WHAT TO DO When ‘Feeling Good’ Gets Dangerous: Nature's Medicine For Addiction  Recovery Support

WHAT TO DO When ‘Feeling Good’ Gets Dangerous: Nature's Medicine For Addiction Recovery Support

Humans are hardwired to seek out pleasure. According to neuroscience professor and The Compass of Pleasure author David J. Linden, “Evolution has, in effect, hardwired us to catch a pleasure buzz from a  wide variety of substances and experiences.” The dopamine-using pleasure circuitry of our brains can easily be co-opted by psychoactive substances, causing a pleasure-reward domino effect in the brain.

If you’ve ever wondered why addictions are such hard things to kick, it’s because dopamine can signal to the brain that pleasurable feelings and their resulting rewards are part of our very survival!  On the dangerous end of the pleasure-reward loop that cycles through our brains and all the networks its messengers reach is addictive, dependent behaviors. For those who rely on external substances to “feel good”, the brain can create obsessive cravings and even physical symptoms to try to feed the need it has come to associate with pleasure and its subsequent rewards.

Data from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) indicates that half of people 12 and older have used some form of illicit drugs at least once, and accidental drug overdose deaths in the United States since 2000 are nearing 1 million. Addiction is a serious issue with complex consequences, and substance disorders are more likely to affect younger men and teens. Narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, alcohol, and other substances are increasingly available and can cause harm not only to those abusing them, but also to the families and friends who seek to help and support their recovery. We offer this introduction to nature’s medicine cabinet for addiction recovery support in the hopes of providing you and your loved ones with an essential overview of some key herbal allies that may drastically reduce stress, cravings, sleep imbalances, and more.

The Results of Unmanaged Stress

Overadaptation to stress and disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis flow are at the core of many health issues. For example, when the HPA axis is strong, your body is usually able to handle even high levels of stress. Over time, the repeated activation of stress hormones, a.k.a. The Fight-or-Flight Response, can take a serious toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Our bodies are incredible at adapting to basically anything. In modern Western culture, so many of us continue to live our lives on autopilot without noticing the subterranean landscapes within ourselves. Our bodies and minds are wired to alert us when there are ruptures in the flow of our day-to-day lives. This ability is so finely developed that the progress of a disease in the body can often be identified and addressed well before further illness or death can occur. For example, paying attention to the excesses or deficiencies within our emotional, mental, or physical realities is a good way to make sure the equilibrium in our bodies is maintained. It does not require profound knowledge or healing skills to learn the signals and subtleties that let us know when our bodies need something. When you’re thirsty, you drink water. When you’re hungry, you eat. In the same way, the body alerts us when it requires something to restore its balance. 

So, what can we do when “feeling good” gets dangerous?



Adaptogens are remarkable botanical treasures that help the body restore balance and adapt to stress. They work by increasing the body’s resistance to multiple stressors, including physical, emotional, chemical, and environmental. They also shield against acute and chronic stress. Their normalizing effects on the body, particularly regarding the endocrine and immune systems, are what make them unique, though each and every adaptogen operates differently for each individual person. By working nonspecifically, they alter base operations within the organism, regaining homeostasis (a state of equilibrium) through their regenerative properties and helping to harmonize the body, mind, and spirit.

Although the concept of adaptogens has only existed since the late 1940s, these wonderful plants have been revered for centuries. Nearly every culture in the world has used rejuvenating and restorative plants with properties similar to those of modern-day adaptogens. In Taoism, for example, many of the herbs that achieve the same results as adaptogens are referred to as “tonic herbs.” In Chinese herbal medicine, they’re called “qi tonics.” In Ayurveda, a system of medicine developed in India, they’re known as rasayanas. And in Western herbal medicine, some of the herbs that fall under “nutritive tonics” and “trophorestoratives”, essentially parallel adaptogenic herbs. In rainforest herbalism, herbs similar to adaptogens tend to be called para-toda, meaning “heal-all.” 

 Modern clinical research has slowly proven that much of the lore around these herbs is indeed true. As far as scientific and clinical studies are concerned, adaptogenic herbs have received the most attention. The wide range of healing benefits that they offer covers almost every area of the body. 

