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Ending The Cycle Of Addiction

DaVinci Laboratories

Holistic approaches can help those suffering with addictive behaviors.

The numbers surrounding alcohol and drug addiction in the United States can be staggering.According to statistics from the Florida Institute of Technology, alcohol is the most widely used drug in America and the third leading cause of death, behind only heart disease and cancer.Further, alcohol and other drugs also contribute to more than 50 percent off all suicides and greater than 50 percent of all violent crimes. Finally, more than 60 percent of admissions to emergency rooms and more than 50 percent of all traffic accidents involve drug or alcohol use.

Recent studies suggest that trauma, substance abuse and sexual risk behaviors are all interrelated. Some research suggests that genetics may play a role in certain types of drug addictions. And it has also been suggested that tobacco, alcohol and marijuana are gateway drugs that may lead to experimentation with more serious drugs, such as heroin or cocaine.1 

Now the good news. Alcohol and drug addiction are treatable. The key decision is the method of treatment and what is most effective in helping patients not only overcome their addiction but also prevent what could be a devastating relapse.

Most conventional treatments call for some combination of a detoxification program along with prescription drugs. Many substance abuse treatments also include rehabilitation programs and support groups. But just how effective are these traditional treatment programs and what are the alternative or complementary approaches for treating addiction, many of which are considered to be safer for the patient with lesser fear of drug side effects?

Many traditional substance abuse treatment programs primarily utilize a type of treatment called “pharmacotherapy,” a term which references any substance abuse treatment regimen which includes a pharmacological base as a component of a treatment plan, according to Miles E. Drake, Jr., MD, neurology specialist and author of the paper, Natural Treatment of Alcoholism and Addiction.

“In other words, drugs are used to treat people who abuse drugs,” said Dr. Drake.“For decades, substance abusers have been entering treatment programs where the treatment plan has been chemically based. “Medication-assisted treatment has been shown to be beneficial in the management of substance abuse, but it’s not for everyone and increasing numbers of people are turning towards holistic treatment for healing and recovery.”

History Lesson 

While used for centuries, alternative medicines and holistic practices started coming into vogue in the 1960s and 1970s, according to Dr. Drake. “Now many people seeking help for substance abuse treatment are seeking out holistic approaches, and with good reason.”

Holistic approaches to alcohol and substance abuse treatment can include not only a detoxification of the body for chemical dependency, but often a healing of the complete person through using techniques such as exercise, meditation, massage, and of course, nutritional supplementation to help restore the vital nutrients needed that have long been forgotten or depleted. Often alcohol and drug use may increase the body’s load of free radicals that can cause tissue damage.Antioxidants are the call here with nutrients such as vitamins C and E, zinc and beta-carotene able to neutralize free radicals. B vitamins replenishment, especially vitamin B-1 (Thiamine), is also important in many cases, especially with acute alcohol withdrawal, along with calcium and magnesium.

Dietary changes are a must in most cases, with additional protein and the avoidance of sugars meant to help treat low blood sugar levels, which are often associated with alcohol abuse.

There is also good scientific evidence suggesting that yoga may be beneficial when added to standard therapies for the treatment of substance abuse.

“Holistic substance abuse treatment involves the whole person during the treatment process,” Dr. Drake added. “While medical-based treatment focuses on the physical dependency, holistic treatment works with a person’s thought processes and reasons for substance abuse. Addiction is a disease with many facets and holistic treatment is effective because it addresses each of these facets.” 

Taking an Holistic Approach 

Utilizing a holistic approach to effectively find the causes and then treat both alcohol and substance abuse must address a person’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

“With a holistic approach to treating addiction, the focus is on the body, mind, spirit and emotional and psychological health of the individual in question,” said Shane Griffin, certified nutritional practitioner (CPN) and founder of Whole Life Balance, which offers a holistic approach to addiction recover through personalized nutrition protocols and whole food nutrition and natural supplementation. “Of course, the nutritional component is the most essential element—but it’s important to remember that everything is connected.

“We strive to help the person find a balance in their life through proper nutrition, lifestyle, diet and emotional wellbeing by identifying the root cause of their issues as opposed to simply treating the symptoms—a common practice in traditional medicine,” Griffin continued.

