A delicate question: Paleoism and alcoholism

by (1190) Updated February 05, 2013 at 8:48 AM Created October 09, 2012 at 9:24 PM

I have a dear friend who is a recent (last 4 years of his 44 years) alcoholic, yet is also concerned with eating well. He has expressed a lot of interest in my primal diet and has joined a meat CSA to make sure he eats grass-fed organic meat. He also belongs to a regular CSA and eats organic pastured eggs.

He is a high-functioning alcoholic by which I mean that he drinks two bottles of wine a night, and sometimes vodka, usually starting with dinner, and his state is only noticable to the untrained eye by nine or ten at night. So it is not affecting his work life, but he ends up drunk every night. He is 6' tall, 170 pounds and after a lifetime of being lean and athletic (former pro- extreme sports athlete) , has only in the last year started to have a slight belly.

He admits his dependence on alcohol, but has been unable to quit and is very macho about not needing/wanting any outside help to do so. AA is out of the question as he views this (and the idea of needing therapy) as an unacceptable weakness. In general, as a male, he is very alpha. I am afraid he will not change his ways and if this turns out to be the case, I am wondering if I can at least get him to eat in such a way as to minimize the damage. Like I said, paradoxically, he cares about eating real food and will take the time to prepare it well.

He is a definite adrenaline junkie who is one of those people who seems to have nine lives...many close calls due to risky behavior, but always coming out on top. At least he does not drive drunk.

I am not sure exactly what I am asking....I care deeply about him and am wondering if there are any specific recommendations nutrition-wise beyond the obvious (and apparently unlikely) one of getting him off alcohol. It is probably too much to ask if anyone out there is a paleo active alcoholic, but maybe you know one, or have some ideas.

Thank you for any advice.

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16 Replies

32175 · October 09, 2012 at 9:32 PM

As he continues down the road of healthy eating, I suspect he will start paying attention to the effect of alcohol on his liver function and will cut down naturally.

Magnesium supplementation can help with sugar binges, so I suspect that it may also help with his physiologic craving for alcohol, though not of course for the emotional addiction. It can't hurt to suggest 400-600 mg Magnesium Glycinate before bed to help him sleep.

D3 supplementation will also help his immune system become more resilient and offset some of the immune-suppressing effects of the alcohol.

You can suggest these supplements as part of the Paleo diet. Have him read "The Primal Blueprint."

Read this:


18437 · October 09, 2012 at 9:49 PM

Health begets health. Just put one foot in front of the other. Any changes that move him toward health and balance will make future steps in that direction easier. Following a paleo diet will definitely be a step in the right direction that could help him. I disagree with Harris on that. Sometimes the easier steps (in this case diet) can and should be taken first making future changes less challenging.

That Nick ...something or other guy is a pretty heavy drinker. There are plenty of us around here that still hit the sauce a little too much on the weekend, but thats part of my 20 ;)

11157 · October 09, 2012 at 9:33 PM

Like Kurt Harris says as the first step in his 12 step Archevore Paleo Framework:

"1. Get plenty of sleep and deal with any non- food addictions. Laird Hamilton sleeps 9 hours. Can you surf Teahupoo? If you're drinking a 12-pack a day, or chain-smoking, diet may help but is hardly your first priority."


Which is just about it. How much is he going to improve his health and well-being by eating healthy, when he's kicking the shit out of his liver with wine and vodka every night?

7559 · October 10, 2012 at 7:17 PM

I'm laughing right out loud as I read these answers. I know they are well-intentioned. I'm not trying to mock.

This is my opinion from my experience.

  1. If he is NOT a true alcoholic and just a heavy or "emotional" drinker as some have said then I would recommend taking all the advice here. Maybe that will help him.

  2. Supplements and nutritional support will not help him if he's really an alcoholic. His health and life will continue to deteriorate and he'll either hit his bottom or he won't. That may give him the chance to quit if he hits his bottom. Right now it does not sound like he has any desire to quit and since he's functioning. There is no motivation to quit. Unfortunately, he won't be able to "lessen" his drinking by will power, with the help of a kind person like you or good intentions.

  3. Hopefully, if he ends up getting desperate and wanting to quit...I can't speak to non-AA recovery programs from experience but my opinion is they are either clinical programs that don't work or money-making loads of shit. Ultimately, he'll take himself somewhere to get better if he has the desire to live and not die.

  4. I know you care about him but if he does not want to stop I would move on to caring about some other cause. You'll be wasting your time and inviting heartache. If he does stop drinking he'll have a long road ahead and it would be good to have a friend with some good liver pate.

1855 · October 10, 2012 at 1:35 AM

If you are his good friend, you will need help for yourself. You ought to try Al-Anon for yourself. I agree with another poster about medical intervention. However, if he's not open to AA he'll not likely want residential detox treatment either. Alcholism is a soul destroying disease. You are a good friend for looking at it from all points of view.

225 · October 10, 2012 at 6:24 PM

He probably started drinking to drown the grief - I can relate, I am an emotional drinker. (Though not that much my body wouldn't support it!)

