Understanding Amino Acids and Addiction Recovery

Understanding Amino Acids and Addiction Recovery

By In Addiction Recovery, Nutrition and Mental Health, Relapse Prevention
Posted March 4, 2015

Amino Acid Replacement Therapy is gaining ground in the field of addiction recovery, but what exactly is it and how does it help?

Read on for a breakdown that should answer these questions and more!

What Are Amino Acids?

EMDR Therapy

Neurons in the brain

Let’s start with the basics:

Amino acids are organic compounds often referred to as the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are essential for many of the body’s structures and functions, including building muscles and tissues, protecting us from illness, facilitating chemical reactions, and carrying signals and nutrients.

There are over 200 amino acids in the body, but proteins consist of 22 amino acids called the proteinogenic amino acids. While many amino acids are naturally occurring in the body, nine of the proteinogenic amino acids must be supplied via our diets. If we don’t consume enough of these amino acids, we risk developing a protein deficiency.

Amino Acid Treatments

Since amino acids are so essential to our health, it’s no surprise that amino acid supplements have been used to boost nutrients and treat a variety of illnesses.

Among other uses, amino acid supplements are utilized to:

  • Strengthen immune systems
  • Fight arthritis and cancer
  • Support weight loss
  • Enhance exerciseand athletic performance
  • Build muscles and strength
  • Improve hair, skin, and nails
  • Manage sleep and mood
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Manage blood sugar levels

More recently, experts are also exploring amino acid replacement therapy as a helpful aid in addiction recovery.

To understand exactly how this works, let’s briefly discuss addiction and the brain.

The Brain and Addiction

We are all wired to seek physical and emotional comfort. The bottom line is that humans want to feel good.

Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters play a vital role in our feelings of overall well-being and pleasure. Basically, the way the brain works, we eat certain foods because these foods produce a better reward than others. We engage in certain activities, like work or a romantic relationship, because they release pleasurable chemicals. Even simple things, like watching a comedy, petting our dog, or standing at the ocean shore produce a reward. All of this works together to keep us alive, functioning, motivated and reproducing.

Now, let’s talk about drug addiction. When a person with a predisposition to addiction engages in an activity, such as drinking or drug use, the natural production of “feel good” hormones is interrupted.

These substances actually change the biochemistry of the brain and the ability to create feelings of well-being in natural ways. The drug then becomes the only means of relief for many addicts, and the chosen activity will rapidly progress into the destructive cycle that most of us know as active addiction.

So, where do amino acids come in?

Amino Acid Replacement Therapy and Relapse Prevention

As a direct result of their addictions, most individuals in recovery are nutrient depleted. Restoring these nutrients aids recovery, and this is particularly true for amino acids because they have an impact on the brain’s neurotransmitters.

Amino acid supplements have been shown to help curb the appetite for unhealthy habits, especially in early addiction when the body isn’t producing any positive hormones on its own.

Amino acid replacement therapy can aid in bringing a sense of control back to the individual (in much less time than would occur unaided). The amino acids used are the precursors that our bodies use to create the neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for well-being and pleasure.

As healthy amino acids flood the brain and help neurotransmitters function properly, people recovering from addiction may experience improved moods and, eventually, the ability to naturally experience feelings of pleasure and reward once again.

Lyle Fried, CEO and co-founder of The Shores Treatment and Recovery Center, has witnessed the benefits of amino acid therapy for many of his clients. “Many individuals coming into treatment for drug or alcohol addiction are already nutritionally deficient, so a healthy eating plan is key, but we have experienced marked results when amino acids are also offered in early recovery.

Preventing relapse and returning a new client to a sense of well-being, which takes them out of drug-seeking behaviors and allows them to fully engage and benefit from the tools they are being given, is a critical component of addiction treatment.”

Charles Gant, MD and author of End Your Addiction Now has conducted extensive research on amino replacement therapy. Below is a list of some of the key amino acids, along with their direct benefits.

Amino Acids and Amino Acid Therapy

How amino acids affect the brain

Although there are 22 amino acids that can be found in protein, amino acid replacement therapy focuses on five to eight of them. Each of the following amino acids influences the activity of a particular neurotransmitter that, in turn, directly affects cravings related to a specific drug.

L-Tryptophan: A necessary amino for serotonin production, the brain’s natural antidepressant. Serotonin deficiency symptoms can include any of the following: self-deprecation, anxiety, sleep disorders, compulsive thoughts and behaviors, depression, irritability, panic, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, cravings that become more pronounced in the afternoon or evening. Cravings related to L-Tryptophan deficiency may include sweets and starches, nicotine, marijuana, and alcohol.

GABA: Known as the anti-stress chemical, a deficiency of GABA can present itself with anxiety, emotional or physical tension, and the feeling of being overwhelmed by circumstances. Cravings related to GABA deficiency may include nicotine, marijuana, alcohol or carbohydrates.

DLPA D-Phenylalanine: Increases the lifespan of endorphins, which are pain-relieving chemicals. Symptoms of Endorphin deficiency may include weepiness, crying spells and fragile emotions, as well as pain sensitivity. Cravings related to DLPA D-Phenylalanine deficiency can include starches and sweets, heroin, nicotine, marijuana or alcohol.

L-Tyrosine: Necessary for the production of catecholamines like norepinephrine dopamine, and epinephrine, these are the “I’m alert and ready for my day” neurotransmitters. They are connected to clarity, focus and concentration. Symptoms of deficiency can include a lack of clarity and focus, fatigue, lack of motivation, apathy, an overall lack of energy to engage in personal interests or work, and depression. Individuals with this deficiency may be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Cravings related to catecholamine deficiency may include anything that will bring a boost of energy, such as sweets and starches, caffeine, methamphetamine and cocaine. The deficiency may also present itself in choosing risky sports and activities, unsafe sex, or gambling in order to feel more awake and alive.

L-Glutamine: The ideal “brain balancer,” L-Glutamine is tasked with regulating blood sugar levels to maintain clarity as well as energy. L-Glutamine deficiency can cause shakiness, irritability, weakness, and dizziness, especially when too much time has passed between meals. Cravings can be anything that provides a boost to low blood sugar, like starches, sweets, and alcohol.

When these amino acids are restored through amino acid therapy, symptoms of deficiency subside, and cravings lessen.

Using Amino Acids to help with addiction


20 percent of the human body is protein, and amino acids are the building blocks of protein. This makes amino acids vital to a huge number of the body’s structures and functions.

Over the course of addiction, addicts become nutritionally deficient, and this deficiency includes amino acids. These amino acids have a direct impact on the neurotransmitters that play a major role in the cycle of addiction.

Addiction causes lasting damage to the brain, which is one reason that relapse is so common. For individuals to make a full and sustainable recovery, treating and repairing the brain is necessary.

With amino acid replacement therapy, it’s possible to restore vital amino acids to the body and brain, repairing damaged neurotransmitters and boosting key nutrients. Ultimately, this makes it possible for a recovering addict to end the dangerous cycle of addiction.

At The Shores Treatment and Recovery, we offer amino acid therapy as part of our holistic approach to drug and alcohol rehab. Addiction is a symptom of a much deeper problem, and we do all we can to treat the whole person and provide the best possible outcomes. Nutrient deficiencies can’t be left out.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please give us a call today.

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