When you are recovering from drug addiction, withdrawal symptoms can put your resolve to quit to an extreme test. Some of these symptoms are similar to signs of low magnesium — tension, anxiety, pain, and sleeplessness.
At Natural Calm, we are sometimes asked if we recommend magnesium for addiction recovery. The short answer is yes, absolutely.
Most people need to increase their intake of magnesium. This is especially true for anyone whose health has been strained by addictive substances. Many drugs, legal and illegal, deplete magnesium. Replenishing magnesium is not only good for every system of your body. It can also make you feel better during addiction recovery,
Aside from magnesium, there are many supplements that not only relieve discomfort but can help to replenish nutrient deficiencies caused by addiction.
In this post, we will discuss the natural remedies that are helpful during recovery, focusing on magnesium for addiction.
Since opiate addiction is such a significant issue in Canada and beyond, we will primarily discuss opiate withdrawal. However, we’ll also cover research on natural remedies for recovery from other addictive substances.
Natural Alternatives that Can Aid Opiate Withdrawal
In recent years, there have been significant increases in deaths and hospitalizations related to legal and illegal opiate use.
Nearly 1 out of 10 who use opiate medications appear to abuse or misuse the medications, showing signs of addiction.
“Recent estimates indicate that 9.6% of Canadian adults who used opioid medications in 2018 reported some form of problematic use (e.g., taking in amounts greater than prescribed, tampering with the product before taking it or using to get high or improve mood).” — Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
Opioids are extremely addictive and can be dangerous. To avoid the risks of opiate abuse, many people have to go through a withdrawal process.
“Early symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Increased tearing
- Runny nose
Late symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
- Goose bumps
Withdrawal can be severe and potentially dangerous. Your doctor may prescribe medications to relieve withdrawal symptoms, help with detoxification, and help to prevent relapse. In the interest of safety, you should take these medications as prescribed.
Natural treatments for opiate withdrawal should not be seen as alternatives to your doctor’s recommendations. Supplements cannot replace opiate withdrawal prescription medications.
Natural alternatives should be seen as treatments that you take in addition to following the opioid withdrawal protocol set out by your medical supervisor.
How Vitamins and Supplements Can Help with Opiate Withdrawal
Vitamins and supplements can help to regulate the nervous system, easing psychological and physical symptoms of stress associated with withdrawal. Herbs and nutrients can improve mood, for example, relieving anxiety and depression.
Physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal can also be eased with supplements. Various phytochemicals (natural chemicals that plants produce), vitamins, and minerals can relieve physical discomforts, such as muscle aches, nausea, insomnia, and other symptoms of drug withdrawal.
People who experience opiate addiction and withdrawal may also have a diet that is low in nutrients, so supplements can close the gap and make you feel better. If you aren’t regularly eating a wide range of nutrient-rich foods, consider a multivitamin as the first supplement you choose to help with opiate withdrawal. It’s important to close nutritional gaps while in recovery because you may mistake hunger for a drug craving.
In short, supplements can help with opiate withdrawal by helping you to feel better emotionally, mentally and physically as you recover from an addiction.
Top 7 Vitamins and Supplements for Opiate Withdrawal
There are thousands of herbal medicines and nutrients that could be helpful for withdrawal. Here, we’ll give a brief overview of the top 7 from our research. Then, we’ll dive deeper into magnesium — our area of expertise here at Natural Calm Canada.
1. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) and/or glutathione
NAC is a semi-essential amino acide that aids in the production of the antioxidant glutathione. You can use either as a supplement for opiate withdrawal.
A 2020 study showed that NAC mitigates acute opioid withdrawal. Researchers believe this is because opioid withdrawal induces oxidative stress and disrupts glutamate and glutathione homeostasis. By administering NAC, researchers were able to normalize glutathione and glutamate.
Citicoline is a brain chemical that occurs naturally in the body. It can be taken as a supplement and is typically used for neurological benefits.
“Interest has grown in citicoline as a treatment for addiction since it may have beneficial effects on craving, withdrawal symptoms, and cognitive functioning, as well as the ability to attenuate the neurotoxic effects of drugs of abuse.” — Citicoline in Addictive Disorders: A Review of the Literature
Most of the research is on citicoline for cocaine addictions, followed by some research on methamphetamine addictions.
L-theanine or theanine is an amino acid commonly found in tea and mushrooms.