Adaptogenic herbs like Reishi, Gynostemma, and Tulsi (Holy Basil) can support individuals in managing cravings, reducing anxiety, and improving mood during the recovery process. Reishi calms nerves and repairs damage. More specifically, Reishi supports the liver and particularly aids the body in heavy metal detoxification. Reishi contains large numbers of organic compounds that are proven to strengthen our immune cells and improve general immune system health. Reishi, like most adaptogenic herbs, also supports and balances the endocrine and hormonal systems in the body. Hormones are the “molecules of consciousness”, and are said to be one of the main centers of our emotions; they are powerful biopeptides that directly control our mood, perception, sleep-wake cycles, bonding, and human connection. Reishi has been found to protect nerve cells against damage, degeneration, and impairment of function. It significantly decreases fatigue, anxiety, and depression, and improves one’s outlook and sense of well-being.

Native to Southeast Asia, the adaptogenic “miracle grass” and tonic herb Gynostemma is also known as the “Herb of Immortality” in China and is rich in gypenosides, saponins known to support healthy immune function. Tulsi (Holy Basil) is soothing to the nervous system and adrenals, and can help reduce inflammation. Revered in Ayurveda as an overall adaptogenic healer, Tulsi has specifically been studied for its protective abilities to shield the body from toxin-induced damage.


Nervines are a class of herbs that can instantly restore the nervous system. There are different kinds of nervines: those that are deeply nourishing and round out the edges like fresh Milky Oat and Chamomile, or stronger relaxants like Valerian, Kava Kava and Hops. Those that can help beat depressive energy, confusion and anxiety are Albizia and Lemon Balm. Calming adaptogenic herbs are perfect complementary herbs to nervines. Together, they tackle the damaging effects from stress while providing an instant chill pill with herbs like Ashwagandha, Reishi, and Tulsi. 

With nervines, you may feel the effect instantly. They are used to help relieve a wide array of symptoms that directly affect the nervous system (muscle tension, insomnia, anxiety, depression, circular thoughts, worry, pain, etc.). Here are a few that help soothe the nervous system, reduce agitation, and promote restful sleep. These nervines are especially beneficial for managing withdrawal symptoms and supporting relaxation.

Passionflower: A beautiful mandala-like flower that offers anti-anxiety, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and mild sedative properties. It was traditionally used by Native Americans for pain relief, bruises, and to ease muscle pain. One compound in particular has been studied within Passionflower—quercetin—for its exceptionally effective ability in ridding the body from damaging free radicals while inhibiting various enzymes that cause inflammation. This particular compound has also been found to relax the nervous system, helping to relieve nerve-related pain.

Skullcap: An excellent antispasmodic offering relief from muscle tension and anti-inflammatory effects. It is also used to stimulate blood flow, to assist with chronic headaches and for relaxation, and to treat hysteria, insomnia, anxiety, and epilepsy. It is used in European eclectic medicine, Chinese-Taoist Medicine, and by Native Americans to soothe the nerves and to ease pain recovery.  

Lemon Balm: A delightful tea with an exquisite smell, this herb is an excellent nervine known to uplift depressive moods. An easy plant to grow in the garden, is a wonderful companion to more potent hypnotics. Lemon Balm is even known to be an immune protector, like many of the adaptogens listed here. 

Oatstraw nourishes nerves and helps diminish the desire to use substances. Milk Oat is another incredible superfood for the nervous system. For one week out of the common oats growing cycle, the immature oat seed is filled with a white “milk.” It is harvested quickly and made into a fresh tincture, becoming an excellent trophorestorative, a deeply nourishing food that brings about deep restoration. Milky Oat remedies have been crafted for over 150 years by eclectic physicians as tonic remedies to calm shattered nerves, to relieve emotional instability, to reduce the symptoms of drug withdrawal, and to help restore peace and tranquility to overstressed and chronically upset people.

Liver-Supportive Herbs

Herbs like Milk Thistle help prevent and repair damage to the liver, while Dandelion Root works to remove debris from the body. Schisandra can support liver health and function. The liver plays a crucial role in detoxification, so supporting its health is essential during addiction recovery. To keep reading about liver health, herbs and tips for gentle detoxification, and more liver healing, click here


Research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines nootropics as “a compound that increases mental functions including memory, motivation, concentration, and attention.” Natural nootropics, the scientists concluded, “are proven in boosting the brain function while at the same time making the brain healthier.” Nootropics help maintain and improve cognitive function and memory, while also boosting the way our neurotransmitters work. While typically reserved for alleviating concerns related to the brain itself, nootropics can also strengthen mental health and other conditions that have neural components. 

