Alcoholism – Herbal Medicine/Phytotherapy

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Alcoholism - Herbal Medicine / Phytotherapy

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

Milk Thistle is commonly used to treat liver problems and some studies have found significant improvement through its usage, particularly if the damage is mild. However, some milk thistle compounds can resemble estrogen so it is important to take advice from a doctor if you are hormone sensitive.  In a 2012 study of milk thistle’s effect on ethanol-induced oxidative stress, immune dysfunction and vascular function in mice, the use of milk thistle was compared with ascorbic acid – a potent antioxidant – and was found to be similarly able to normalise altered parameters of thiobarbituric, glutathione, dismutase, catalase, glutathione reductase and glutathione peroxidase and prevented much of the ethanol-induced elevated activities of interleukin, tumor necrosis factor and other factors.


This Chinese food whose root is used in soups and stews as a thickening agent has been used for centuries in Eastern medicinal practices to treat alcohol abuse and reduce cravings. The root contains the plant hormones betasitosterol and isoflavones including daidzein and formononetin. Study results have been mixed  with one failing to show any benefit while a 2013 randomised double-blind, placebo controlled study found that while there was little effect on alcohol craving a daily dose of kurzu extract significantly reduced the number of drinks consumed each week by 34-57%  and the number of consecutive days of abstinence in young non-treatment-seeking heavy drinkers.

Kudzu can interact with many medications including blood-thinners, estrogens, diabetes medications and methotrexate. Always consult your doctor before using.


This is an antioxidant isoflavonoid produced by gathering extract from the edible vine Pueraria lobata. In ancient Chinese medicine it has been used extensively to decrease blood alcohol levels. Two 1996 studies on rats found that use of daidzin could decrease ethanol intake by between 30 and 75%, while water intake was increased so that the total volume of fluid consumed remained steady. The suppression of the desire to drink alcohol was manifested after the first day of administering the isoflavonoid and reached its maximum potential after two days. However, when subjects ceased taking daidzin, alcohol desires returned to their previous levels within two days.

Nux-Vomica / Strychonos

Nux-vomica comes from the dried seed of a tree that is native to Burma, China, Eastern India, Thailand and North Australia. Historically it has been employed to make alcohol less attractive. In a 2001 trial potentially alcoholic rats were first given 20% ethanol and then presented with a choice between one bottle containing 20% ethanol and another containing tap water. Groups of rats were then given choices between strychnine, ethanolic extract of nux-vomica seeds, pure nux vomica and control. The groups given the two nux vomica preparations showed significantly reduced ethanol intake and increased water intake. This confirmed the folk law, in rats at least, that nux vomica produces aversion to alcohol, and so may be useful in treating human alcoholics.

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