In animal studies, researchers found that l-theanine reduces opiate withdrawal symptoms and has anti-anxiety properties.
“The results of these studies suggest that L-theanine may be useful in the pharmacotherapy of treating opioid withdrawal as well as anxiety-associated behaviors.” — L-theanine attenuates abstinence signs in morphine-dependent rhesus monkeys and elicits anxiolytic-like activity in mice (Pharmacol Biochem Behav.)
Another study showed that theanine inhibits nicotine dependence.
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and in high doses is believed to protect your body’s natural opioids (which make you feel good) and boost endorphins (improving mood, which is important during withdrawal).
A study on the effects of vitamin C on heroin withdrawal symptoms found the following:
- 10% to 16.6% of the patients treated with vitamin C experienced major withdrawal symptoms
- 56.6% of patients who did not take vitamin C experienced major withdrawal symptoms
Another study suggested that vitamin C inhibits the development of tolerance and dependence on morphine. It appears to do so because of the effect of vitamin C on dopamine and glutamate in the brain.
Research shows that vitamin C helps with focus, memory, and mood. It protects the nervous system which leads to emotional stability, better memory, a sense of calm and higher IQ.
Vitamin C is protective against disease in general, so you should feel confident taking it as a supplement to recover from addiction.
5. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC)
ALCAR is naturally produced by the human body, and it is available as a dietary supplement.
A study was conducted “to determine the short-term effect of acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) on symptoms of withdrawal in opiate-dependent subjects and animals and, in particular, on pain” (given that ALC) is known to help relieve other types of pain.
“The final results indicate that ALC produced efficient antihyperalgesic effects and helped relieve opiate withdrawal hyperalgesia. It also showed a significant impact on other withdrawal symptoms, particularly insomnia, muscle cramps, and tension.” — Top 10 Natural Alternatives That Can Aid Opiate Withdrawal, Stonegate Center
Zinc is a trace mineral, which means your body needs small amounts. It appears to be depleted with opioid use, so researchers have studied whether zinc supplementation can help those who use opioids for pain or have an opiate addiction. The conclusion suggests that zinc may help with pain.
Since those who use opiates are likely deficient in zinc and it is a very safe supplement, zinc appears to be an ideal natural remedy to recover from addiction.
Magnesium is an essential mineral, and most Canadians don’t get enough. Low magnesium status or full-blown magnesium deficiency is a risk associated with substance abuse.
At the same time, magnesium is depleted during drug and alcohol use. Several types of drugs, including alcohol and nicotine, deplete magnesium. Thus, it’s important that anyone recovering from an addiction replenish magnesium levels.
We have covered the relationship between alcohol abuse and magnesium in-depth in our article, Treating Alcohol Addiction with Magnesium.
As stated there:
“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.”
Prescription and illegal drugs can also deplete magnesium.
“Several drugs including diuretics and proton-pump inhibitors can cause magnesium loss and hypomagnesemia. Magnesium and drugs use the same transport and metabolism pathways in the body for their intestinal absorption, metabolism, and elimination. This means that when one or more drug is taken, there is always a potential risk of interaction with the magnesium status.” — Magnesium and Drugs
Even cigarettes deplete magnesium: “Chronic smoking decreases the level of serum magnesium.” (Learn more about magnesium for quitting smoking in this article.)
For these reasons and more, magnesium as a supplement is recommended for addiction withdrawal.
Magnesium for Addiction
Using magnesium for addiction can help to relieve the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Importantly, magnesium may help to break the cycle of addiction.
One of the most succinct and definitive summaries of the relationship between magnesium deficiency and addiction was published in the journal Magnesium Research in 2018:
“Addiction is a dysregulation of brain reward systems that progressively increases, resulting in compulsive drug use and loss of control over drug-taking. Addiction is a brain disease.
There is evidence that magnesium deficit is involved in addiction to various addictive substances (heroin, morphine, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and others).
Magnesium is involved in all the stages of addiction….
Addiction is characterized by relapses. Magnesium deficiency may be a contributing factor to these relapses.” — Magnesium in addiction — a general view
Magnesium in drug abuse and addiction
Returning to the article published in Magnesium Research, let’s look closer at the role of magnesium in drug abuse and addiction.
“Magnesium deficit enhances the vulnerability to psychoactive substance addiction. Stress and trauma reduce the brain magnesium level and at the same time favor addiction development.