The first step in holistic treatment normally involves addressing the patient’s physical needs and includes a detoxification of the body to help heal it from the damage created by its abuse, according to Dr. Drake. Healing the body at this stage may include methods such as yoga, nutrition, meditation and acupuncture. Providing key nutrients that have been depleted–such as zinc and vitamin C— often aids in the recovery process and helps speed up detoxification.

A person who has been abusing substances also needs to recover psychologically, noted Dr. Drake. In holistic treatment programs, these psychological issues are often worked through in both individual and group sessions.

The spiritual component of recovery is also addressed in most holistic treatment centers, where yoga and mediation are often utilized the help addicts confront the component that can be the hallmark of the disease of addiction. “Spiritual principles such as honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness to help others can be practiced in a safe environment within a holistic treatment program,” said Dr. Drake.


Despite mixed results and limited scientific evidence, the ancient Chinese science of acupuncture continues to gain acceptance as treatment for many common addictions, most notably alcohol and substance abuse. Success rates vary, but some studies have put them as high as 50 percent of patients treated.

“Acupuncture is very effective when combined with counseling for both drug and alcohol addictions,” said Deborah Waddell, Dipl, Ac, LAC, founder of Skyland’s Acupuncture & Wellness Center who has also served on the faculty of The Eastern School of Acupuncture.

The protocol, which unlike regular acupuncture treatments is done in a group setting, is used for addictions to drugs, alcohol and tobacco and has its roots in the mid-1970s when a medical doctor at the Lincoln Hospital in New York, NY modified an existing system of auricular (ear) acupuncture into a technique for the treatment for drug addictions as an alternative to methadone. The acupuncture treatment was extremely effective and became known at the “NADA protocol.” NADA, which means “nothing” in Spanish, its also an acronym for the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association. NADA was established in 1985 by Dr. Michael Smith and others promoting the integration of the protocol in the treatment of addiction.

“The NADA protocol is still widely used both nationally and internationally, said waddell. “As a matter of fact, in New York if one is brought up on charge of drug or alcohol abuse, they are mandated (by the state) to go to the Lincoln Center and go through the NADA protocol.” 

Addicts treated with the NADA protocol report an overall sense of well-being with many stating that they feel “energized” and “lighter” and most importantly feel “much calmer,” according to Waddell. “Over the years I have used the NADA protocol to help a woman get off methadone, which is almost impossible without acupuncture treatment, as well as alcohol and cigarette addictions. In addition to NADA, I often add body acupuncture points as well.” 

Many studies have been conducted on the efficacy of the NADA protocol. Some of the benefits provided by patients as well as their health care providers include: a more optimistic attitude about detoxification and recovery; reduced cravings and anxiety; better retention in drug treatment programs; better sleep and reduced needs for pharmaceuticals.

“Although the NADA protocol is a tremendous help in detoxification, it should be an adjunctive treatment with other modalities such as counseling and support groups,” Waddell stressed.

While acupuncture, and specifically auriculotheraphy, a form of acupuncture that treats the entire body through points on the ears, appears to have a definite place in treating various addictions, it should also be noted that it, like many aspects of addiction treatments, should be part of an overall wellness program.

“No one can predict the changes that will occur in the human body from the use of acupuncture,” said Griffin. “It has been shown to have an enormously positive effect on individuals for the treatment of addiction, but I cannot say it is a clinically- proven treatment methods with quantifiable results. However, I do recommend including acupuncture as part of a balanced, holistic protocol for addicts because it does have proven tangential health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety, treating insomnia, and helping aid in proper digestive functionality.

“The fact that acupuncture’s effects on any one individual cannot be fully predicted serves as further evidence of the importance of taking a balanced, wellround approach to recovery. What works for one may fail miserably for another. A holistic nutritionist can will help determine what the body needs and offer support on the path to recovery.” 

Other methods used in holistic treatment for addiction may include aromatherapy, where essential oils made from plants are used to help a person recover from emotional disorders such as stress and anxiety; breath work, a technique to aid in self-exploration and healing; meditation; hypnotherapy; hydrotherapy; and vitamin therapies.

Nutritional Needs 

Meeting the nutritional needs of the person in recovery as well as adopting a regular exercise program is another important part of addiction treatment. As mentioned previously, many addicts lack in essential nutrients that feed the body and help to speed recovery, also allowing them in many cases to being the physical activity that comes with a regular exercise program.Again, it’s all about feeding both the body and mind.

