

So, the logic is easy to follow—chronic alcohol abuse causes chronic inflammation, for which CBD is emerging as a novel but potent remedy.

And that's not all. Neurologic inflammation (another consequence of chronic alcohol abuse) affects mood too, and CBD is a mood modulator.

CBD—An Anti-Inflammatory of Note

RELATED: Here's How CBD Oil Benefits Childhood Epilepsy

1. How Quitting Alcohol Causes Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia

As said, alcohol abuse is associated with brain inflammation, which causes the disruption of neurological chemistry. It reduces the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, and dopamine, explains Chris Scott, recovered alcoholic and founder of the online support group Fit Recovery. [6]

Related to this, he notes another important issue for recovering addicts: 

Over time, alcohol wreaks havoc on brain chemical balance, in large part by contributing to brain inflammation. When the person attempts to quit drinking, few (if any) efforts are made to naturally support the brain-body system. Simply quitting drinking is not enough to reduce the damage caused by alcohol. 

He furthermore emphasizes that the difficulties of quitting an addiction release stress chemicals such as glutamate and cortisol during withdrawal. This exacerbates inflammation as well as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. This triad of misery encompasses the major symptoms of acute withdrawal syndrome—and, says Scott: 

Most often, the person feels defeated and simply returns to drinking alcohol, increasing the severity of the addiction and causing further damage to the brain-body system. [7]

How Quitting Alcohol Causes Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia

2. CBD for Anxiety, Insomnia, and Depression

Clinical research is still lacking, but cannabidiol has been shown to have benefits in treating anxiety, insomnia, and to a lesser degree, depression, too.

One of the most recent studies, a large, retrospective case series at a psychiatric clinic, looked at the clinical application of CBD for anxiety and sleep complaints. 

Charts were kept that included monthly documentation of the quality of sleep and levels of anxiety in just over 100 adult patients. Scores were measured at baseline, and again after CBD treatment. The cannabinoid was administered as an adjunct to usual treatment.

The results:

The final sample consisted of 72 adults presenting with primary concerns of anxiety (n = 47) or poor sleep (n = 25). Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in 57 patients (79.2%) and remained decreased during the study duration. Sleep scores improved within the first month in 48 patients (66.7%) but fluctuated over time. In this chart review, CBD was well tolerated in all but 3 patients. [8]

CBD for Anxiety, Insomnia, and Depression

RELATED: Using CBD For Insomnia: What You Need To Know

The mechanics behind this action of cannabidiol could be its anti-inflammatory properties, as explained earlier. In fact, science seems to suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs can target depression and might even treat it.

In a 2017 article in the U.K. Daily Telegraph, science editor Sarah Knapton notes that current treatment is largely focused around restoring mood-boosting chemicals. But, she says, experts now speculate that an overactive immune system, which triggers the inflammatory response throughout the body, could be to blame for lower mood states such as hopelessness and unhappiness, too.

Knapton quotes Professor Ed Bullmore, head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, who believes a new field of “immuno-neurology” is on the horizon.

"It’s pretty clear that inflammation can cause depression,” the prof said.

Does the inflammation drive the depression or vice versa or is it just a coincidence?

In relation to mood, beyond reasonable doubt, there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms. We give people a vaccination and they will become depressed. Vaccine clinics could always predict it, but they could never explain it.

But the science isn't clear-cut just yet.

The question is—does the inflammation drive the depression or vice versa or is it just a coincidence?

In experimental medicine studies, if you treat a healthy individual with an inflammatory drug, like interferon, a substantial percentage of those people will become depressed. So we think there is good enough evidence for a causal effect. [9]

CBD's neurologic action and effects in the endocrine system are also still vastly under-researched. To assist recovering alcohol addicts, though, preliminary science is optimistic.

To assist recovering alcohol addicts, preliminary science is optimistic about CBD.

Can CBD Help Prevent Relapse? What Science Says

An article looking at CBD's potential as a treatment for the prevention of relapse discussed the preclinical proof of principle.

