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What Are the Dangers of Herbal Supplements in Addiction Recovery

by | Published on Feb 23, 2020 | Health and Wellness, Sober Living

dangers of herbal supplements

Many people in addiction recovery usually start focusing on their nutrition and health as part of their recovery journey. In most cases, they’ll add herbal supplements instead of over-the-counter drugs or other prescription medications in fear of relapse. However, most are unaware of the dangers of herbal supplements and how they can hinder their addiction recovery. 

Popular reasons to take herbal supplements include weight loss, better sleep, improved energy, nutrition, or boosting vitamin and mineral levels. However, they don’t realize that many of these herbal supplements can be harmful to their health. 

What Are Herbal Supplements?

For thousands of years, herbal supplements have been used for their healing properties. These supplements come from plants and their oils, roots, seeds, flowers, or berries. Herbal supplements are available in liquid extracts, teas, tablets, bath salts, oils, and ointments. 

People use herbal supplements for things like topical skin conditions, treat hot flashes, anxiety, and even conditions like dandruff and high cholesterol levels. 

Are Herbal Supplements Safe?

While the FDA regulates herbal supplements, these regulations aren’t as strict and thorough as drugs and foods. Because they fall under the dietary supplements category, they follow unique guidelines. 

One review of over 52 studies of herbal medicine and toxicology found that herbal supplements aren’t as safe as we think. The review found that many herbal medicines can cause kidney failure and liver damage because they contain toxic chemicals or heavy metals. Not to mention, many of these supplements react harmfully with other drugs. 

However, herbal supplements aren’t as systematically studied as other drugs and foods. Thus, there’s a lack of evidence explaining severe adverse reactions, such as kidney failure. Not to mention, we don’t always know the side effects of drug interactions. For example, many herbal supplements shouldn’t be combined with blood thinners.

Here’s an example of common herbal products and their harmful side effects. 

Herbal SupplementUsesRisks
EphedraTo treat obesity and coughs.Comes with dangerous, life-threatening increases in heart rate and blood pressure.
GinkgoTo improve mental functioning.Increases the risk of excess bleeding and interferes with diuretics.
Licorice RootTo treat stomach ulcers and coughs.Raises blood pressure and can cause adverse effects for those with a heart condition.

Dangerous Herbal Supplements in Addiction Recovery

For those in addiction recovery, there are more hidden dangers in herbal remedies. For example, supplements for sleep, anxiety, and brain function contain phenibut. This chemical is similar to those produced naturally by the brain to regulate anxiety. However, side effects include nausea, fatigue, agitation, and appetite changes. 

Also, in large doses, it can cause difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. Phenibut can also be addictive, and withdrawal from it can cause seizures.

Other popular herbal supplements include that can turn addictive and carry many side effects include:

  • Kava: this substance can be addictive and cause liver damage
  • Kratom: side effects of kratom can include dependence, kidney damage, and seizures
  • Diet pills: many diet supplements, even green tea extract, can have damaging side effects. High doses of caffeine and appetite suppressants can be habit-forming and damage the heart, liver, and other vital organs.

How to Safely Use Herbal Supplements

Each year, we find new risks of herbal supplements that millions of people use. For example, supplements like ephedra and BMPEA were in countless diet pills. After research showed that these substances could cause severe damage, even fatality, they were banned. Unfortunately, many herbal supplements likely have hidden dangers we aren’t aware of yet. Additionally, limited regulation allows many supplements to be sold over the counter and contain little warnings over their possible risks.

The considerable risk of herbal supplements for addicts and alcoholics is that these drugs can quickly be habit-forming or lead to a “slippery slope” of relapse. Part of addiction is seeking a solution through substances. Also, using herbal supplements to deal with anxiety, depression, anger, weight loss, or any other issues, without supervision from a professional, is similar to active addiction behaviors. 

To safely use herbal supplements, make sure you:

  • Always follow supplement instructions and don’t exceed recommended doses. 
  • Keep track of what you take because they might not be effective, and you might have to stop them. 
  • Check FDA alerts and advisories about supplements under regulatory review.
  • Stick to brands that use independent testings. 
  • Make sure to consult with your health care provider before incorporating any new supplements into your diet. 
  • Remember to discuss supplements with your addiction therapist and your sponsor to prevent you from falling for addictive behavioral patterns. 

Make sure you stay alert on the way you’re using these supplements. If you’re an addict in recovery and suddenly find yourself dependent on a supplement, it might be time to seek help. There are many complementary and alternative medicines you can try that won’t interfere with your addiction recovery. Consider joining an aftercare program to help you stay sober while in rehab and achieve long-term sobriety. 

Molly

Molly

Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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