by Katherine Willow ND

One of the most painful states is that of addiction, being compulsively attached to an action or substance, even when it is obviously contrary to our health and well-being—and to those around us. What does naturopathic medicine have to offer for this recalcitrant condition?

The first step is to understand the causes and mechanisms in each individual case and then choose the specific tools that match.

  • Physical imbalance: When the body is knocked off balance, we instinctively try to compensate. For instance, not enough protein creates a sugar craving; depleted adrenals can lead to a dependency on caffeine (and salt and sugar); lack of essential vitamins and minerals can cause chronic overeating. This is the easiest level of addiction to treat and helps rebalance the other layers.

Treatments for physical imbalances include therapeutic nutrition, cleansing, regular sleep, exercise and various supplements, herbs and homeopathic remedies according to the constitutional type of the person.

  • Emotional imbalance: When emotions are unbearably painful and stuck, we also try to compensate. Lack of connection with others and chronic sadness can underlie eating disorders. Unresolved and unconscious anger can incline to excessive alcohol. Unhealed or unremembered trauma can lead to drug abuse.

Emotional healing starts with becoming aware of one’s feelings, continues with learning how to stay with unpleasant feelings until they dissipate and moving forward by learning to prevent feelings from building up. Helpful techniques include EFT, the Journey process, counselling with a therapist who knows how to access emotions in the body versus getting caught in the story, bodywork with a practitioner who knows how to gently release emotions and mindfulness training to learn how to be aware of one’s feelings and increase choices in how to respond.

  • Mental imbalance: When the mind is imbalanced from holding onto negative and false belief systems, it locks in the compensations on the other levels. This is why cognitive therapy has a good track record with addictions, as it helps one examine and change beliefs that are not helpful.

Other tools for the mind and our beliefs include journaling to reflect on how we think, co-counselling and mindfulness training to learn to become aware of one’s thoughts so that we can consciously choose others that are more useful.

  • Energy imbalance: When our subtle energies are blocked, we can be more easily influenced to engage in negative behaviours.

Subtle therapies include homeopathic and Bach flower remedies, acupuncture, shamanism, yoga, chi gong, reiki and many others. It’s ultimately important to sense one’s energy body and keep it purified through daily practice.

  • Soul imbalance: When we do not listen to and manifest the gifts of our soul, we can become so miserable that we indulge in actions that distract or bury the pain.

Healing our soul involves taking quiet time to listen to ourselves. Meditation, reflection, intuitive readings and sessions with healers can help us do this. Then we need to act on the information, manifesting our gifts instead of hiding in our distractions.

  • Spiritual imbalance: When we don’t understand or follow spiritual principles in our lives, we can become caught in addiction as a substitute.

It is significant that 12 step programs (ie AA) are based on a spiritual process and any path which honestly leads one to connect with our Source helps heal addiction.

If an addiction is deep and harmful, one may need a team of practitioners to help break the cycle or time at a holistic addiction treatment centre.

Katherine Willow N.D. is founder and director of Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre, ½ hour west of Ottawa, where people can come for healing.