Alternative therapies for addiction improve treatment outcomes, according to experts — and it turns out there are many. Explore what they are here:
Whether the addiction is to alcohol or drugs, or a combined substance abuse and mental health disorder (called dual diagnosis), the decision to enter rehab is always a difficult one. The goal, however, is the same: to achieve sobriety and gain a firm foundation in recovery. Among the choices for treatment are traditional, complementary, integrative and holistic rehab approaches.
HOLISTIC REHAB FOCUSES ON TREATING THE WHOLE PERSON
Merriam-Webster defines holistic as “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.” Holistic medicine, the online dictionary goes on to say, “attempts to treat both the mind and the body.” Holistic rehab encompasses treating the whole person: mind, body and spirit.
Whereas traditional models of addiction treatment focus on psychotherapy, self-help and other support groups, holistic rehab centers on addressing the whole person. This includes working on the connection between mind, body and spirit. It should be noted that some treatment centers using the traditional approach to rehab also incorporate various holistic treatment methods.
WHY NOT JUST DETOX?
Overcoming drug or alcohol addiction takes time. Sometimes, the time required to fully heal seems to be too long. It’s easy to say that it’s more time than one is willing to accommodate, or that one’s responsibilities take precedence. A quick shortcut of simply going into a detox center to rid the body of harmful substances might appear to be a good idea. It isn’t. While the toxins have been removed, a necessary first step in any overall treatment plan, detox alone does nothing to address underlying issues or exacerbating problems or conditions that contribute to addiction.
With detox alone, addicts often relapse on their return to everyday life. The reasons – people, places and things – associated with addiction are still there. The addict hasn’t learned about the disease of addiction, received counseling, learned and practiced coping strategies or benefitted from the other aspects of comprehensive, integrated treatment.
Holistic rehab, on the other hand, includes a comprehensive and tailored treatment program that follows detox and helps better prepare the recovering addict to live a more productive, happier and confident life in sobriety.
WHAT TO EXPECT WITH HOLISTIC REHAB
Those familiar with the concept of individual and group counseling, intensive psychotherapy, participation in 12-step and self-help groups may be surprised to know that holistic rehab often includes these methods as well. Yet, there’s much more to holistic rehab that may be more attractive to someone who wants to get sober. Still, this holistic approach may seem somewhat mysterious. Is it all feel-good talk, or is there science to back up its effectiveness?
Holistic health is an approach to healing that originated in China and India more than 5,000 years ago. The idea was that a healthy way of life promoted healing, rather than focusing on treating a single part of the body. Treating the whole person, then, is really nothing new. It did, however, take some time to gravitate toward Western civilization and it wasn’t until the 1970s that use of the term holistic became more commonplace.
But what happens during holistic rehab? What should one expect? In short, you can anticipate a warm and healing environment, comfortable surroundings, caring and supportive doctors and staff, therapeutic and recreational treatments and activities that help in rebuilding health, restoring the body, as well as the mind, and soothing the spirit that’s so often greatly distressed through addiction.
TYPES OF HOLISTIC THERAPIES
The full list of holistic therapies and activities continues to expand. Some of the more widespread ones in current use include the following, although not every holistic rehab facility offers all of them. Several fall under the umbrella of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, including: acupuncture, imagery, massage, relaxation techniques, and yoga.
Auricular acupuncture has been used in research for the treatment of cocaine addiction, although the evidence regarding its effectiveness gathered from controlled studies is inconsistent. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital found that a form of acupuncture known as transcutaneous electric acupoint stimulation (TEAS) may help ease opioid withdrawal symptoms and improve other outcomes for those diagnosed with opiate addiction.
There are numerous types of imagery therapy that are useful in treating addiction. These include: image exposure therapy, guided imagery or guided visualization, virtual reality therapy, aversion imagery therapy and imagery rescripting. A therapist may use imagery to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, anxiety, insomnia, to help correct behaviors that led to addiction in the first place.
Who doesn’t love a good massage? The truth is, however, that massage is also holistic therapy that’s therapeutic for those in addiction treatment. Massage is an increasingly sought-after healing modality.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Achieving a state of harmony and balance may seem like a lofty goal when you’re trying to overcome addiction. Meditation and mindfulness have proven promising to reduce stress among those diagnosed with substance use disorders (SUDs). In fact, there’s a body of research references on how meditation programs can help with stress and aid in fostering well-being.
While not yet commonly accepted as treatment for substance abuse, neurofeedback has shown promise in enhancing existing treatment for opiate substance abuse by decreasing craving for the narcotic drug and improving general mental health.
Per the Quigong Research and Practice Center, qigong is a system of healing and energy medicine from China. It uses breathing techniques, meditation and gentle movement to move energy (qi) throughout the body. The process involves cleansing, strengthening and circulation of qi. Research published in Alternative Therapies showed that qigong may provide effective alternative detoxification from heroin without negative side effects.
A number of relaxation techniques can be employed by a therapist to help the person in recovery from addiction to restore balance and harmony, better cope with stress, and focus on continued recovery. These include deep breathing exercises, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, and progressive relaxation.
Yoga, coupled with mindfulness, can serve as a powerful combination holistic therapy to treat addictions of all types. It is thought that yoga and mindfulness teach the skills, insight and awareness of self that target the many processes involved in addiction and relapse.
Alternative Therapies, “Use of Qigong Therapy in the Detoxification of Heroin Addicts.” Retrieved March 25, 2017
American Holistic Health Association, “Holistic Approach to the Addiction Recovery Process,” Retrieved March 23, 2017
Applied Psychology and Biofeedback, “Neurofeedback Training for Opiate Addiction: Improvement of Mental Health and Craving,” [SpringerLink]. Retrieved March 25, 2017
BioMed Central, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “CAM therapies among primary care patients using opioid therapy for chronic pain.” Retrieved March 25, 2017
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), PMC, PubMed, “Mindfulness Meditation for Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Review.” Retrieved March 23, 2017
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “A Form of Acupuncture May Help in Opioid Addiction.” Retrieved March 25, 2017
The JAMA Network, “Acupuncture for the Treatment of Cocaine Addiction: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Retrieved March 25, 2017