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A naturopathic approach to treatment

October 5, 2011
by Ravi Chandiramani, ND
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Ravi chandiramani, nd
Ravi Chandiramani, ND

A disheveled-appearing 32-year-old female, “Sabrina,” walked into our residential treatment facility, carrying one suitcase and three large garbage bags. As I performed my history and physical, my suspicions were confirmed. Her response to “What medications are you on?” consisted of opening each of the garbage bags, which held nearly 200 bottles of prescription medication. In her possession was an assortment of narcotics, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anxiolytics, antacids, sleep aids and migraine abortives. She had failed all prior courses of conventional medical treatment, and had arrived seeking assistance in getting her life back from opiate addiction.

Almost three months later, Sabrina left the treatment center with one bottle of melatonin and a new lease on life. Almost three years later, she has maintained sobriety. This highlights a success story in my practice specializing in Integrative Addiction Medicine (I AM)© at Journey Healing Centers.

Addiction has a unique psychosocial profile contributing to its pathology, with disease manifestations on a physical, mental and spiritual-emotional level. In addition to traditional medical training, naturopathic physicians such as myself receive specialized training to manage all three levels concurrently. This holistic paradigm serves as the lens through which each individual patient is assessed.

Naturopathic physicians are trained to identify and treat the causes of disease, rather than merely to suppress the symptoms of disease. While addiction is a disease complex in its own right, the issues underlying addiction may range from sexual and emotional abuse and trauma to eating disorders and other process addictions, to untreated depression and anxiety, to chronic pain and unresolved grief.

Once underlying disorders are identified, appropriate tools can be more effectively utilized (see Table 1). Having access to different therapeutic modalities allows naturopathic physicians to effectively blend or integrate the best evidence-based approaches in the treatment of this complex disease. To customize treatment for individuals, naturopathic physicians review the physical and mental dependencies.

Table 1. Tools used by naturopathic physicians



Therapeutic Nutrition

The use of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, co-factors, enzymes, antioxidants and phytonutrients, to support the body's immune and healing systems, thereby altering the course and outcome of a disease process

Western Botanical Medicine

A healing modality that draws on the accumulated and developing knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants in the prevention and treatment of disease

Psychological Counseling

The mind and body are intimately linked. Negative emotions and attitudes can contribute to disease just as positive emotions and attitudes can contribute to health and wellness. Professional counseling can often uncover patterns that aid in optimal patient management.


A system of medicine that complements more evidence-based modalities in certain cases, particularly when there is an emotional component to disease, which is often the case in addiction

Physical Medicine

Comprises several techniques and modalities aimed at addressing musculoskeletal concerns. Treatments vary and may include soft tissue manipulation, osseous manipulation, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and some physical therapy techniques.

Nutrient Therapies

Administration of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and other therapeutic agents via injection into muscle (intramuscular) or directly into the bloodstream (intravenous)

Physical dependency

Chronic chemical dependency can involve every organ system (see Table 2). The first step to appropriate medical management begins when a patient is in a treatment center that fosters an environment of sobriety. After I screen for and address underlying medical comorbidities, my treatment strategy shifts to naturally supporting and optimizing the body's natural detoxification pathways, with a focus on the liver and intestinal pathways.

Table 2. The Multi-System Organ Effects of Drug Abuse

Organ System

Potential Effects

Cardiovascular system

Abnormal heart rate

Heart attack

Collapsed veins


Respiratory system



Lung cancer

Respiratory depression

Gastrointestinal system



Abdominal pain

Gastroesophageal reflux

Liver disease

Neurological system



Brain damage

Problems with memory, attention and decision-making

Immune system



Chronic infectious diseases