Because stress and trauma induce hypomagnesemia with increased vulnerability to addiction, magnesium intake by people who are under prolonged stress could be a way to reduce this vulnerability and the development of addiction to different psychoactive substances.
Anxiety and depression appear to be associated with increases in drug-related harm and addictive substance use. Magnesium anxiolytic effect could be important for the antiaddictive action.” — Magnesium in addiction — a general view
The relationship between addiction and low magnesium is multifaceted. Magnesium works in multiple ways to reduce the risk of addiction. On the flip side, low magnesium increases the risk of forming addictions and makes cessation and recovery more difficult.
Let’s continue to explore how it works.
Magnesium deficiency and addiction
How does magnesium deficiency increase the risk of addiction? What is the “mechanism of action,” as researchers would say?
The relationship between addiction and low magnesium is complex.
Magnesium plays an important role in the brain and nervous system as a whole. Several molecules are involved, but of these, the most important in relation to magnesium and addiction is dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made in your brain. It lets you feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation.
Dopamine is considered the most important molecule in the development of addiction. This is because addictive substances (like opioids) strongly increase dopamine in the brain.
Magnesium can reduce the release of dopamine during drug use.
However, this does not mean that you will experience low dopamine levels with magnesium use. Quite the contrary. Magnesium seems to naturally increase dopamine levels, helping to prevent depression.
Low magnesium common for people with drug addictions
From the article in Magnesium Research, we can see that low magnesium intake makes individuals more vulnerable to addiction.
By “hypomagnesemia,” the authors mean magnesium deficiency. Interestingly, in this summary, the authors focus on the role of stress and trauma in magnesium deficiency. We know that stress depletes magnesium because the body requires magnesium to regulate our stress response.
The above explains why people who are under persistent stress are more likely to have a magnesium deficiency… and, as a result, are more vulnerable to addiction.
“There are data that show that stress increases the vulnerability of people to develop addiction to different substances, and also reduces drug-free time and increases the incidence of relapse in heroin addicts. Stress… stimulates magnesium release from the body. This decrease in magnesium concentration is one of the important factors that hastens relapse.” — Magnesium in drug abuse and addiction
Stress, low magnesium, and addiction becomes a vicious cycle. When we are under persistent stress, we’re less likely to eat a magnesium-rich diet. Instead, we turn to low-nutrient comfort foods. These low-magnesium junk foods are more accessible and less expensive, so if you’re under time or financial pressure, it’s easy to become magnesium deficient and at risk of addiction.
Can magnesium help with addiction?
Magnesium can help prevent addiction and promote successful recovery from addiction.
First, as we know from our discussion on dopamine, “Magnesium reduces the intensity of addiction to opiates and psychostimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine, and others).
It also decreases… relapse into cocaine and amphetamine intake, as well as reducing the experimental addiction to morphine, cocaine and other substances in animals. ” — Magnesium in drug abuse and addiction
Therapeutic administration of magnesium has also been shown to decrease nicotine dependence.
If ending an addiction is your goal, magnesium can be a useful support.
Magnesium for addiction withdrawal symptoms
Magnesium can also help to relieve symptoms of withdrawal from an addiction. Here, we’ll explain how magnesium relieves some of the most common symptoms.
Muscle disorders and pain during detoxification:
According to a 2014 journal article, “Calcium and magnesium deficiencies are the major factors of pain and nervous/muscular disorders among addicts and alcohol consumers during detoxification programs.” — Burden and Nutritional Deficiencies in Opiate Addiction- Systematic Review Article
A highly absorbable magnesium supplement can help to relieve muscle spasms by relaxing muscles.
Magnesium relieves pain by blocking the stimulation of the NMDA pain receptor in the brain. By relieving tension in the muscles as well, magnesium is an analgesic.
Agitation and anxiety during drug withdrawal:
Magnesium helps to relieve symptoms of agitation and anxiety in the general population, not only in people recovering from addiction. Since we know that many addictions deplete magnesium, it’s straightforward to conclude that magnesium can help with addiction-related mood issues.