The authors concluded that the results provide just this "along two dimensions." They state that CBD could have:

...beneficial actions across several vulnerability states and long-lasting effects with only brief treatment. The findings also inform the ongoing medical marijuana debate concerning medical benefits of non-psychoactive cannabinoids and their promise for development and use as therapeutics.

For instance, the scientific data revealed that CBD:

  • has an effect on the impulsive behavior of alcohol-dependent rats, 
  • has neuroprotective effects that attenuate brain degeneration induced by alcohol abuse, and 
  • facilitates neurogenesis (regeneration of brain cells).

The authors concluded the following clinically relevant effects:

CBD may, therefore, not only be protective for alcohol-induced neurodegenerative deficits but also have potential for restoring cognitive function, including deficient impulse control, by promoting neurogenesis. [10]

Can CBD Help Prevent Relapse? What Science Says

RELATED: What You Didn't Know About CBD Oil & Mental Health

Six Tips to Quit Drinking and Aid Recovery

Any addict who tries to stop drinking will tell you that it's not an easy road. Yet it's not impossible, and many have done so successfully already.

Chris Scott gives six tips that will ensure an "early recovery." [11]

1. Devise a supplement and nutrition regimen as soon as possible.

To reiterate—people suffer needlessly because their bodies lack the biochemical support they need. Proper supplementation as well as taking CBD will help them to feel relaxed, energized, and free from anxiety early on in their recovery period. He advises that large doses of the correct nutrients are needed, usually only for the first three months.

2. Start a workout routine ASAP!

Speaking from experience, Scott was too weak to do much exercise at the beginning of his recovery from alcohol addiction. He started off with 15 minutes on the elliptical and added exercises over time. I used these mini-workouts as an opportunity to get out of my head and visualize what I wanted in life. I call this workout fantasizing – as you get used to your workouts, the runner’s high or lifter’s high starts to predictably kick in, and you can creatively imagine where you want to go in life. 

3. Gather at least two confidants and work on your relationships with them.

The necessity of social support cannot be emphasized enough. Scott notes that loneliness is often a big problem for recovering addicts because they don't want to burden others. He advises joining recovery programs or even engaging with coaches online. The important thing is to build a network of friends who will support recovery efforts.

4. Transform your environment to eliminate triggers and promote a fresh new sense of life.

This includes where you live and work. Something simple, such as rearranging the furniture, can have a hugely motivating impact. Scott even ended up moving from Atlanta to Savannah, which is close to the ocean. He mentioned a recent study that showed that people in coastal areas—especially areas with a lot of natural scenery—have significantly higher levels of well-being.

Transforming your environment to promote a fresh new sense of life aids addiction recovery.

5. Transform your routines holistically.

Another technique to change your environment is to change your habits, such as going out into nature and sitting in the sun for 20 minutes a day. Even regular massages can be a self-loving new habit.

6. Embark on a mission to increase your self-knowledge as well as knowledge about the world around you.

Curiosity didn't kill the cat; it saved it. Alcohol and drug addictions are confining substances, remarks Scott. His advice is to heal and rediscover the world on your terms. Rediscover the best parts of who you were before your addiction, and fuse those parts with new lessons you’ve learned.

As said, to quit drinking is not easy for most people with a history of addictive behavior. Yet CBD can be a formidable partner on this journey.

Sources:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/blog/post/stem-cell-treatment-drastically-reduces-drinking-in-alcoholic-rats
  2. https://www.livescience.com/52344-inflammation.html
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2842521/
  4. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/foods-to-limit/alcohol
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828614/
  6. https://fit-recovery.com/#aboutme
  7. https://fit-recovery.com/the-missing-link-between-brain-inflammation-and-alcohol-relapse/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/
  9. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/09/08/depression-physical-illness-could-treated-anti-inflammatory/
  10. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-018-0050-8
  11. https://fit-recovery.com/early-recovery-addiction/

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