You’ve probably heard the term holistic therapy thrown around frequently within the drug rehab industry. But what is it and why is it such an important part of substance abuse treatment?
The goal of holistic therapy in substance abuse treatment is to address the individual as a whole person. Rather than treating someone who suffers from drug or alcohol addiction as “sick” and focusing only on their psychological issues, holistic therapy goes a step further and promotes the overall well-being of the person in body, mind and spirit.
A growing amount of research has strongly indicated that, when utilized as part of an inpatient or outpatient treatment program alongside more traditional methods like the 12 steps and CBT, holistic therapy can improve the chances of getting sober and the overall quality of recovery. We take a detailed look at many notable types of holistic addiction treatment below:
Yoga is a set of spiritual, mental and physical practices which originated in India thousands of years ago. The benefits of Yoga in relation to addiction are substantial, particularly in early sobriety while in treatment. Yoga reduces stress related symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain while also reducing perceived levels of stress. It does so by producing a psychological state opposite to that of the fight or flight stress response, as evidenced by research from Harvard Medical School. Furthermore, an NHIS study performed in 2012 found that over 80% of individuals that practice Yoga reported reductions in stress.
Yoga is now classified by the National Institute of Health as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Numerous other studies have linked Yoga practices, in conjunction with working a 12-Step program, to reduced the rates of relapse.
Studies have even found that Yoga increases in the levels of GABA in individuals who practice it. Why is the latter important? Because individuals who suffer from drug addiction, alcoholism and/or co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression typically have very low levels of this feel good amino acid.
As is the case with its close counterpart Yoga, meditation has been found to be a very effective tool in treating substance abuse disorders. The central concept of meditation is mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as a mental state that is achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgement.
Mindfulness has been found to improve impulse control, something dangerous lacking in early recovery, thus reducing the rates of relapse. Additionally, The University of Washington conducted a study in which they found that meditation significantly improved recovery outcomes in a group of addicts that had just been released from prison.
Researchers have also found a strong link between regular meditation and improved brain health. A 2011 Harvard study found that 30 minutes of meditation a day for 8 weeks produced positive changes in areas of the brain related to stress, empathy, sense of self and memory.
Massage therapy is increasingly used in substance abuse treatment because of it’s documented ability to:
- Improve length and quality of sleep
- Decrease pain levels
- Reduce stress (including cortisol levels) and promote relaxation
- Improve mood and sense of well being by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine
Because of its’ positive impact on serotonin, dopamine and cortisol – all of which are running haywire in early recovery – massage therapy has quickly become an indispensable tool in the treatment process.
When the spine is improperly aligned this can cause pressure to be applied to tissue that blocks or reduces the release of neurotransmitters that are critical in feeling a sense of well-being. This can also have adverse effects on the limbic system, the part of the brain that is thought to control emotions. By correctly realigning the spine using chiropractic therapy, the flow of neurotransmitters can be unblocked, promoting a sense of calm and increased emotional stability.
Studies have found that chiropractic therapy can also increase the chances of patients staying in treatment long enough for a meaningful recovery to start to take place.
Originally introduced in the 1950’s, art therapy has gained a great deal of traction in recent years as a supportive substance abuse therapy. Research findings indicate that art therapy provides the following benefits to recovering addicts and alcoholics:
- Breaks down the walls of denial
- Lessens shame related to addiction
- Provides an effective outlet for communication
- Motivates positive change by moving individuals from reflection into action
- Helps facilitate group therapy discussions and insights
There is an even stronger correlation of successful outcomes when art therapy is combined with working a 12 step program.
Music therapy was first introduced in substance abuse treatment in the 1970’s. It allows patients to tap into emotions and needs that may otherwise be difficult to express through traditional therapeutic means. Some of the numerous benefits that come from different aspects of music therapy in relation to addiction include:
- Lyrical analysis and songwriting, which are linked to positive emotional changes in patients.
- Drumming and beats, which are associated with relaxation, and have been found to be particularly useful in relation to chronic relapsers.
Participation in music therapy during treatment has been strongly correlated to a willingness to participate in other areas of treatment.
You may be wondering what outdoor activities have to do with recovering from addiction. These outdoor activities typically include, but are not limited to sports, caring for animals, walking through nature, etc. Outdoor adventure therapy serves a variety of significant purposes in the therapeutic process such as:
- Experiential Therapy – This is essentially the act of doing versus talking. Almost all outdoor therapeutic activities fall under the category of experiential therapy. Talk therapy can get monotonous, which can backfire by making clients think that recovery is boring and not worth it. Talking is not the only way that people can reveal and learn to cope with feelings. Engaging in various activities can reveal feelings that clients may not even be aware of.
- Socialization in Sobriety – Popular culture makes it seem like people, especially young people, cannot have fun without alcohol, other drugs, or engaging in risk behavior. That cultural message cannot be further from the truth. Unfortunately, this message hinders many addicted individuals from pursuing and maintaining recovery. Outdoor therapeutic activities help addicted individuals realize that they can socialize and have fun in recovery. The activities hat require teamwork (e.g. sports) show that people can foster even closer bonds without alcohol or drugs.
- Discovery of Healthy Hobbies – Addiction and potential relapse can be greatly effected by dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when engaging in a pleasurable activity. Recovering individuals must learn how to keep their dopamine levels up in new ways. Outdoor therapeutic activities help those individuals discover new hobbies that can occupy them and provide them with a natural high. Sunlight in also healthy in lifting people’s spirits because it boosts serotonin and levels of Vitamin D and K.