Alcoholism is the inability to control drinking due to both a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. In today’s age we see alcohol addicts all around us. We understand how it causes different health issues for our near and dear ones and ends up in ruined families. Although alcohol consumption often starts as a social habit for parties, events and other social engagements, regular and continuous intake of this liquid further turns into dependency and addiction. Alcohol is also considered the drug of choice for entertainment and relaxation for the hard working generations who are often burnt out from assignments at home and work. Alcohol, thus helps to alter the mood of the present day stress filled sedentary lifestyle of office goers. Although one is well aware of the harmful effects of alcohol on the body, many develop an irresistible urge to drink alcohol thus reducing their capacity to control the frequency and quantity of its intake. This finally leads them to addiction making normalcy very difficult.
Common reasons for alcohol use by teenagers and adults are stress, peer pressure, television, media, desire for pleasure, chaotic lifestyle, etc. It is more likely to be a combination of factors such as susceptibility to addictive behaviour, environment, lifestyle, economic background, etc which increases the chance of addiction in a psychologically vulnerable person. Common physiological stressors like sleep deprivation, long working hours, night shifts, sedentary job, untimely food, etc and emotional stressors like strained relationships, interpersonal conflicts, divorce, violence, death of a close family member or friends, etc increases vulnerability to alcoholism and other addictions.
How does stress lead to alcoholism?
Prolonged or repeated exposure to stress cause decrease in their adaptability and motivates the person to be an alcoholic. It’s intoxicating effects makes them feel good and they believe that it is the alcohol’s effect that is making them feel that way. But the truth is that alcohol only creates imbalances in the body and mind. If people learn how to overcome stress and control the mind naturally, they can avoid alcohol or recover from its ill-effects.
Alcohol (Madya) as mentioned in Ayurveda texts
The term Madya refers to all types of alcoholic beverages in general. The practice of preparing and drinking alcoholic beverages is a very ancient art and it dates back to times of Rig Veda (3000 BC). Drinking small quantities of alcohol in an appropriate manner is said to bring health and happiness to the individual. But long- term and heavy drinking causes serious physical and mental health problems like heart problems, hypertension, pancreatitis, depression, and liver problems like cirrhosis, hepatitis, etc. Taking all these into account our ancient scholars have prescribed many rules and regimens for consuming alcoholic drinks.
Why should we drink within limits?
- The nature of alcohol is a sour taste and it is said to contain all tastes except that of salt. It has qualities opposite to that of Ojas (vital essence of the tissues). Hence an excess intake of it is known to destroy all the attributes of Ojas which is the abode of Sattva and as a result of this affliction, the mind gets agitated resulting in intoxication.
- All the qualities of poison are impregnated in alcohol, hence improper use of this drink causes diseases.
- Alcohol is by nature like food and so it nourishes the body just like food even though it consists of all properties of poison. Just like over- eating and improper intake of food lead to diseases, injudicious use of alcohol without following the methods prescribed in the ancient scriptures will lead to diseases of not just the body but also of the mind. If used judiciously, it is beneficial like nectar.
- If one consumes alcohol within the prescribed dosage limits and in an appropriate time and manner, with proper food intake and realizing his limits and capacity, he will reap richly from it like one benefits from Ambrosia.
Way of taking alcohol as described in ancient Ayurveda texts
Alcohol is prepared from different types of ingredients like cereals, fruits, roots, flowers, leaves, sugar, etc. Depending upon the method of preparation its uses are different. Alcohol forms an integral part of the vedic sacrifice called Sautramani in which it is offered as an oblation to fire. There has been reference in ancient Ayurveda texts about excess intake of alcohol by Lord Indra which leads to his loss of energy which was later restored only after its intake according to the prescribed procedure in the appropriate quantity.
- Alcohol thus, should be consumed after bath, after wearing clean clothes and applying perfumes. It should be had after intake of unctuous and hot food in accordance with seasonal requirements and after prayer by comfortably sitting or lying in a cool place surrounded by flowering trees or in a pleasant atmosphere.
- While consuming alcohol one should eat delicious refreshments like fruits, green salads with salt and aromatic spices and roasted meat preparations.
- One should pour a part of the alcohol with water on the ground and lick some ghee mixed with sugar before starting the drink.