If he is no longer broken-up about it and has moved past the immediate grief then most likely it's simply become a bad, destructive habit. If that's the case, it might be easier to follow some of the above suggestions and cut out the wheat/carbs, etc. Also will be easier to transition to finding something else to do at night besides drink. He's just become used to the 'buzz' and let's face it - it's nice to just float for awhile and not think. (sad but true)

The other alternative is that he truly has not moved past the events, at least not completely, and he's using the alcohol as a crutch still because when he's alone with his own thoughts they turn to things he doesn't want to think about. If that is the case, then finding another hobby to 'occupy his brain' will only help a bit. He's going to have to deal with the underlying emotional cause be it through beating up a heavy bag while he thinks through things or talking to you, crying about it and swearing you to secrecy. :) I've known a few "tough guys" in my life. I get it.

Bottom line is he really needs to grasp where he's at with the drinking before you can figure out what plan to follow.

2711 · October 10, 2012 at 3:52 AM

He sounds high functioning enough that some of these diet and recovery ideas presented by others here may work. But for many people nothing short of complete abstinence will allow restoration of sanity.

14843 · October 09, 2012 at 10:24 PM

I'd start reading Stanton Peele. The idea that all addicts have to become abstinent via 12-step programs (or similar) is one he argues is not a particularly compelling one. Here's a good couple of reads: The Meaning of Addiction Has Changed and The Meaning of Recovery Has Changed, You Just Don't Know It

If your relationship is one where you can point him to these concepts, that may be really helpful to him. But if not, at least it may comfort you to know that many people really do outgrow their addictions.

80 · October 09, 2012 at 10:16 PM

Avoiding sugar is the key. Believe it or not, coffee can help tremendously. If the desire to quit is there, AA & other interventions are entirely unnecessary.

383 · October 10, 2012 at 9:12 AM

chromium will help, but he really needs to change his mindset, as a lot of it is psychological, so say if he's bored on a saturday night and is used to going to the pub or drinking alcohol at home, he is going to have to do something else to take his mind off the booze, a lot of it is down to habit, and he will need to change that by keeping busy doing other things that don't revolve around alcohol, good luck with it

191 · October 10, 2012 at 1:29 AM

Two bottles of wine and some vodka every night is very, very serious. It always a good idea to eat a healthy diet, but that level of alcohol consumption will destroy his health regardless. AA is - at best - a highly questionable approach to ending an addiction, so definitely stay away from it. He needs to see a medical specialist about this for a proper treatment plan.

Also, since until 4 years ago he did not drink heavily, what changed to make him start? I expect whatever it is will need to be addressed as part of any recovery.

429 · October 09, 2012 at 11:01 PM

My experience may be a coincidence but I don't think it is. I started a strict Paleo diet (NO SUGAR NO WHEAT)in June and stopped drinking COLD TURKEY!!! I was a moderate drinker 2 to 4 beers a day. Believe it or not, my alcohol cravings are completely gone to the point that I can not even sip a beer without it making me sick. I assume it has to do with the wheat and sugar elimination in the diet. I lost 20 lbs. in the process and just had the best lipid profile of my life.

The supplements are hocus pocus if you ask me. Just stick to a sugar and wheat free Paleo diet. Cavemen didn't take supplements!!

2 · October 09, 2012 at 9:52 PM

Knowing firsthand what that is like, it certainly won't hurt to switch to paleo, and in fact it will be easier on the liver and girth overall. However, the biggest impediment to health and proper weight right now is the alcohol, which blocks nutrients, inhibits testosterone, and is way too caloric.

10 · February 05, 2013 at 8:42 AM

i was in the same bracket and did so many silly things from drinking too much sometimes two bottles of wine an evening or wine and beer etc - after some mega binges in manila over xmas - he got me on to the paleo diet - now i have cut out all the dairy potatoes pastas and beer - this could be an idea for him as well cut the grain alcohol - just brandy and wine

anyway - diet is a positive step if you can get him on to it but >>

here's how he can start - dont tell him he needs to stop alcohol that wont work unless he is in a clinic or nag either - treat him with utter compassion

make him have at least one or preferably two days off alcohol once a week - actually the craving will hit highest at day three - i never drink on mondays and tuesdays

make him have the drink after the meal and later in the evening - say around 9 or 10 with you and only have one or two bottles in the house - dont stock up - he then may fall asleep before he gets to the vodka - in fact make him promise not to buy any spirits just wine and beer

ask him to stick to a 12% rule - ie nothing stronger than 12 % - some new world wines are out bt vodka is out definetely

one day should be beer and it should be the 4% ale stuff - like english bitter - there is a limit to how much one can drink

also do a one day fast on monday - preferably not even water so much of the toxins will leave his body

once he has achived the 2 day mark - then start discussing the reasons for drinking also make him go out one night a week and drink in public - if he gets into trouble with it - it will have a big affect

over time and this is what i did - since 21 units is the max for an adult male and one bottle of wine is 7-8 units is try and not drink monday through thursday - that means only three days to consume and if he can start late at night and fall asleep before finishing it - hopefully that will end up being only one bottle *3 - still a bing but at least within the recommended dosag

1040 · October 10, 2012 at 3:30 AM

If he's going to keep drinking, I suggest some NAC and Milk thistle for the liver. As always see your doctor before starting any new diet/exercise/supplement regimen.

I had to stop drinking for a few months to let my intestines heal. I think the NAC made it easier to stop. It also makes you feel less worse if you do over do it.

2030 · October 09, 2012 at 11:05 PM

I know saturated fat is a big one, or this book may help too. Therapy can be helpful but I don't think it's all it's cracked up to be conventional treatments have a 70-80% relapse rate if I remember correctly.

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