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Is There a Way to Quit Drinking Without Quitting Drinking?

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One Woman's Story

The doctors had met and the news wasn't good. I would never drink again. Something about lost wallets and contact lenses, knee-walking and sideswiped cars. I clearly had an allergy because I kept breaking out in handcuffs. Same went for prescription and street drugs. What to do?

While I accepted the need to give up a substance that makes you flirt with the one guy in the room with a home monitoring device on his ankle, what about alcohol's legitimate purposes? Nerves-free flying? Conviviality at parties? Dinner with your mother-in-law?

Clearly I had to find some new friends in the plant world.

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Kava Kava

This herb is "popular in South Sea Island celebrations" for a reason! Put it in a bar and you'll swear it's Kahlua with a more acrid taste. Once I discovered Kava Kava in a syrup form-$30 for 8 ounces-I no longer missed Mr. Booze. I could forget today's humiliations and tomorrow's retaliations and sleep like a baby. But, after three days I wanted two bottles-sound familiar?- and reverted to the indoor sport of DWI-Dialing While Intoxication ("what do you mean we're going to Vegas this weekend?") At the same time I was developing my undue attachment, Kava Kava was found to cause liver damage, failure and death and they gave it a warning label. It was clearly the same old booze in a different bottle.

Hops

I was very inclined to like hops since we share so many of the same friends. Unlike Kava Kava, hops is safe and cheap and comes in an easy to swallow capsule. It is recommended for sleep and nerves but I found it also worked for anxiety attacks of the I-know-my-heart-is-healthy-but-that-sure-feels-like-chest-pains variety. Like alcohol, hops-a component in beer-works within 90 seconds and quits working in a few hours. In fact it has such a short half life, it also wears off at 2 AM and leaves you with rebound nerves. Worse, like certain street drugs a friend told me about, you build up a rapid tolerance and are forever chasing your "virgin" high.

Fenugreek

This odorific yellow powder from India affects everyone differently, but can be surprisingly potent. It takes about three days to build up sera levels-it doesn't do much transiently-whereupon you are Pleasantly Floating. Not worried about a review at work, meeting with your tax adviser or a pending root canal. So why not take fenugreek for the rest of your life? Because, like chamomile, another herb downer, you're so laid back you don't even want to get out of bed. Nor is your IQ enhanced -my password? I used to know that. And it took me three days to feel my nervous self again.

Skullcap

Skullcap takes so long to work-one to two hours-it will never satisfy the impulsive need for inebriation that defines a high. You don't even feel a buzz. However, skullcap is unsurpassed for a good night's sleep. It will not only put you to sleep, you won't oversleep, feel groggy or feel "hung over" when you wake like those what-did-I-do-this-time mornings. You might even wake earlier. The best part about skullcap is you won't develop an addiction-which is how my whole herb quest got started. Cheers.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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