Additional benefits of nootropics range from enhancing attention, focus and concentration to bolstering memory and targeting the root causes of brain fog. A lack of sufficient energy the brain cells need to properly function is one such cause, as are inflammation in the brain, nutrition deficits, and hormonal imbalances. Ginkgo, Gotu Kola, and Lion’s Mane may help to improve cerebral flow, enhance mental clarity, and heal the nerves.



Keeping blood sugar balanced is essential for mood regulation. For a supportive diet, emphasize whole foods (organic when possible) and omega-3s to keep your brain and nerve function stable. Incorporate salmon, hemp and probiotics to replenish the gut—like miso, good quality yogurt, and sauerkraut—into your diet. To further reduce stress and improve your mood, regular exercise like walking, yoga or swimming can help to promote the release of endorphins. This greatly helps manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Do what brings you joy, safety, and good health!

Furthermore, establishing a regular sleep schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene reduces fatigue and irritability. For those seeking to stop using chemical sedatives, we often recommend a natural hypnotic sedative from the Amazon called Mulungu (used in South America instead of Valium), which is used to calm an overexcited nervous system and to promote restful sleep.

Above and beyond your daily lifestyle choices, a strong network of friends, family and/or support groups can provide encouragement, accountability, and understanding throughout the recovery journey. For added self-love, try dry brushing to aid detoxification and lymphatic flow. 


For those seeking a greater sense of self-awareness, meditation can be a huge stress reliever with the added benefit of cultivating inner peace for those on the road to recovery. Box breathing has been scientifically studied to reset the parasympathetic nervous system. It involves inhaling deeply for a count of 4, holding the breath for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds, and then pausing for 4 seconds before repeating. Nature therapy can also help individuals connect with their surroundings and find solace in the beauty of the natural world. Combining being in nature with mindfulness practices is a powerful combination for those recovering from addiction, and for us all. 

Acupuncture stimulates detoxification and encourages endorphin production, making it  an excellent tool for overcoming addiction. And for those looking to acknowledge their inner emotions, journaling and writing can help spark creativity to tap into deeper layers of inquiry. When you feel the urge to drink or use, what is below the surface?  Let your stream of consciousness flow. Alternatively, music, art, drawing, and painting can unlock hidden feelings and nurture our inner child. It’s never too late to learn or take up a hobby you enjoyed as a kid, distracting and activating our purest thoughts.

Lastly, flower essences can help long suppressed emotions come to the surface, which can cleanse old patterns of addiction. For example, borage gives you courage, chamomile eases withdrawal, and chestnut breaks addictive patterns. To keep reading about The Neuroscience of Pleasure, click here.

Want to learn more? Some of the text about adaptogens above was adapted from Adaptogens: Herbs for Longevity and Everyday Wellness by Anima Mundi Herbals founder Adriana Ayales. Beautifully illustrated with 30 recipes for food, drinks, and natural beauty cures to help banish fatigue, sharpen the mind, stimulate the central nervous system, and enhance vitality, this authoritative guide also provides daily self-care tips for promoting mind-body-spirit wellness.


DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended to encourage self-diagnosis, and is purely informational in nature. We are not suggesting any of these herbs be used in place of medicine or as medicinal alternatives. We do suggest you work with your chosen herbalist, physician and/or mental health professional about how to best integrate any herbal remedies into your well-being practices. The ancient wisdom of plant-based remedies includes a complex system requiring guidance from practitioners whose expertise cannot be summarized in just one article. Please use plant medicines carefully and intentionally. Discuss any questions or doubts directly with a healthcare practitioner.

Our tonics + elixirs contain cane spirits as an ingredient. We advise individuals with alcoholism or a history of alcohol abuse to avoid using our tonics and elixirs for this reason. Please consult with a healthcare professional before using our tinctures if you have concerns about alcohol consumption.

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