- People with a strong mind and good physique, who have taken food before drinking alcohol and who are habituated to drinking large quantity of alcohol, do not get intoxicated easily.
- Those who are afflicted with hunger and thirst, who are weak and fatigued, who have eaten less food and have no control over the mind or who are not accustomed to taking alcohol are prone to get intoxicated quickly after drinking even small a quantity of alcohol.
Different people drink differently – Which mental trait are you?
- A person having Sattvic (calm and balanced) mental quality drinks while in a happy mood listening to pleasant songs, indulging in delightful conversations and eating wholesome and delicious food and drinks. This leads to a pleasant type of intoxication which promotes cheerfulness and passion. It terminates as a pleasant event as alcohol is incapable of adversely affecting the powerful minds of Sattvika persons instantaneously.
- A Rajasika (passion and activity) person generally talks sometime gently and at times rudely, sometimes distinctly and sometimes indistinctly and so demonstrates irregular varieties of behavior after alcohol consumption. It terminates as a tragic event.
- Once a person with Tamas (destructive and chaos) mental faculty starts drinking alcohol, he is never satisfied and his alcoholic intoxication terminates in unconsciousness and sleep.
For an Ayurveda physician assessing the mental trait or Manasa Prakruti is essential for planning the course of treatment. It also helps the person to have control over his mind.
Three stages of intoxication
- First stage of intoxication – The person at this stage is happy, exhibits creativity, his sensory perception and memory are not affected. In this stage, Ojas is not afflicted but mental faculties gets stimulated, hence this stage results in sound sleep, feeling of freshness after waking up and hence is conducive to happiness.
- Second stage of intoxication – In this stage Ojas is mildly afflicted hence one’s speech, movement, posture, drinking, eating, talking and memory are affected. After crossing the second stage and in the beginning of the third stage of alcoholic intoxication, there comes a stage when there is no inappropriate thing which a person of Rajas and Tamas nature cannot do as the mental faculties become suppressed.
- Third stage of alcoholic intoxication – Ojas is entirely afflicted and produces intoxicating effects. The person becomes inactive like a broken tree. Though alive, he resembles a dead person incapable of recognizing pleasing things and friends. He is soon deprived of all happiness for which he had taken alcohol.
People being impelled by Rajas (passion & activity) and Tamas (destructive and chaos) qualities of the mind consider drinking alcohol as a source of happiness, being ignorant of the serious adverse effects of the liquid and the serious nature of its intoxication. Their minds get afflicted by the adverse effects of alcohol and become deprived of the Sattva (purity, goodness and balance) qualities. While craving for intoxication, they become blinded by alcohol and lose all happiness of life and suffer from health problems. Body pains, anorexia, severe thirst, unconsciousness, giddiness, visualization of non-existing objects, fatigue, insomnia, trembling of the body are some of the common symptoms of alcoholism. Alcoholic intoxication is of different kinds and it is a combination of all the three doshas that are, Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Alcohol treatment as explained in Ayurveda texts
Treatment for alcoholism is a long and time consuming process that can be difficult for both the addict and the people around them. Just like consumption of alcohol can lead to health problems, abrupt stopping of alcohol can also cause withdrawal symptoms like shaking, agitation, vomiting, hallucinations, etc. as the individual becomes physically and psychologically addicted to alcohol. Ayurveda treatments not only help to remove the cause of addiction but help to eliminate toxins from the body and reduce withdrawal symptoms considerably. The aim of Ayurveda treatment for alcoholism is to restore balance of the mind and to correct imbalances of the three doshas in the body.
- Avoid the causative factor & triggering factor – Avoid the continued presence of causative or triggering factors like being in the company of friends who drink every day.
- Drink within the limits – One should be aware about the limits of his drinking capacity and not go beyond it as it will adversely affect his mental activity, intelligence, etc. Once he is aware of his limits he should stop drinking further and should consider that level as his Lakshmana Rekha – the line drawn for safety of Sita by Lakshmana. One should also space drinking.
- Panchakarma – To flush out the accumulated metabolites and endotoxins, suitable Panchakarma (detoxification procedures) should be done. This will help to cure and prevent diseases related to alcoholism.
