B-Complex Vitamins for Recovering Alcoholics

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Excessive alcohol consumption can create a deficiency in B vitamins. (Image: Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Effective treatment of detoxification from alcohol requires B-vitamin supplementation, writes Maura Henninger, a naturopathic physician. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health reports alcohol dependence is a major cause of B-vitamin deficiency in the United States. Alcoholism significantly affects your level of B complex, a group of water-soluble vitamins that includes thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, biotin and pantothenic acid. Many of your body's vital processes rely on these vitamins -- collectively referred to as B complex -- to function effectively.

Detoxification from Alcohol

B Complex is an important symptom management tool as you detox from alcohol. Niacin (vitamin B-3) can make withdrawal easier, while thiamine (vitamin B-1) is used to decrease fatigue and to increase effective brain functioning and memory. Pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5) helps rid your body of alcohol and supports adrenal function.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

After the initial difficult detoxification period, you may continue to suffer some symptoms of withdrawal. Many individuals attempting to embrace recovery from alcohol struggle with a syndrome called post-acute withdrawal (PAWS). This can last for up to a year and includes common issues of insomnia, irritability and anxiety. B vitamins help alleviate the intensity of PAWS. For example, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) aids in the production of melatonin and serotonin, chemicals that help in improving sleep and decreasing anxiety.

Anemia and Neurological Symptoms

Due to a B-vitamin deficiency caused by alcohol dependence, your body may begin recovery with some deficits, including an inadequate iron level and neurological difficulties such as poor memory, depression and confusion. The vitamins B-6, B-1 and folic acid (vitamin B-9) are vital in your body's ability to create and maintain adequate iron levels and in avoiding neurological problems.

Wernicke-Korsakoff

Alcohol dependence particularly affects one B vitamin: thiamine. According to the National Institutes of Health, between 30 percent and 80 percent of alcoholics suffer from thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is actively involved in many brain processes, including the ability to remember and learn. A severe deficiency often seen in late-stage alcoholism is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This condition, often referred to as "wet brain," is characterized by loss of coordination, confusion, inability to form memories, loss of memory and hallucinations. In some cases, brain damage due to years of alcohol abuse is permanent. Most recovering alcoholics, however, can usually reverse thiamine deficit symptoms by taking B-complex supplements.

Supplementation Dosages

The first step in addressing a B-complex deficiency is to increase the amount of B-vitamin foods you consume. These vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods, including meat, poultry, fresh vegetables, eggs, fish, milk, cereal grains and legumes. In addition, Henninger suggests adding a high-quality B-complex supplement daily. These usually contain between 50 and 100 milligrams of B complex. Because B vitamins are water-soluble, toxicity is rare even at high dosages, with the exception of niacin and pyridoxine. The dosages found in most B-complex vitamins are usually safe, especially if 100 milligrams or lower, but you should still consult with your medical provider before taking any supplement.

Encouragement During Recovery

Recovery success must include support meetings, family involvement and possibly therapy and prescription medication. The role of proper diet and vitamin supplementation should not be discounted, however. Consider changing your diet to include foods that contain B vitamins and supplement with a B-complex vitamin. It is a simple tool that may ease your recovery process. Unlike medications that give instant relief, the positive benefits of supplementing with B-complex vitamins will gradually emerge. Remind yourself that your body has suffered some damage due to the alcohol and will need time and consistency from you to regain optimal health.

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