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Drug Addiction is a Nutritional Disorder

By Jurriaan Plesman BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clin Nutr


The most common assumption about drug addiction – and for that matter any addiction – is that it is due to a “mental” disorder that can be fixed by changing a person’s outlook on life, or change his attitudes and believes (religion). The idea that we can will away drug addiction by will-power and strength of character is simply a delusion. This may be possible when dealing with a “simple” addiction. When addiction is primarily caused by an underlying biochemical disorder – called “complex addiction” – no amount of will-power can stop the cravings for drugs. (Riessman et al. 1996)

It is this false assumption that is mainly responsible for the dismal failure rate in the treatment of drug addiction. Most drug addicts relapse within five years. Baldwin Research Institute 1991

I believe that depression is usually the forerunner of addiction. See Hemat.

The reality is that the “mind” is the victim of a physical disease that may have started from early childhood, and which can even have been inherited through a faulty gene running in the family.

We become addicted to substances because the body fails to produce the right amount of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that can make us feel happy and content. Young people may start to experiment with drugs to self-medicate against endogenous depression, often to experience “happiness” for the first time in their life.  No wonder they return to drugs to feel “normal” again until they are hooked. Drugs now take over their lives. Bio-Medicine Report (2009)

Serotonin is produced from tryptophan – a protein amino acid – found in food. For the body to convert this tryptophan into serotonin, it needs a whole array of components found in food such as magnesium, vitamin B6, B12, vitamin D, folic acid, zinc and so on and on.The interesting aspect of Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is that,  for it to be biologically active it needs to be converted to pyridoxin-5-phosphate (P-5-P) by a zinc dependent enzyme. Source at Vitamin B6.

Most people find it hard to believe that drug addiction has anything to do with nutrition, firmly believing that “they are healthy and are on a healthy diet!”

The nutritional requirements are very complex and cannot always be satisfied with supplementing with miracle nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. A person on a low protein diet and a high sugar diet is hardly able to supply his body with all the nutrients to manufacture the feel good neurotransmitters. Furthermore, each individual has a unique biochemical make-up.

Australian Aborigines, as with many other native people around the world, have an additional metabolic burden that they, consuming a high Western diet loaded with sugar, may be genetically zinc deficient. This could contribute to an obstacle in producing feel-good neurotransmitters. This would exposed them to high stress hormones that may lead them to self-medicate with alcohol. Especially so, if living under poor economic conditions. See Getting off the Hook page 20 and here,

What many people overlook is that, not only do we need the various nutritional forerunners of the feel good neurotransmitters, we also need energy.

Like a car, the body needs fuel to energize the machinery of cells in the body. Energy is required to convert one set of one molecules to another set of molecules. This energy is called biological energy (ATP).

When the brain senses energy starvation it will trigger the release of stress hormones – such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones function to convert energy stores in the body such as glycogen into glucose, to feed the brain again with energy. (See image) However, these internally driven stress hormones may cause us to feel anxious and nervous without a plausible reason. It may prompt a person to resort to legal or illegal drugs as self-medication. Alcohol or marijuana are a typical remedies to reduce signs of anxiety and depression.

Biological energy is derived from food sources especially glucose (sugar) and if there is an obstruction is the absorption and metabolism (into energy) of sugars, then the body lacks the energy to convert various molecules into other molecules – such as the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin.

One may wonder why we should lack energy in a society that is flooded with sugar. (See: World Sugar Consumption 1700 to 2000 (here and here). It may well be that excess sugar consumption may have contributed to mishandling of sugars (carbohydrates). Excess glucose in the system is easily oxidized into free radicals – toxic substances that can cause degenerative diseases like cancer and destruction of body organs. The body sets up a defense mechanism against excess sugar and does this by creating insulin resistance. In insulin resistance the receptors for insulin fail to respond to insulin in pushing nutrients (including glucose) across cell membranes.

