Using the body to heal the mind
in addiction treatment

(This article was contributed by Guest Author Herby Bell, DC)

Substance and behavior abuse have reached epidemic proportions in our country. This, coupled with the emotional repression and stress associated with living in our outside-in consumer culture, has produced America’s number 1 health challenge: Addiction.

The cost of treatment, the repercussions on society and our family structures are devastating, not to mention the high number of ancillary deaths that are directly associated with the disease of addiction – from auto accidents to heart failure.

It is a well-known statistic that only 25% of those who seek addiction treatment have successful results. In other words, 75%, or 3 out of 4, of the individuals who do seek treatment for addiction fail and fall back into the seemingly endless revolving door of relapse-remission-relapse from this destructive brain disorder. The strongest implication is that the culture that fosters addiction, begets addiction.

In lieu of reinventing our culture, but in the spirit of re-visioning addiction treatment, it is time to try different approaches and combinations of approaches when it comes to addiction recovery.

Addiction is a mind-body-spirit disorder, as spelled out by the mainstream, American Medical Association’s, American Society of Addiction Medicine ( It stands to reason that its treatment should include mind, body and spiritual modalities as an integrated, comprehensive approach.

The “target organ” for addiction is the brain (just as the pancreas is the target organ for diabetes) and specifically the meso-limbic or mid-brain. Historically, addiction treatment has focused upon healing the mind with brain treatment modalities like psychotherapy and drug therapy.

Since 1935, and while there are many other approaches, Alcoholics Anonymous has been the mainstay for the “spiritual” piece in the equation.

But in keeping with a more comprehensive approach, what about an integral modality that focuses attention on the physical body – mind-body-spirit? – equally, and as important as the mind and the spirit? Can the body contribute to healing the mind and the spirit?

After all, the body is truly an extension of the mind–an actual projected map of the brain–with remarkable knowledge, wisdom and inherent healing and recuperative capabilities from head to toe. Our bodies are veritable learning domains. Ever had a “gut feeling?” In fact, most of the receptor sites for many neurotransmitters–the “well-being” brain chemicals–are in the gut and not in the brain proper.

No wonder then, and who has not felt remarkably inspired and well, after exercising the body as it releases all of these inherent, feel-good chemicals? A neverending feedback loop from the brain to the body, and vice-versa, inform every fiber of our beings every moment we live.

Intervening at the level of the body through techniques that deliberately remove interference from this pristine system is unfortunately just what the present-day addiction doctor is not ordering. Chiropractic care is just such an indicated and effective approach and often a missing link in the addiction treatment community. Chiropractic helps ensure that a clear, uninterrupted signal is getting from the brain to all of the body parts and back to the brain again. And people who undergo chiropractic care are taught that without good lifestyle habits, including flexibility, strength and cardiovascular exercise, good nutrition and a psychological/spiritual practice–chiropractic care is incomplete and will be less effective.

Similarly, the same “missing piece” dynamic holds true for what’s missing in addiction treatment, and chiropractic care addresses the “body” piece of the mind-body-spirit equation effectively and seamlessly. Chiropractic is not a panacea but a time and cost-efficient, conservative, minimally invasive way to bridge this gap in addiction treatment.

The idea of wedding mind and body approaches to healing is not a new one. For centuries and long before the first traces of modern science, healing arts practitioners from the mainstream to the esoteric alike have acknowledged that the way people felt in their minds could influence the way they responded in their bodies–and vice-versa.

There is no separation of body and mind, and we are just coming to understand how profoundly and inextricably entwined these two parts of our being, along with spirit, interact in communion for our well-being.

Including chiropractic care in a comprehensive addiction treatment protocol, especially in the first 90 days of treatment, is important for the following reasons:

Providing human touch/compassion fostering neuroplasticity to help “re-write” dysfunctional brain circuitry

Removes interference from normal nerve function

Reduces anxiety and depression

Better sleep patterns

Decreases use of chemical pain relievers and psychiatric drugs

Greater sense of well-being

Increases energy levels

Decreases stress levels

Decreases joint and muscle pain

A mind-body-spirit approach to addiction is synergistic in action.  In other words, the sum total is greater than its parts. As our health systems and institutions move from the compartmentalized, mechanistic approach of yesterday to the integrated, vitalistic, and holistic framework of today, let the mind-body-spirit approach of addiction medicine and treatment help blaze this new trail by incorporating in this endeavor the largest, drugless, hands-on healing profession in the world: chiropractic.

(Dr. Herby Bell is owner and director of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to addiction treatment in Redwood City, California. For more information, please email:

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  • Mal Hills

    I have suffered addiction in its many forms for most of my life and have tried all on offer to stop. The only thing that has made a major difference in my life was the introduction of spirituality (not the church type) and the fact that He loves us unconditionally. I discovered this late in life and have erred many times on the way through recovery and I dip in and out successful recovery from my addictions. What is coming through loud and clear is that I need a like=minded human to share all the experiences with. This is the hardest part for me as my addictions sent me so far into myself that the way out is clouded.

  • mewabe

    Our entire world civilization is addicted…to power, control, and a predatory way of life. It is addicted because it creates people who are spiritually and emotionally empty, who have a big gaping hole where their heart and soul should be, because our systems are inhuman, and people are indulging in compulsive behaviors to attempt to fill this inner emptiness or quiet their fears and despair.

    It is not the suffering who must change, because suffering is a NORMAL condition when living within social systems that create suffering. It is the systems that must change. Make the systems human and humanity will flourish!

    Everything we have been told and taught is wrong…we cannot make societies human until we understand this and what it means…it means we must re-invent the world from the ground up, we must create a new world that reflects the reality and truth of our hearts and souls. WE MUST GO BACK TO THE HEART. Nothing else will do.

  • Nicola

    Have you got a book written about addictions and recovery x
    Not Yet Nicola, but it is in the works. There may also be a movie/documentary coming as well. I will certainly keep the readers informed when we get close. Thank you for asking.

  • Vicki

    Great article! Thank you!