“I generally recommend categories of nutritional supplements, including digestive support such as enzymes and probiotics, antioxidants, natural anti-inflammatory agents, natural sleep aids, glandular support and essential fatty acids, among others,” said Ravi Chandiramani, ND, corporate medical director at The Sundance Center in Scottsdale, AZ and creator of the Integrative Addiction Medicine (IAM) program. “Also, I often recommend intravenous micronutrient therapy. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all nutritional supplement plan (with IAM) because not every person needs all or the same supplements.” 

“What I recommend to one of my clients may be starkly different than what another needs,” agreed Griffin. “Each individualized nutritional protocol I design is specifically formulated for that person’s current physical, emotional and mental health and is based on their lifestyle choices, current diet and medical assessment. We do a variety of supplements, which contain active forms of ingredients and are free from additives, preservatives, allergens and fillers. They are likely to include amino acids, herbs, homeopathics, multivitamins, minerals, liquid fish oils and specially selected probiotics.” 

Some supplement products such as Connecticut-based Designs for Health’s CraveArrest, which includes Tyrosine and 5-HTP, are designed to promote an optimal balance of major neurotransmitters that affect cravings. The product also includes taurine and the adaptongenic herb rhodiola to help promote a healthy stress response.

IAM Program 

Dr. Chandiramani’s (IAM) program recognizes that addiction is a disease process with multiple factors and is best managed with a multifaceted clinical approach that effectively blends the time-tested elements of conventional addiction medicine with the nurturing, rebuilding methods of evidence- based naturopathic medicine.

“IAM gains ground on traditional approaches once people are discharged because they’re newly armed with an overall wellness-based perspective and begin to implement lifestyle changes into their lives outside of the treatment center,” said Dr. Chandiramani. “Nutrition, sleep, exercise, yoga, acupuncture, meditation and natural supplements take the place of unhealthy habits and patterns and provide the framework for a life of recovery.

“The most important element of IAM is its ability to individualize addiction recovery treatment to meet the unique, physical, psychological and spiritual needs of the person seeking assistance.”

Support System 

While finding the right treatment center/program is essential for addiction recovery, support both at home and in many cases group settings is equally as important for patients and their families.

“There’s a saying in the addiction treatment community that ‘addiction is a family disease,’” said Dr. Chandiramani. “The entire family unit is affected dramatically when there’s an addicted member in its midst. The ripple effect is profound and far-reaching. Clinical outcomes for addiction recovery are significantly improved when the family is involved and unified against a common threat.” 

“Both at-home and group support systems are a vital part of addiction recovery,” said Griffin. “The struggles an addict faces in early recovery can be too much to bear on their own, and surrounding that person with others who are experiencing or have experienced similar issues can be a powerful tool for encouragement.”

Florida-based Puricorp, which developed a line of non-pharmaceutical products, including Declinol, as alternatives to prescription drugs such as methadone, suboxone, buprenorphine, naltrexone and others, also offers “at-home” programs that include tele-health counseling with Joint- Commission-certified counselors, both in individual and group settings. According to the company, the combination of at-home physiological and behavioral help is proving to be exceptionally powerful and convenient for its clients.


There are many options for addiction treatment and continued support for recovery with a holistic approach to healing their advancing popularity. These treatment programs, including nutrient supplementation and full recovery programs, should not be a one-size-fits-all approach and should instead address the physical, mental and spiritual needs of each individual.

“People attending a holistic substance abuse treatment program learn that drugs and alcohol are not the problem—they are only a symptom of the problem,” concluded Dr. Drake. “When the substances are removed, a person must learn other healthy ways to deal with life’s issues and problems.Holistic treatment looks at all aspects of life, which have been affected by the disease. It’s only when a person is allowed and encouraged to address all of the damage the disease has caused and can hope for recovery.”


1 Natural Standard www.naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com.

Healthy Take Aways

Alcohol is the most widely used drugin America and the third leading cause of death.

More than 60 percent of admissions to emergency rooms and more than 50 percent of all traffic accidents involve drug or alcohol use.

Acupuncture is considered an effective treatment for many common addictions .

A holistic approach t o treating addiction involves addressing the person’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.


Designs for Health, (800) 847-8302, www.designsforhealth.com

Puricorp, (800) 385-5004, www.puricorp.com