Thus sugar is stopped from entering into cells for metabolism into energy. Unabsorbed sugars accumulate in the body as fat cells, causing weight gain. Thus insulin resistance is associated with obesity and is also associated with depression (known in medicine as Syndrome X), because the body’s cells lacks energy to manufacture the feel good neurotransmitters (more references). Most mood disorders – including drug addiction – are triggered by underlying silent diseases. See also Rita Elkins et al

Insulin resistance – one of those silent diseases- may lead to diabetes, but very often shows up as non-diabetic hypoglycemia. This is an illness, not as yet recognized by conventional medicine as a separate illness. This is one reason why conventional medicine have such poor results in treating mood disorders. See Psychotherapy Ineffective?  Hypoglycemia is generally considered the forerunner of diabetes and amazingly enough mainstream medicine has problems identifying it and testing for this. It is characterized by unstable, fluctuating blood sugar levels (see graph), triggering the release of stress hormones. The medical test for hypoglycemia (GTTH) as distinct from diabetes is described here. The results of a GTTH can be compared with the types of hypoglycemia described here.

It can also be tested with The Nutrition-Behavior Inventory Questionnaire (NBI). Another useful home test is the Hypoglycemia Questionnaire.

The important message for drug addicts is that most if not all drug addicts – regardless of the drug of addiction – have been found to be hypoglycemic.


Samra, Dr George (2002, THE HYPOGLYCEMIC CONNECTION II, One Stop Allergies, Sydney Australia

Thus the first step in the treatment of drug addiction is 1) to withdraw from the drug by an appropriate detoxification program under the supervision of doctors and 2) with the adoption of the Hypoglycemic Diet. Most people withdrawing from drugs will experience severe anxiety attacks and/or insomnia, which are signs of an underlying metabolic disorder that may have been present already prior to the period of drug taking, but which could have been exacerbated under cover of self-medication with illegal drugs.

The most effective way of withdrawing from legal drugs is to remain on medication whilst being on a hypoglycemic diet. By treating the underlying biochemical abnormality by nutritional means (preferably with the help of a nutritional therapist) one should start to feel better. It is then time to withdraw very gradually AND under the supervision of your health care worker. Hence staying on the hypoglycemic diet is more important, than worrying about relapsing.

The same should apply to the withdrawal from illegal drugs. Therefore, it is to be expected that clients on illegal drugs will relapse so now and again. But provided they stick to the hypoglycemic diet, the body will eventually produce the feel good neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) that can make them feel more comfortable without drugs. The longer one has used drugs, the longer it may take for the body to repair the damage to receptors for neurotransmitters.

The cravings for drugs can be ameliorated by taking GLYCERINE as a temporary measure at the ratio of 1 tablespoon of glycerine to one glass of water (ratio of 20 mls of glycerine to 285 mls of water). Kudzu vine is a herbal remedy that is also known to stop alcohol craving. Because depression is the forerunner of drug addiction taking the herb Rhodiola rosea  may also relief symptoms of cravings and addiction. Glutamine at a dose of 300 mg together with other amino acids (DL-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine) plus a multivitamin-mineral supplements will help to overcome post withdrawal cravings. For a checklist of nutrients see here. This applies to most forms of addictions. See also Nutrients against Drugs and Alcohol go to page 2. See also: Nature’s Road to Recovery: Nutritional Supplements for Recovery.. by Bet M Ley Jacobs. Theanine – found in green tea – in Seredyn has been shown to reduce mental and physical stress may produce feelings of relaxation and improves cognition and mood when taken in combination with caffeine. Wikipedia. Coconut Oil can also reduce cravings, reduce obesity, improve thyroid function and insulin resistance. Drinking copious mounts of clean water also helps in detoxifying the body.

When you have alcohol cravings try out: Dates and Bananas, Celery, which helps balance body’s pH balance, Carrot Juice in water, which helps cleans the liver, Fresh Cabbage juice which helps curb the craving.