To name just a few ways that magnesium is calming:
- Magnesium helps to regulate the body’s main stress response system, reducing secretion of the “fight or flight” stress hormones (Sartori et al., 2012)
- Magnesium inhibits the stimulation of receptors in the brain associated with anxiety (Lezhitsa et al., 2011)
- Magnesium promotes receptor functions stimulated by GABA (Poleszak, 2008), a neurotransmitter that promotes calm and relaxation
Insomnia associated with cessation of an addiction:
Magnesium is well-known as a sleep aid. It helps to relax muscles, calm the nervous system, and facilitate the release of melatonin at night so that we can sleep.
We know that magnesium modulates the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Opioid withdrawal sleep disturbances are related to orexin/hypocretin signaling. Orexins are modulators of the sleep/wakefulness cycle and are expressed by neurons in the lateral hypothalamic area. Magnesium’s role in regulating the hypothalamus may explain why it helps with insomnia related to drug cessation.
Gastrointestinal symptoms of withdrawal:
It is unclear whether magnesium can help with nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea associated with addiction recovery.
For many people, magnesium helps with digestion, bloating, stomach pain, IBS & constipation.
For some people, magnesium taken orally is a laxative, and if you take too much orally, you could experience loose stools. If you are unable to take enough magnesium orally without experiencing diarrhea, consider topical or transdermal magnesium. When applied to the skin, magnesium bypasses the digestive tract and is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Does magnesium help opioid addiction?
Opiates, as we’ve discussed, strongly and artificially increase dopamine. They “reward” the brain with feelings of intense pleasure.
Under ideal health conditions, our brains should naturally produce enough dopamine to deliver the pleasure we need to feel satisfied and motivated. However, sometimes our brains don’t produce enough dopamine, and we can feel depressed. Low magnesium is a risk factor for low dopamine levels.
Naturally, we seek out what makes us feel pleasure. So, if we are magnesium deficient and depressed, the effects of opioids are even more attractive. As discussed, the effects of opiates are more intense, too, when we’re low in magnesium.
When enough magnesium is present in the brain, the dopamine surge related to opiate use is muted. Magnesium decreases the intensity of opioid addiction.
Magnesium for other drug addictions
Most of the research shared here focuses on magnesium for addiction to opiates. However, magnesium has been demonstrated to relieve addiction and symptoms of withdrawal across multiple categories of drugs.
From the article, Magnesium in drug dependencies, we know that “In some cases, Mg2+ decreased the relapse and reinstatement of cocaine and amphetamine intake.”
We also know from the article Magnesium in drug abuse and addiction that “Magnesium reduces the intensity of addiction to opiates and psychostimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine, and others). It also decreases the auto-administration of cocaine and the relapse into cocaine and amphetamine intake, as well as reducing the experimental addiction to morphine, cocaine and other substances in animals.”
Above, “auto-administration” means self-administration. In other words, in an experiment where the subject (an animal) can choose to take cocaine or not, the animal is less likely to take the cocaine when the animal is also given magnesium.
The article explains, “In cocaine abusers, magnesium reduced the craving for this substance (Margolin et al., 1992). Cocaine craving scores were 78% lower in those taking magnesium than in patients taking placebo.”
Smokers can also get relief by using magnesium for addiction recovery. Studies show that “magnesium administration decreases the number of smoked cigarettes as well as nicotine addiction. Specifically, 2 ampoules/day Magne-B6 administration for four weeks significantly decreased the number of cigarettes smoked by heavy smokers.”
In animal studies on magnesium for addiction to ethanol (alcohol), researchers found that “Magnesium administration only during the withdrawal syndrome of ethanol addicts reduced the clinical symptoms.”
Choose the Right Magnesium for Addiction Recovery
It’s clear from the research: among natural remedies, magnesium is one of the most beneficial supplements for preventing addiction, minimizing addiction cravings, and relieving symptoms of withdrawal.
Taking magnesium during addiction recovery also helps to restore your health. This essential mineral supports every organ of your body, your nervous system, muscles, and bones. It’s necessary for energy production, and helps with relaxation, mood, sleep, and more.
If you are going to take magnesium for addiction, make sure you take a quality supplement like Natural Calm.
Natural Calm magnesium citrate has been one of the most popular supplements in North America for decades. It’s backed by dozens of supplement awards and tens of thousands of testimonials from Natural Calm users worldwide.
Even better, Natural Calm tastes great. It comes in several organic fruit flavours and is naturally sweetened with stevia. Drink it as a hot, calming tea and feel your body relax. You can also choose Natural Calm in gummy form, which is very popular.
Reach out if you have any questions on our products or on magnesium for addiction.