Is Kava Addictive?

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in The Mind of Makaira | 1 comment

Is Kava Kava Addictive?Aloha, everyone, Makaira here! As the days unroll into Hawaii’s warm, wet summers, duties on the farm may beckon me away from this blog more often than I’d like… but I’ll still make time whenever I can to post on kava and all its interesting aspects! Today, I thought I’d tackle a question more than a few people have asked us at Kona Kava Farm over the years: is kava addictive?

My short yet emphatic answer is no—kava is absolutely non-addictive. To be honest, this question has never made much sense to me: just because a substance or activity generates pleasurable effects doesn’t mean one is doomed to continue seeking it out to the exclusion of all else; you might as well call music, sex, or delicious food addictive. In fact, many people do use the term “addictive” as a shorthand for something that’s enjoyable and attracts their attention easily. But that doesn’t accurately describe what addiction is from a scientific point of view!

The formal definition of addiction is a physical tolerance to a substance combined with cravings (feeling the need to take the substance), and physical withdrawal symptoms if use of that substance is stopped. Cravings can be psychological—meaning the user comes to feel psychologically comfortable only in the state of mind granted them by their substance of choice. Cravings can also manifest as one of several physical withdrawal symptoms.

I’ll use caffeine as an example: if a person who drinks five cups of coffee every day suddenly stops his consumption completely, he may experience physical withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and drowsiness. Psychological effects of caffeine addiction would be feeling irritable and missing the zippy feeling the caffeine gave him. Plus, because he became habituated to caffeine over time, the person in our hypothetical scenario might require larger doses of coffee to achieve the same energy and focus as he once gained from a single cup of coffee. He has become physically habituated to the effects of caffeine.

In contrast, kava has actually shown reverse tolerance, which means that some people may not experience any effects from kavalactones the first few times they take kava kava. However, you don’t have to increase the amount of kava you take to “break through” this reverse tolerance; it will simply go away after your body has been exposed to kavalactones a few times. After that, you don’t need to keep increasing your dose of kava to achieve the same effect—in other words, your body won’t become habituated to kava kava over time. Speaking personally, I have been drinking kava nearly every day for many years, and I’ve never noticed any diminishing of its wonderfully relaxing effects; neither have any of my close friends and family, and we are quite a kava-intensive bunch!

As I’ve said many times on this blog, we are farmers, not doctors, and cannot dispense any medical advice to our visitors. If you suspect you may have a problem with addiction to any substance, seek the advice of a medical professional for treatment solutions.

However, I couldn’t very well end this article without mentioning some exciting (though still preliminary) research that suggests kava may actually be an “anti-addictive” substance. How is this possible, you ask? Well, I found a brief study that researched the effectiveness of kavalactones in helping people overcome cravings for known addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and even cocaine. A small pilot study from Steiner Labs administered kava tea to 10 subjects who were sober at the time and experiencing cravings for their drug of choice. A majority of the subjects used more than one of the drugs listed above. One hour after taking the kava tea, all of the participants claimed a reduction in desire for at least two of the drugs for which they experienced cravings! Steiner Labs is currently doing more research to see if kava might encourage long-term abstinence from addictive substances by reducing or eliminating cravings.

Isn’t that exciting!? Not only is my beloved kava completely non-addictive, it may one day come into common use as a medicine to treat addiction to drugs and alcohol, one of the worst health scourges in the U.S. today! Combine that with the emerging potential of kava to reduce rates of lung cancer caused by tobacco smoking, and we’ve got something truly incredible in this humble South Pacific root!

Of course, it’s possible to become dependent on any activity or substance—kava included—as a way to avoid confronting one’s problems or negative realities. However, if kava is used with respect as part of a life guided by a commitment to balance and holistic wellness, I believe it can help anyone achieve a calmer, healthier equilibrium that includes being addiction free!

Aloha no,



“Addiction”. Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, accessed April 3rd, 2014.

Steiner Laboratories. “Kava as an Anti-Craving Agent: Preliminary Studies”. Pacific Health Dialog. 

Be Sociable, Share!

One Comment

  1. Hello, in regards to the reverse tolerance, do you need to take kava for a few days in a row to break through or can it be achieved over a period of time? Said differently, I’ve tried kava several times intermittently over a period of a month and unfortunately have not yet felt the effects. Also, do recommend that the capsules be taken with a substance with fat (ie coconut milk as you suggest) to be more effective? I am looking for a natural way to unwind and relax after a long day. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *