Chiropractic, Neuroscience, and Addiction
By Herby Bell
Addiction is caused by a variety of factors, including a genetic predisposition. We know that most genetic markers require initiators and promoters to manifest the associated disease – and this is certainly true for addiction. Anything from physical or emotional trauma to nutritional deficiency or toxicity in the environment can initiate or promote a genetic predisposition.
Addiction is a disorder that disables the brain from producing the “feel-good” chemicals most people take for granted. As a result, addicts are not only uncomfortable in their own bodies, but they are also highly dysfunctional while looking to foreign substances for relief. Addicts are unable to read, assess, and respond appropriately to their own internal signals, let alone those from external sources, including other human beings. The condition worsens as tolerance increases, and the vicious cycle of chronic abuse further disables an already weakened brain chemical system.
Pain, physical or mental, is our internal alarm system of a threat to our wellbeing. Masking pain, through self-medication or therapies meant solely to help us live with it, is tantamount to thinking you can put out a fire by turning off the fire alarm.
Whatever the multi-factorial cause of addiction, our challenge as health professionals is to break the abuse cycle, then habituate the addict to healthy practices long enough to enable the brain to rewire and begin producing its own feel-good chemicals again – or perhaps for the first time ever.
Sedentary lifestyle, exacerbated by the standard American diet of high insulin- and inflammation-producing foods, are strong initiators and promoters – co?conspirators – of addiction. Introducing recovering addicts to a foundation of moving and eating well in early recovery is imperative for long-term sobriety.
Though neuroscience has made great strides in the understanding and interaction of chemicals in the brain and their impact on behavior, we have more to learn than we know. Invasive, chemical interventions with incomplete knowledge have a high risk of unintended, sometimes disastrous, side effects. This is where chiropractic comes into the treatment and management of this complex illness of the mind, body, and spirit.
The latest brain research shows that stimulation of sensors (called mechanoreceptors) found all over the body is necessary for optimal brain function. As the body – including the spine – moves functionally and in a full range of motion, signals are sent back to the brain saying, “All is well!” This allows the brain to continue transmitting this good news to the rest of the body where all mind-body systems benefit, including our emotions.
On the other hand, if the body is inflexible, it is unable to stimulate these feel-good sensors. A different signal (called nociception) is sent to the brain saying, “Danger, danger!” In response to the alarm, the brain executes an order to release stress hormones such as cortisol that marshal a whole-body alert: “Fight or flight!” Individuals in poor physical condition risk a state of chronic stress – and stress is the number-one trigger for addiction relapse.
Chiropractic is particularly effective in mitigating chronic stress because of its focus on the spine. More mechanoreceptor sensors are located in and around the spine than anywhere else in the body. If the spine – our core – is not moving well, not only does it affect movement in the rest of the body, it triggers a stress response that, among other health risks, increases addiction relapse.
At Recovery Health Care, our Blueprint for Recovery™ 90-day program offers recovering addicts a series of chiropractic adjustments that allow the stimulation of the natural, feel-good neural pathways. As the individual makes progress, we add daily movement exercises, diet changes, and auriculotherapy to reinforce behavior that will bolster the neurological rewiring necessary for lasting change to feel well and become functional members of the community.
Neuroscience confirms that having a chiropractor on your integrated team for addiction treatment and management is a healthy decision.