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The Role of Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Treating Substance Abuse

Yoga

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a disorder that affects the entire person–body, mind, and spirit. Because of this, the needs of the whole person must be considered for a treatment to be effective. It isn’t enough to treat the addiction and ignore the underlying depression or other mental health disorders.

Drug and alcohol treatment centers all offer therapy. Psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as talk therapy, can be offered individually, in a group setting, or both. The therapy frequently focuses on providing the patient with coping strategies that don’t involve using drugs or alcohol, tools to maintain their sobriety, and education about drugs and alcohol. In the past, therapy was frequently limited to behavioral issues.

Many treatment facilities now go further and work to address mental health issues or unresolved trauma that may be underneath the addiction. Many treatment centers also offer complementary and alternative therapies that complement talk therapy.

What Is Alternative or Complementary Treatment?

Merriam-Webster defines alternative medicine as “systems of healing or treating disease…that is not included in the traditional medical curricula of the U.S. and Britain.” When talking about mental health issues and recovery from substance abuse, alternative therapies include treatments ranging from yoga to equine therapy to diet and nutrition. Using alternative therapies gives clinicians more ways to help people suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues–another way to get to the root of the problem.

Alternative therapies are particularly helpful for people who have suffered from a trauma of one sort or another. The body is said to store memories just like the brain does, but the body cannot provide context for a memory. Alternative therapies, particularly those that make use of activities, like art and music therapy, or yoga and meditation, help people recovering from addiction to integrate their minds and bodies.

Alternative or Complementary Modalities That Rely on Touch

Facilities now use many different alternative modalities in treatment programs for patients. Massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care are three treatment modalities that rely on touch and support the recovery process.

Massage therapists are trained to use touch to reduce pain and stress. As tension in our bodies is released, our minds relax and we are better able to cope with the stress of everyday life. 

Acupuncture is an example of traditional alternative medicine that has been practiced for centuries. Acupuncture is used in recovery treatment to reduce stress and cravings, help with relaxation and sleep issues, lessen mood swings, promote energy, and calm emotional trauma. Chiropractic practitioners work to align the spine. This helps to restore balance in the body that has been harmed by addiction. As the range of motion is increased in the spine and adjacent muscles, tension and stress are reduced. Chiropractic care alleviates pain in many areas of the body and like massage therapy and acupuncture, supports recovery.

Meditation and Yoga

Meditation and yoga are frequently discussed together, perhaps because yoga classes frequently end with a guided meditation. The word “yoga” means “to yoke” and the goal of yoga is to yoke your mind and your body. Yoga lowers stress, reduces pain, reduces anxiety and depression, all of which can lessen a person’s impulse to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Yoga lowers the level of two hormones associated with stress, cortisol and adrenaline, and increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter associated with overall feelings of wellness and tends to be found at lower levels in people suffering from addiction and co-occurring disorders. 

There are many techniques for meditation and many articles have been written about the physical and mental benefits of meditation. Bear in mind, however, that meditation is not a replacement for therapy when coping with addiction or mental health issues, but it is a powerful addition to conventional treatment. Meditation is a way of becoming more aware of the present. Its benefits include stress reduction, increased self-awareness, and an improved ability to focus.

The Role of Diet in Recovery

Several treatment modalities focus on the role of diet and nutrition in recovery, including the use of dietary supplements, herbal medicine, and overall good nutrition. At Enlightened Solutions, all patients receive education in nutrition and wellness, and many patients elect to learn healthy cooking techniques using fresh, organic ingredients, many of them grown on Enlightened Solution’s farm.

Healing Through Energy Work

Many people recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol have found help through energy work, in which energy from outside the patient is used to aid in healing. Reiki is one type of energy work that has been used successfully to treat patients recovering from addiction. Reiki as it is known today was developed in Japan in the 1920s by a Buddhist monk and brought to the West in the 1980s. In addition to addiction, Reiki has been used to treat cancer, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and infertility.

Experiential Therapies

In experiential therapies, the client focuses on doing certain activities, and through the experience begins to explore their feelings, including anger, hurt, and shame. These therapies include art, music, and equine therapy, all of which are used successfully in drug and alcohol recovery. In art therapy, the patient will work on a piece of art–a painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, or any other medium. Afterward, the therapist encourages the patient to think about the psychological and emotional aspects of their piece. Art therapy is a tool to help patients access and process their feelings.

Music therapy is very similar but uses music instead of visual arts. According to an article on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, four major types of musical intervention are employed: lyric analysis, improvisational music playing, active music listening, and songwriting. Music therapy is a way for patients to reach emotions that have been buried under drug or alcohol abuse. Music therapy also decreases stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep.

Because of the strong bond between horses and humans, equine therapy is also offered at some treatment facilities. Depending on the facility, equine therapy can include different activities. Some activities focus on caring for the animals, others focus on riding, and sometimes the activities focus on both caring and riding. Because horses sense the emotions of the people around them, horses can help people identify their feelings which is helpful because people recovering from addictions have often suppressed their feelings. Working with horses can also give people in recovery a sense of purpose.

Alternative treatment modalities aid in treating the whole patient, not just their addiction. These treatments can have powerful mental and physical benefits and enable the patient to heal on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

An addiction recovery treatment plan must address the needs of the whole person–mind, body, and spirit–not just their addictive behavior. In addition to traditional talk therapy and support groups, alternative treatment modalities can play a powerful role in treating the whole person. At Enlightened Solutions, we focus on treating the whole person and use a multidisciplinary approach to develop a custom treatment program for each patient. We offer treatment for a wide variety of substance dependencies as well as mental health disorders that can co-occur with substance abuse. In addition to talk therapy, we offer holistic treatment including yoga and meditation classes, acupuncture and chiropractic care, art and music therapy, and equine therapy. Our life skills component includes thorough education in nutrition and wellness. We are located on New Jersey’s southern shore and are rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. If you or someone you love is ready to break free from substance abuse, call us at (833) 801-5483.