Congratulations! You just finished a 3-month alcohol rehabilitation program, and you're drug and alcohol free for the first time in years. It's time to relax and enjoy your sobriety, right? Wrong! Now the real work begins—maintaining that sobriety. Unfortunately, according to Alcoholrehab.com, the percentage of people who relapse after a rehab program ranges from 50% to 90%. Although that statistic is disheartening to those facing this journey, there are ways to decrease the odds of a relapse. One method is through the addition of amino acid therapy to the recovery program.
The Chemistry of Addiction
The brain contains powerful chemicals called neurotransmitters that relay signals between nerve cells in the brain and the rest of the body. Some of these neurotransmitters are responsible for feelings of comfort, pleasure, and other moods. For example, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that brings calm and feelings of well-being. Dopamine is responsible for focus and motivation, and Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) is called nature's Valium. Alcohol and drugs can boost the effects of these neurotransmitters and is a big reason people use them. After continued use of these addictive substances, the neurotransmitter functions decrease, causing the individual to consume more and more in order to get the desired feelings. If the substance is removed, such as in recovery, the brain goes into a frenzy exhibiting the typical signs of withdrawal—cravings, hallucinations, shaking, depression, insomnia, muscle aches and inability to function. Often, the pain of withdrawal becomes stronger than the desire and commitment to remain sober, causing a relapse.
The Amino Acid Connection
Amino acids are proteins from which neurotransmitters are synthesized. In a normal-functioning brain, a person gets adequate amounts of amino acids from their diet. When neurotransmitters numbers are impaired, as with addiction, additional amino acids are required. The addition of supplemental amino acids can help rebuild the neurotransmitters. With this supplementation, either through intravenous administration or oral supplements, the withdrawal symptoms quickly improve, reducing cravings, speeding recovery, and reducing the chances of relapse.
Key Amino Acids for Recovery
Amino acid therapy involves the use of five key amino acids that help rebuild the neurotransmitters that are damaged through long-term use of alcohol and drugs. Here is an overview of 5 amino acids, the neurotransmitters they affect and the drugs for which they effectively reduce cravings.
- L-Tryptophan or 5 hydroxytryptophan (5HTP) is a necessary amino acid for the production of the serotonin neurotransmitter. A serotonin deficiency can cause irritability, depression, insomnia and thoughts of suicide. 5HTP can help with cravings for alcohol, nicotine, ecstasy, and marijuana.
- GABA is a neurotransmitter that promotes calmness, and a deficiency can feelings of panic, anxiety, and being overwhelmed. It is useful for reducing symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol, nicotine and marijuana.
- L-Tyrosine is required for the production of catecholamines such as dopamine and epinephrine. A deficiency causes lack of focus, reduced motivation, and feelings of tiredness and apathy. L-Tyrosine supplements can reduce cravings for caffeine, sugar, cocaine, and methamphetamines.
- L-Glutamine provides mild enhancement for GABA, which is a calming neurotransmitter. A deficiency can cause irritability, anxiety, and shakiness. It can help control urges for sweets and alcohol.
- D-Phenylalanine helps in the restoration of endorphin levels. Endorphins are the body's pain killer. Insufficient levels can result in crying spells, fragile emotions, and sensitivity to pain. This amino acid helps with cravings for alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, and heroin.
Amino acid therapy should not be considered a magic bullet for addiction recovery. It should be used under the supervision of a doctor or counselor as part of an overall recovery plan that includes avoidance, treating the root cause of the addiction, and support from family and friends. But amino acid supplementation can be very helpful in the recovery process and relapse prevention.