There’s a long history of treating alcohol addiction with magnesium.
In fact, Natural Calm Canada founder, Linda Bolton, was a registered nurse and recalls that patients admitted to the hospital with severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal were treated with intravenous magnesium.
To understand why, you first need to understand magnesium deficiency in alcohol addiction and withdrawal. This article will explain why alcohol depletes magnesium, the relationship between alcohol withdrawal and magnesium, and how to treat magnesium deficiency from alcohol use.
Finally, we’ll discuss how to supplement with magnesium to address symptoms of deficiency related to alcohol use.
Magnesium Deficiency from Alcohol
According to Statistics Canada, nearly 20% of Canadians fell into the category of “heavy drinkers” in 2018. That’s about 5.9 million people!
The definition of heavy drinking depends on age, sex, body weight, and sensitivity, among numerous other things. Generally, heavy drinking is considered to be 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.
Interestingly, most people who are considered heavy or excessive drinkers are not dependent on alcohol and do not have an alcohol use disorder. However, they are still likely to experience symptoms of withdrawal if they drastically reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption suddenly.
Alcohol consumption poses a threat to healthy magnesium levels in multiple ways. Even when drinking alcohol only occasionally, rapid urinary loss of magnesium and other electrolytes has an almost immediate impact on the body.
Not surprisingly, this effect is only exacerbated with continued, prolonged alcohol use. Acting as a magnesium diuretic, alcohol drains the body’s magnesium store not only from the kidneys (through urine), but also from tissues elsewhere in the body, eventually draining the body’s overall supply of magnesium and other important nutrients.
Beyond the direct impact that alcohol has on bodily magnesium stores, Shane and Flink have found that a number of other behaviours and mechanisms associated with alcohol addiction can explicitly or tangentially lead to reduced magnesium levels. These include, according to Shane and Flink:
- Gastrointestinal losses
- Phosphate deficiency
- Acidosis and/or alkalosis
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Free fatty acidemia associated with alcohol withdrawal
Additionally, animal studies executed by Rayssiquier et al. have shown that magnesium deficiency can even worsen alcohol-induced liver damage.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Magnesium
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) symptoms can range from mild to severe, and there are a number of treatments to help minimize the severity and duration of the experience. Magnesium is one such remedy, with data to back it up.
In fact, magnesium is also an important mineral for heavy drinkers regardless of whether or not they are going through withdrawal. In this post, we’ll look at the research on heavy and binge drinking, magnesium depletion, and some natural ways to treat withdrawal.
Magnesium is often prescribed to people recovering from alcohol addiction partly because they are particularly prone to magnesium deficiency, and partly because of the role that it plays in the brain, with the neurotransmitters GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate.
First, some information on these brain chemicals:
- GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, meaning that it acts to regulate brain activity, and slow things down if they’re going too fast or the body needs rest
- Conversely, glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system. It speeds up brain activity.
- Together, they work in balance to keep the brain functioning at an appropriate pace. They are integral to the brain system and thus either directly or indirectly connected to almost every part of regular neurological functioning (e.g memory, learning, cognition). Too much of either one throws things out of whack.
For context, these two neurotransmitters are affected by alcohol consumption. Alcohol heightens the effect of GABA, while dimming glutamate to produce the often calm and euphoric feeling associated with drunkenness.
Regular, heavy drinking impedes the brain’s capacity to increase GABA and pare down glutamate, and as time passes, more alcohol is required to achieve the same effect. As your body begins to recognize this pattern, its response is to overproduce glutamate and underproduce GABA.
When the alcohol consumption that caused this shift to occur stops, it takes time for your brain chemistry to get the memo, and adjust neurotransmitter production accordingly. This neurobiological confusion is what creates many of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal – hyperexcitation, resulting in things like:
In more extreme cases, this glutamate overload can lead to elevated blood pressure, seizures, and tremors.
Supplementing with Magnesium for Alcohol-Related Deficiency
Because magnesium stimulates GABA production, it is the perfect supplement to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms caused by the disrupted brain chemistry.
As Prior and Galdurós write:
“Magnesium can provoke a modest stimulation for the gabaergic system and is capable of reducing the oxidative stress in the brain, lowering the concentration of neurotoxic substances stimulating both synaptogenesis and neurogenesis in the limbic cortex, acting as an ameliorator in mid-crisis alcohol abstinence.”
Dr. Mihai Nehifor found that “magnesium deficiency is not only involved in [reducing] the intensity of alcohol withdrawal, but also in the development of alcohol dependence”, so it may act as an important preventative measure, as well as being imperative to recovering alcoholics and people who are seeking to taper their drinking habits.