Experiment with combining the Hypoglycemic Diet with Herbal Remedies for Mood Disorders, such as Camu-Camu, Damiana, Ginseng, Hops, Kanna(cravings for cigarettes), Lavender, Passion Flower, Rhodiola, St John’s Wort, Vervain, with the help of a herbalist or a health care professional. Remember herbal remedies may interact with psychotropic dugs.

It may take up to a year (depending on each individual case) to fully recover from drug addiction. This is because it may take up to a year to repair the damage done to receptors for neurotransmitters. A high protein diet can speed up the repair. See Dr Nora Volkow .

In case of addiction to marijuana my clinical experience is that it may take up to six months before the body has rid itself of the fat soluble residues of THC. This is reflected in the person’s clearer thinking and improved memory. (I am not aware of any studies to confirm these findings).

It needs to be emphasised that no amount of talk therapy is going to help, if the underlying metabolic disorders are not treated in the first place.  See here.

This program should then be followed up with a self-help psychotherapy course to improve one’s self-image and learn social skills.

The therapy is also described in my book “Getting off the Hook” in the chapter dealing with:

The Positive Ego Training Program.(see page 36)

This self-help program is completely free of charge.

Riessman F and Carroll D, (1996), “A new View of Addiction: Simple and Complex”, Social Policy, 27(2), 36-46,The authors consider that addiction is of two kinds; simple and complex. Simple addiction is seen as a dependence on a substance that is still under the control of the person by his ability to abstain from it. However complex addiction has a much greater hold over the person, because other factors – such as an underlying biological abnormality – that renders a person powerless to abstain from the addictive substance.Here. See alsoTurner FJ (2005) p326

More References for Mood Disorders and Hypoglycemia

“Blood tests reveal that 75 percent of hyperactive, learning disabled children have hypoglycemia and/or allergies.” “Some studies had even shown that up to 75 percent of depressed people were not able to metabolize sugars properly. Dr Harvey Ross,MD believes that hypoglycemia is so prevalent that it is mandatory to consider the possibility of this disorder whenever a patient complains of depression” Hypoglycemia by Rita Elkins et al., 13

Please discuss this article with your health care worker, doctor or nutritional doctor or therapist.

Some Research Studies:

Index to Specific Topics and Research

References to Mood Disorders and Nutrition

Alcoholics in recovery Anxiety, depression


Drug addiction

Drug Addiction Recovery (Volcow study)

Drugs and violence


Insulin Resistance and Depression

Marijuana, Sex, Violence, Depression

The Serotonin Connection


Violence and aggression

Zinc and picolinic acid, tryptophan


For further reading see:

Alcohol and Drug Addiction discussed by Dr George Samra

Pam Killeen (2010), ADDICTION, The Hidden Epidemic.

Pam Killeen interview by Garth Riley about Addiction: The Hidden Epidemic

Pam Killeen Interview with Jurriaan Plesman

Overview: The hidden Epidemic by Pam Killeen

Treatment of drug Addiction

Why Alcoholics drink?

Hypoglycemia and Alcoholism by Health Recovery Centre

Alcoholism (Addiction) is a Treatable Disease

The Serotonin Connection

Depression is a Nutritional Disorder

Depression is a Disease of Energy Production

Conquering Anxiety, Depression and Fatigue without Drugs by Professor Joel H Levitt

Sugar Cravings

7 Responses

  1. Marcia Kirschbaum says:

    Awesome article! I have always known nutrition is the key component along with exercise and the obvious basics of fresh, clean water, sunshine and fresh air as a permanent fix for addiction and in fact got my now 23 yr. old son off heroin a few years ago through all holistic means. He’s now a personal trainer and continuing school to become a naturopathic nutritionist.

  2. Jurriaan Plesman says:

    Hi Marcia, That’s good news

  3. Joel Panther says:

    Isn’t phenylalanine another name for aspartame?

  4. Popy says:

    My age is now 35years old. I have a floating sensation in my whole body since long for 18 years. What kind of medicine will cure this please suggest me.

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