Addiction Care

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 Canadian Chiropractor

October 27, 2011

Written by Sony Canteenwala, DC

In 2008, Canadian Chiropractor published a story regarding a presentation I gave at the 2007 University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) SNAAP
(Southern Nevada Association of Addiction Professionals) Conference.1 The subject of interest was the role of chiropractors in addiction care. Since then, I have continued to introduce chiropractors and non-DCs to this work.

Dr. Sony Canteenwala (left) with Father Fred Olds,  founder of Conifer House in Winnipeg.

With approximately 20 per cent of the population suffering from some form of addiction, it is impossible for a primary care provider not to come in contact with a patient who may be suffering from an addiction. A large portion of the population still believes “addiction” is only about drugs, alcohol or gambling. Addiction can also come in the form of food, sex, or even work. Anything that is mood altering can become an addiction, and according to a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, co-authored by Dr. Jay Holder, a genetic component is also a risk factor.2

Recent developments in the field of addiction medicine and the role of chiropractic have been substantial.

One of the most important components of trying to help people with addiction or compulsive disorders is establishing a relationship with a treatment center that is open to, and understanding of, what it is that chiropractors can do for their patients, as this will enable cross-referral.

Through another chiropractor, I was introduced to Father Fred Olds, BA, MTh, MAS, a parish priest and former chaplain at Misericordia and St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. When, at our first meeting, I explained the research and mechanisms behind our techniques, Father Fred was sure he wanted to have his patients under care. That was several years ago, and today we are still working with addicted patients together.

In 2009, Father Fred Olds established a new recovery centre called Conifer House where, unlike traditional addiction care, Father Fred recommends the component of chiropractic in addition to group and one-on-one counselling. Father Fred, a 25-year veteran of addiction counselling, has described chiropractic as the missing link in addiction care.

There is nothing generic about Conifer House, according to Father Fred. Even the centre itself is called “a centre for state of wellbeing and human potential,” not addiction care. Together we try to help people recover from things that could put them at risk for addiction, including depression and anxiety. Conifer House offers counsel not only to addicts, but also to those in grief and to families of those affected by addiction.

I have had the opportunity to work closely as an integral part of Conifer House, and see first-hand the benefits of chiropractic care to a group of patients for whom therapy is not enough. In late 2010, Father Olds invited me to look at a new facility that Conifer House is considering purchasing to expand from its current location. The most exciting part is that he has assured me the new facility will have an in-house chiropractic clinic with access for all residents and patients. I also had the honour of presenting “A Chiropractor’s Involvement” in Conifer House at the opening dinner reception in March 2010.

On a regular basis, I speak to the various groups at Conifer House and explain the new model of understanding addiction and lack of well-being according to the latest evidence. Our new understanding of addiction is a neurological brain-based model. We know that there are receptor cites for “feel good” chemicals located in the brain steam and the mesolimbic area of the brain. This is our “feel good” centre. It is clear that an interruption in the neuro-chemical release happens at this level. Being that the brain steam is a mere extension of the spinal cord, the effect of chiropractic must be considered.

As lead Torque Release Technique Instructor for Holder Research Institute Canada, I have the opportunity to teach across the country for Dr. Jay Holder, the founder of the technique. This gives me the ability to see initiatives in the role of chiropractic in addiction care taking place in the United States as well.

One of the most exciting developments in this past year – and one I will be assisting in – is taking place in Louisiana. The faith-based subcommittee for BRING (Bringing Regional Initiatives in Greater Acadiana), the regional workforce development project sponsored by the Lafayette Workforce Investment Board, is launching a pilot project with the American College of Addictionology and Compulsive Disorders (ACACD) and the state of Louisiana to provide specialized chiropractic care as a first line of attack on addiction in one of the country’s worst drug-afflicted states.

The pilot project, in partnership with ACACD, will be responsible for training chiropractors in Torque Release Technique and other modalities. At such time, I am expected to head south to assist in the training process alongside Dr. Holder. The training will be held through the University of Louisiana Lafayette – Continuing Education Department. In addition to paying for chiropractic services, the state will be providing funding for training and will designate only those chiropractors who complete the training in Torque Release Technique and other modalities provided by ACACD.

According to Dr. Holder, “the chiropractor is the best choice for the role as primary care provider for the addicted population because chiropractic is drug-free. Further, the TRT chiropractic adjustments serve as a primary intervention resource in the field of addiction. Published research suggests that TRT’s positive treatment outcomes are due to its non-linear tonal model, and therefore its mechanism is neurotransmitter-based, as expressed in the brain reward cascade and Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS) dynamic. Neurotransmitters are the vocabulary words of the nervous system.”3

We see this concept in the mainstream understanding as well. For instance, Time magazine’s Canadian edition for July 16, 2007, carried a lead story entitled “How We Get Addicted.”4 The article goes on to explain the neurotransmitter dysfunction that takes place in the brain.

Having the world outside of chiropractic practice recognize the benefits of what we have to offer speaks volumes, but there is much important work that can be also done by the individual chiropractor, in his or her office, without the help of any outside organizations.

Over the past several years, I have been training chiropractors in Torque Release Technique. Although TRT is a subluxation-based model suitable for all patients, its benefits were highlighted in the addicted population. Many chiropractors have asked, “What if I don’t want to see addicts or make that a special interest of mine in practice?” My answer is, invariably, that you are already seeing them. Many of us have the idea that an addict is only someone we see on the street asking for money who is strung out and homeless. This just isn’t the case; addicts can be anyone, from the professional to the homeless. Chiropractors are seeing these patients already – we just don’t know it.

In any clinical setting, a complete history and interview is necessary and mandatory. Yet, many of us do not ask, in our intake form or during our consultation, if the patient sitting in front of us is using substance or suffering with any usage problems. Some cues to look for in the assessment would be the patient reporting depression or anxiety; they are likely to let you know about these things more readily. If so, the follow-up questions should lead down the path of what they are doing to cope with that depression or anxiety. These two factors are the precursors for patients to enter the world of substance abuse, and according to a study published in Molecular Psychiatry,5 were markedly improved for those patients receiving Torque Release Technique adjustments.

Our goal as chiropractors is to help people express their full health potential; not exploring their mental well-being may leave them with less helpful results than they could otherwise achieve.

For many years, the world largely accepted that addiction was a choice that a person made. Now it is not taken so lightly. Addiction can be described as actually not having the choice to quit, in spite of a desire to do so.

The concept of chiropractic helping patients in this arena is nothing new, and in fact dates back to the time of D.D. and B.J. Palmer. B.J.’s work at the Clearview Sanitarium is well known. As B.J. and D.D. Palmer both exclaimed, “Chiropractic will empty the prisons.” Perhaps we are a little closer to understanding that, now that we understand virtually all crime is addiction-related.

Interested chiropractors can become informed and educated in this field by attending the ACACD certification or diplomate program, open to all health-care providers.


  1. Canadian Chiropractor, February 2008, Volume 13, No.1.
  2. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, November 2000, Volume 32.
  3. Dynamic Chiropractic, July 29, 2010, Volume 28, Issue 16.
  4. Time Magazine Canadian Edition, July 16, 2007, Volume 170, No. 3.
  5. Molecular Psychiatry, February 2001, Volume 6, Nature Publishing Group.

For more information on Torque Release Technique, please visit

Dr. Sony Canteenwala is the director and lead Torque Release Technique instructor for Holder Research Institute Canada. He is an instructor for the American College of Addictionology and Compulsive Disorders. Dr. Canteenwala holds the position of Representative Assemblyman (Manitoba) for the International Chiropractor’s Association. He currently resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and is in full-time, private practice.

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