What is Orthomolecular Treatment  for Alcoholism?

Orthomolecular treatment for alcoholism is widely promoted. What, exactly, is it?

Orthomolecular Treatment for AlcoholismOrthomolecular treatment is often called megavitamin therapy. It’s based on the belief that insufficient vitamins, minerals and other substances causes diseases . “Ortho” is from the Greek word meaning “correct.” The practitioner tries to determine the exact deficiencies suffered by each patient.

Orthomolecular treatment for alcoholism or other problems consists of giving extremely high doses of the deficiencies diagnosed. This is done over a long period of time. The belief is that if a little is good, then more is better.

However, a basic principle of pharmacology is that “The dose makes the poison.”  All substances, including water, oxygen, and vitamins, can be toxic at levels that are too high. If doses of any vitamin are too high, they become harmful poisons.

Orthomolecular therapy became highly visible in 1970. That’s when Linus Pauling popularized idea that megadoses of vitamin C were good for treating the common cold. That’s still an unsupported theory. He also suggested that megadoses of specific vitamins and minerals might be effective in the treatment of certain mental illnesses.  Over time, he expanded the list of diseases he believed could be treated. And he recommended massive doses an expanding list of vitamins and minerals.

Orthomolecular treatment has been promoted by Pauling and others as a treatment for a number of diseases and conditions.







Behavioral disorders (including criminal behavior).


Cardiovascular disease

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


Drug abuse



Hypertension (high blood pressure)


Learning disabilities

Migraine headache

Mental retardation.

Metabolic disorders


Skin problems.

Is Orthomolecular Treatment Effective?

Panels of leading scientists have examined the research on various diseases/conditions. They have found the claims of megavitamin therapy to be unsupported by the evidence. The U.S. National Library of Medicine does not index the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine on its MEDLINE system. Quackwatch has listed it as a non-recommended journal.

Most commonly used in orthomolecular treatment for alcoholism is niacin. It’s also called nicotinic acid, vitamin B3, and vitamin PP. Niacin megadosing can cause flushing, itching and liver damage. So those who use this therapy should have their liver functioning monitored carefully by a physician. Damage to liver cells and jaundice can occur in less than three months. That’s with intakes as low as 750 mg per day. Because it is generally better tolerated than niacin, nicotinamide is sometimes used. However, nausea, vomiting, and liver toxicity can occur at doses as low as 3 grams per day.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) co-founder Bill Wilson promoted the use of both niacin and LSD therapies as early as the 1930s. Yet 90 years later there is still no scientific evidence that orthomolecular treatment is effective for treating any condition. But there is much proof that this expensive therapy can cause serious harm.

Orthomolecular treatment for alcoholism is highly controversial.


  • Hoffer, A. and Saul, A. The Vitamin Cure for Alcoholism. North Bergen, NJ : Basic Health, 2013.
  • Pauling, L. and Huemer, R.P.  The Roots of Molecular Medicine. NY: Freeman, 1986.
  • Hoffer, A. and Saul, A. Orthomolecular Medicine for Everyone. North Bergen, NJ: Basic Health, 2013.
Other Resources

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Filed Under: Treating Alcoholism: General Approaches