The link between drinking alcohol and decreasing magnesium levels is clear. Alcohol addiction promotes the immediate loss of magnesium through urine, and over time contributes to generalised magnesium loss through addiction-related habits. Neurologically, withdrawal creates a need for magnesium to regulate the neurotransmitters responsible for the associated symptoms.
So, what can be done?
How to Treat Magnesium Deficiency Caused by Alcohol Consumption
The simple answer is that magnesium intake has to be increased, but how?
The first and most straightforward step is to increase magnesium intake by consuming more magnesium-rich foods, like spinach and other leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, and even dark chocolate!
However, even regular individuals struggle to meet their magnesium needs through their diets; the mineral is simply too easily lost by everyday occurrences such as medication use, drinking coffee, exercise/sweat, stress, eating sugary foods…
With chronic alcoholism as an additional risk factor for magnesium deficiency, it quickly becomes clear that diet changes may not be enough. That’s where Natural Calm comes in!
In addition to making changes to our diets and lifestyles, supplementing with magnesium is a healthy and easy way to know for certain that you’re getting enough.
When choosing a magnesium supplement, go for a high-quality, highly absorbable form like Natural Calm’s award-winning magnesium citrate powder. It is ionized when dissolved in hot water, making it fast acting and easily incorporated at a cellular level.
When taken at night, magnesium can work quickly to alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. For people simply searching for an alternative relaxation ritual to limit their alcohol consumption, Calmful Sleep is a great, natural drink to slip into blissful sleep.
Important Notes on Magnesium Absorption
When attempting to treat magnesium deficiency, be aware that not all supplements are equally absorbed and not all individuals absorb magnesium adequately.
Since magnesium is absorbed through the gut, conditions affecting the GI system prevent adequate absorption. Improving the body’s absorption may not be up to an individual, especially if it’s an illness that is causing GI complications.
However, there are a few things people can try to boost magnesium absorption:
- Treating vitamin D deficiency
- Quitting smoking
- Eating raw vegetables
- Make sure your zinc supplements aren’t interfering with your magnesium ones – space them out
- Choose a highly-absorbable magnesium supplement, like magnesium citrate
The research is pretty clear about alcoholism, withdrawal, and magnesium. But what other natural remedies are out there to manage and thwart an alcohol addiction?
Other Supplements to Help Alcohol Addiction (Beyond Magnesium)
Nutrient needs will differ on an individual basis, but generally, people who have an alcohol addiction need while detoxing are – beside magnesium – B vitamins, vitamin C, and calcium.
B vitamins are a nutrient that is commonly lacking in people emerging from alcohol addiction, and can be taken individually, or in a multivitamin. Alcohol is known to diminish B vitamin absorption, which is part of why it is one of the first recommended vitamins to be replenished for recovering alcoholics.
Members of the B vitamin family are linked to aiding liver health, limiting alcohol cravings, and facilitating the body’s detoxification process during withdrawal. B vitamins are also important to the formation of red blood cells. Because of this, alcohol induced vitamin B deficiency can lead to anaemia.
Vitamin B1 deficiency, specifically, (common in active or recovering alcoholics) can damage the thalamus and hypothalamus regions of the brain. This is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and it is a serious health concern that affects memory and muscle coordination.
Providing benefits for mental wellbeing as well as the immune system, vitamin C supports recovery two fold. As alcohol withdrawal puts the body under additional stress, having the immunity boost that vitamin C offers, as well as treating any alcohol related deficiencies in the vitamin, helps keep the central nervous system functioning both during and after withdrawal.
Furthermore, vitamin C deficiency is associated with feelings of tiredness and sadness, which does not bode well for someone experiencing withdrawal or attempting sobriety.
Calcium deficiency leading to osteoporosis can be an issue for some individuals, and is worsened by problems with calcium absorption caused by alcoholism.
Calcium has also shown some promise in reducing the likelihood of relapse following withdrawal. The mechanism by which it could achieve this is still poorly understood.
Boosting calcium levels will, nevertheless, reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis development and keep every day functions like muscle contraction and blood clotting in good shape in the wake of an alcohol addiction.
Ultimately, individuals manage alcohol addiction, withdrawal, and relapse in different ways. Supporting your body with the right nutrients can certainly be beneficial.
Re-cap: Treating Alcohol Addiction with Magnesium & Other Nutrients
Given that magnesium (among other nutrient) deficiencies are known to be exceedingly common in people with alcohol addictions, it can be comforting to know that magnesium is one of a number of effective, science-backed natural supplements.
If you are interested in learning more about magnesium and other addictive substances, see our post on magnesium for addiction recovery and our article on magnesium supplements to quit smoking.