Can Supplements Really Help with Opiate Addiction?

Can Supplements Really Help with Opiate Addiction?


It should come as no shock to anyone that someone going through heroin or opiate withdrawal is going to have some vitamins and nutrients depleted in their system. However, is the simple idea of replacing those vitamins really all that revolutionary?

The New York Times says that “Unfortunately, unscrupulous vendors are trying to capitalize on the opioid epidemic by illegally marketing products as dietary supplements, with unproven claims about their ability to help in the treatment of opioid use disorder, or as all-natural alternatives to prescription opioids.”

This is silly. If you go to any detox center in the world you will likely find that all of the recovering addicts are already getting a multi vitamin as part of their daily protocol. This is nothing revolutionary. What is really going on here is that unscrupulous marketers know just how desperate struggling addicts and their families can be, and they are capitalizing on the idea that people are so desperate that they will grasp at straws.

Sure, supplements can help a tiny bit with addiction recovery, in the same way that eating food and sleeping at night can help with recovery. You are not giving yourself a magic key to success; all you are doing when you eat food, sleep at night, or take vitamin supplements is meeting the minimum baseline to allow you to even have a chance at recovery.

Truth be told, nutrition may play a role in long term recovery, but nutrition and supplements have very little to do with early recovery.

Let’s design a hypothetical experiment to prove this point. Take two groups of struggling addicts who wish to address their problem–put group A at an inpatient rehab center, give them therapy and send them to AA meetings. Take group B and send them to the same treatment center, but instead of therapy and AA give them a full education on nutrition, proper diet, and give them the leading supplements. Then test to see which group fares better.

This experiment exposes the idea for what it really is–sure, supplements could be helpful, but they are not what makes or breaks a person’s recovery. The struggling addict who goes to rehab, therapy, and meetings is the one who has a fighting chance at sobriety. The person who is basically putting all of their faith in supplements does not really have a chance.

Recovery is certainly holistic–I am not arguing against that. But what I am really saying here is that there is a time and a place for the holistic approach, and there is a time and a place for intense focus in recovery.

The time for intense focus is early recovery. The time for holistic ideals is in long term sobriety. Do not confuse a long term recovery strategy with a short term one.

For example, I would argue that in my own experience, physical exercise has been a huge pillar of my sobriety when it comes to long term recovery. However, it should be noted that in the first 2 years of my recovery journey, I really did not get into physical fitness at all. I made a few feeble attempts to get active and they fell flat. After about 2 years of recovery I finally got into shape and formed a lasting exercise habit, and that habit has made a huge impact on the quality of my sobriety.

But during those first 2 years, I don’t think that you could convince me that being in great physical shape is what I needed. I tested the theory and I tried to exercise and it just did not go anywhere at the time. Instead, I was focusing more on social support and spiritual exploration. I was working a recovery program in a more traditional sense.

In the same way, if you tried to convince me that the newcomer needs proper nutrition and supplements in order to thrive in early recovery, I would say you are dead wrong. That is not what I experienced and it is not what I observe in others. What I see working in early recovery is intense focus on inpatient treatment, on social support (like AA meetings), and on spiritual seeking. Fitness and nutrition are just not driving forces in very early recovery–at least in my opinion.

Now as the recovering addict or alcoholic maintains sobriety, the game slowly changes. They start out in recovery with intense focus on spiritual progress and social support, and for the first year or so this is what propels them forward in recovery. But at some point they build this foundation of sobriety and staying clean and sober becomes far more natural to them. Now one of the key things to remember is that relapse is always going to be a threat, as no alcoholic or addict is ever fully “cured.” What does happen though is that the nature of the relapse threat changes.

In early recovery the threat is immediate and simple. You do everything that you can to avoid relapse–go to rehab, go to meetings, go to coffee after AA and sit and talk with your peers in recovery for hours on end, call your sponsor every day, and so on. That is early recovery, and that is the kind of intensity and immediacy that it requires.

But long term sobriety is different. In the long run, the immediate threat of relapse has receded a bit, to the point that it is no longer a daily danger for you. Now, however, you have to play the long game. Because it is still possible for your life to unravel to the point that a relapse still occurs–the process is just far less immediate.

It is in long term sobriety that your holistic health plays a much larger role. Now you need to worry about things like emotional stability and physical fitness, because a compromise in one of those areas can create the “slow unraveling effect” that could snowball into a relapse in the future. It is in long term sobriety that you need a strategy for wellness, for healthy living on all fronts.

But do not be confused about finding a shortcut to addiction recovery when you are early in the process.

In early recovery there are no shortcuts, and you need to dive head first into rehab, meetings, and any therapy or support that you can possibly soak up. If you hear about a miracle cure or a magic shortcut that will supposedly solve all of your addiction problems, then that is all marketing and no substance. Early recovery is tough and it takes work–so much work that you must dedicate your life to it. Taking a few supplements sounds easy, right? Real recovery is hard. Good luck!