- Shamana Chikitsa – Proper palliative treatments which comprise of herbs, diet and lifestyle ensures non recurrence of the disease as well as helps in preventing relapse addictions.
- Yoga – Today, all people have minds that are full of stress and strain due to wrong lifestyle practices. So, yoga along with Ayurveda treatment, helps to restore functional normalcy and correct behavioral fluctuations.
- Proper Nutrition – Alcoholics are known to consume very little nutritional food since alcohol prevents the body from absorbing nutrients. Alcoholism is also mostly associated with nutritional problems. So an alcoholic is always advised to eat a healthy diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
- Behavioral and moral code – Under the heading Sadvritta, behavior and moral codes are explained in Ayurveda texts which have preventive and curative value. These help to defuse the emotional imbalance by changing the attitude towards the whole situation.
- Avoid stress – Stress is a well-known risk factor that helps in the development of addiction and in addiction relapse vulnerability. Below are the techniques for dealing with stressors –
- Identification of wholesome and unwholesome objects
- Detachment / Gradual withdrawal from unwholesome practices – Withdrawal from addictions cannot happen overnight as it may cause serious withdrawal symptoms. So one should try to gradually withdraw from alcohol in a minimum period of 7 days. According to Ayurveda, on the first day, replace one fourth of alcohol consumption with healthy drinks and food, and keep three- fourths of the unwholesome practice of drinking alcohol. On the second and third day, substitute one half of alcohol with wholesome diet & drinks and keep drinking one half of alcohol. On fourth and fifth day, retain one fourth of alcohol consumption whereas adopt three- fourths of wholesome diet and drinks. On seventh day, give up alcohol consumption completely and adopt wholesome practice. Sometimes gradual withdrawal may also take more than 7 days of time depending on the patient’s mental strength and withdrawal symptoms he experiences.
- Adopting healthy / wholesome practices – Eating nutritious food, taking timely meals, regular exercise, proper sleep at night, keeping oneself busy without overstrain, developing hobbies and activities like gardening, art, music, etc.
- Company of good people – Make friends or be with wise, educated men with good conduct who are respected by people.
- Gain Knowledge – Reading scriptures and books on spiritual health.
- Meditation and Prayer – Whenever undesirable thoughts or distractions try to crowd your mind, one should meditate and pray to God.
- Mind control or Sattvavajaya – This is the restoration of balanced state of the mind by diversion / control of mind from unwholesome objects when the mind is in contact with sensorial apparatus. It will help the mind to deal with environmental stressors and subdue and balance emotional stressors. Just like all the sense organs, the tongue wandering in search of worldly pleasures gets immersed in enjoying alcohol, hence attracts the mind and attaches it to alcohol. As mind is highly active, mind control is a difficult task and needs strong desire, determination and dedication. Only fortitude can help restrain mind from harmful objects. Sensorial abstraction is a vital part of treatment. A person should withdraw his sense organ, the tongue from its object of drinking, alcohol just like a tortoise withdraws its limbs into the shell with ease and spontaneity to protect itself against the possible dangers.
- Constant practice – When weaned away from one object, mind has a tendency to get attached to another. So when one stops drinking, he will be compelled to indulge into other undesirable activities as the mind is now restless. Only constant practice of mind control methods will help the mind to subjugate to the self.
- Other treatments mentioned in Ayurveda texts –
- Intake of Triphala powder with honey at bedtime or fresh ginger and jaggery in the early hours of the day or Musta decoction relieves alcoholism.
- Intake of medicated ghee, milk, wheat, barley, green gram, black gram, red variety of rice, chicken, meat soup, grape juice, pomegranate juice, cane sugar in the diet.
- Therapeutic body massage, sandalwood unction, cold water bath, cold water for drinking, medicated enema are beneficial.
- While drinking alcohol one should avoid company of Rajasika and Tamasika type of friends because drinking along with them may result in excess consumption of alcohol.
“Prevention is better than cure” – So one should practice mental, personal and public hygiene to prevent diseases of the body and mind. Say “NO” to alcohol in the first place.
Vaidya Lakshmi Anoop (BAMS)
Consultant Ayurveda Physician, Chakrapani Ayurveda Clinic & Research Center, Jaipur