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Chiropractic Care and Addiction: What Are the Recovery Benefits of an Aligned Spine?

Can chiropractic care be used as a means to treat – or even prevent – addiction?

I recently spoke to chiropractor Dr. Andrew Alvis about whether a fully aligned spine could be another method of treating substance use disorder. Here’s what he had to say on this intriguing concept.


Q: There are all kinds of conditions that can be treated with chiropractic care – from PMS, vision problems, to addiction – but many people think it is limited to the treatment of back pain. Why do you think that is?

Dr Alvis: Partly because we, as a profession, have done a poor job of communicating what we chiropractors do. Additionally, due to back pain being as common as a cold, and everyone in their lifetime will likely experience it. Since we are the best suited to help with back pain, we have become known for it.

What do we do really do? We are neuro-musculo-skeletal specialists. We have a breadth of knowledge of neurology, anatomy & physiology. People often find themselves seeking our care for a ‘pinched nerve’. This pinched nerve can range in its effect on the body. Local or referred pain into the extremities and head are common, and again, what we are known to help with.  We relieve pinched nerves by gently adjusting the vertebrae of the spine. This not only has a local affect, but a systemic affect as well. When you adjust the spine you have a direct influence on the central nervous system. This means your brain and its activity is impacted. Hence, we are more of a brain doctor than a bone doctor. This is very simply put.

Q: You’ve said that the goal of chiropractic treatment is not the treatment of the disease, but rather the enhancement of health through the reduction of spinal nerve stress. Tell me more about spinal nerve stress, specifically how it can present in terms of substance use disorder?

Dr Alvis: Every cell in your body is under the control of your nervous system. All of the systems of the body including: digestive, circulatory, reproductive, endocrine (hormonal), immune, etc. are controlled or regulated by the nervous system. The central nervous system is the brain, brainstem and spinal cord. Nerve impulses are sent and received by the brain continuously. The spine is the conduit or interface between body and brain. Chiropractors gently adjust the spine to free the spine of mechanical, or more importantly, neurological stress that would affect the cells and tissues downstream, and the brain upstream!

I am not a substance abuse specialist, nor do I treat the affliction of substance abuse. I treat the patient, the system, and I try to give that patient the best neurological platform to build from.

This may be in the form of pain reduction or elimination. In our society, it’s more common than not to treat pain with pharmaceuticals, which in turn has led to our current opioid epidemic. Get to the source of the problem, fix it, and don’t cover it up with drugs. That’s not to say that treatment via safer, less addictive pharmaceuticals can’t assist in being a bridge. Under this premise you stop a substance abuse disorder before it even occurs.

Q: You describe chiropractic care as a complete healing art within itself, focused on the systems of the body – from the nervous system, hormonal, circulatory, digestive, respiratory – and its aim is to correct health problems within those systems. How would imbalances within those systems contribute toward addiction? And how might rebalancing them help with addiction treatment?

Dr Alvis: Firstly, chiropractic isn’t a one size fits all remedy for all things. It is conservative treatment that treats the patient holistically unlike any other healthcare. By giving the body what it needs neurologically, mechanically, nutritionally (a very substantial part of the equation), emotionally, mentally, and spiritually; you can achieve what we are meant to be, and that is healthy.

Chiropractic care will help to lessen the stress hormones like cortisol. This is the stress hormone that happens in stressful situations. We can refer to the fight or flight response. When being chased by a bear you would have a spike of cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones released by your body assist in your effort toward survival. The bear aside, these same hormones are released daily whether it be from drinking coffee, or stress triggers we all experience: work, relationships, etc. We chiropractors have always known we can have a positive effect on anxiety or stress. New research via functional MRI confirms this by showing that after a chiropractic adjustment the brain activity is similar to that of SSRI or anti-depressant medication. Anytime you can approach or manage stress without the use of pharmaceutical drugs, the better. Bottom line, you can’t solve addiction issues with drugs.

Q: How would the abuse of drugs affect your spine and what would be the knock on effects on the rest of the body as a result of their impact on the spine?

Dr Alvis: The use of drugs toxifies the body systemically. The front line organs such as the liver and kidneys get damaged the most because they are the filters of the body. Secondarily, is the overall toxicity that occurs in our body from taking drugs. These chemicals can alter our biochemistry and even our DNA.

Thinking of it in terms of acidity, leafy green vegetables alkalize our body, whereas sugar, alcohol, and drugs acidify our body. The acidic environment is what weakens our immune system making our bodies more susceptible to pathology or disease. Again, back to having a strong robust system that can defend itself vs. relying on drugs to defend our bodies.

This same acidic environment will contribute to spinal degeneration (commonly called arthritis), which in turn affects your neurological health, in turn the function of your body. It’s a vicious cycle indeed.

Q: What is your view on a healthy spine and its correlation with overall health? In terms of immunity and instances of ill-health?

Dr Alvis: We humans can’t disinfect everything around us. You can’t vaccinate for every evolving bacteria or virus. The more hand sanitizer, antibiotics and vaccines we use the weaker our natural immune systems become. There is a place for these things, but like most things in life, use in moderation. After all, nature will always find a way to win. Just look at the antibiotic resistant bacteria, otherwise known as ‘superbugs.’ Some are now showing that they eat the antibiotics as food. The best way to look at health is through the lens of a robust immune system. This is accomplished by seeing food as thy medicine and maximizing your neurological function. This is accomplished via a primarily plant-based diet and a chiropractic lifestyle.

Q: What are your recommendations for keeping spinal health to prevent imbalances in bodily systems and the potential side effects that may have, that may lead to substance use disorder?

Dr Alvis: It would be a stretch to say that good spinal health via a chiropractic lifestyle would prevent substance abuse, but it’s a good start. In terms of pain management and never resorting to pharmaceuticals, that would certainly pertain.  Beyond that I would be stepping outside of my realm of expertise. However, getting back to the basics: 1) Prevent substance abuse before it even happens. 2) If you are making a concerted effort to stop substance abuse, give yourself the best platform to work from.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add in terms of how chiropractic care could benefit addiction treatment, or the disease as a whole?

Dr Alvis: I think anything more would be redundant. In closing, collectively we have looked at health and disease from a place of reaction vs. pro-action. We may have to rewire our thoughts and our approach to addiction and health care in general. Chiropractic is a good place to start as a foundation. That foundation is meant to work as a platform to build off. Other forms of treatment or lifestyle modification will only be enhanced.



Images Courtesy of iStock

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