Functional Medicine focuses on discovering and then addressing the root cause of a disease using a biology based approach.

The idea is that every symptom or separate diagnosis may be one of a multitude that are contributing to someone’s illness.

Addiction is a destructive force that can cause suffering and pain to you and everyone close to you.  There was a time when researchers believed that addiction was merely a weakness of character, but it has now been discovered that it is often caused by imbalances of the brain-chemistry.

Instead of using yet another drug to combat a disease that is already a slave to substances, Functional Medicine aims to discover the root cause of the behaviour. Doctors practicing Functional Medicine attempt to ascertain what triggers the destructive behaviours, seeking to find the root cause and pin point the biological systems that have been disrupted. Once these have been found, interventions can then be put into place to aid the system’s recovery from addictions.

One of the imbalances known to accelerate addictive tendencies is dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that reward responses in the brain. Drugs like cocaine can release up to ten times the amount of dopamine in the brain than is naturally produced, even small amounts of alcohol can increase the brain’s normal levels of dopamine.

When you superficially increase your brain’s normal dopamine levels, you diminish the natural pleasures you would obtain from things like food and even sex. Your brain becomes motivated to seek the same levels of pleasure it has become used to again and again, which then reinforces the addiction.

To make matters more complicated, it has been discovered that, for about 30 percent of the population, genetics can also play a part in addiction. Researchers have now found out that there are at least two different types of the human dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2) – this regulates the number of D2 receptors an individual has and in turn, how much dopamine the brain receives. For those individuals who have the DRD2 A1 type, they receive less dopamine and are more likely to become addicts.

If around 30 percent of us have naturally low dopamine function in our brains, how is it then possible for us to escape the craving behaviour that leads to addiction?

The belief in Functional Medicine is that, while genetics do play a contributing part in addiction, they do not make up the whole picture. The way you manage your lifestyle including how much you sleep, exercise, eat and worry can have an enormous impact on gene expression and help you overcome addiction.

Addiction is a complex disease which incorporates numerous brain chemistry imbalances which is why Functional Medicine works so well for it, as it requires an individualised approach. How you live and eat can have a profound affect when treating addiction and Functional Medicine provides a solid base for the individual’s recovery.

Here are some tips from a Functional Medicine standpoint that can help you fight addiction:

Watch what you eat

What you eat can have a huge effect on how you manage your recovery from addiction. Eating excessive amounts of sugar can cause a dopamine release very similar to that of many drugs. It will therefore also cause the same kinds of highs and lows in moods you felt when you were using drugs. Protein however can help build dopamine so therefore you will benefit from eating a protein rich diet. In the same vein, the omega-3 fatty acid found in fresh, organic, wild seafood can help stabilise your mood.

Assess your gut health

It is now known that our guts are linked intrinsically to our brains through the vagus nerve. Gut bacteria helps create both dopamine and serotonin. Many recovering addicts will have put an awful lot of stress on their bodies through their using, and their guts will be no different. Gut problems can have a profound affect on our moods. There is no quick solution to resolving gut imbalances though and it is highly recommended to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner, or nutritionist to formulate the best plan of action to re-stabilise your gut health.


It is now known that continuous levels of stress will decrease dopamine. Many of us today live highly stressful lives constantly running from one meeting to another or from home to work and back again. Activities like yoga, meditation or just simple deep breathing exercises will help increase your serotonin levels and balance chronic stress. Ideally you should find what works for you and then aim to fit it or them regularly into your routine.

Be kind

By helping others, we are also helping ourselves. Studies have shown that one of the many benefits of being kind and thinking of others, is that it increases our dopamine levels making us feel happier.

Make time to be grateful

Allowing yourself five minutes in the morning on your way to work, or as you have a shower, to go through everything that you are thankful for in your life can have an enormous affect on your mood over time. Give it a go for a month and see if you notice any difference in your thinking.

Sleep properly

Not sleeping well can inhibit your ability to produce serotonin which in turn encourages mood disorders and other imbalances. Your sleep goals should be a minimum of 7 hours of good quality, undisturbed, sleep per night. Try to turn electronic devices off an hour or so before going to bed and practice techniques to help you unwind so that you are able to achieve deep and restorative sleep nightly.

Exercise regularly

It may be difficult to motivate yourself to begin to exercise, but everyone is probably familiar with the feel-good feeling you can get after an invigorating exercise session. Regular exercise will boost your serotonin but not all exercise works for everyone. Be prepared to try out various types of sports and activities until you find something that you enjoy as that’s the best way to ensure that you will stick to it.

Although addiction is an extremely complex and multi faceted disease, Functional Medicine works perfectly to combat the unique and chronic conditions that addiction features. It is a disease that necessitates both lifestyle and dietary changes in order to successfully achieve long lasting recovery and Functional Medicine offers part of the blueprint for a successful recovery.