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What Kinds Of Holistic Therapies Are Used In Addiction Treatment?

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

March 29, 2019

Holistic therapies are designed to take a total wellness approach to treatment. While not a proven treatment method for substance use disorders, we will use holistic programming to aid in the recovery process and promote better overall well-being.

In addition to reducing drug cravings, some holistic approaches have been shown to relieve physical discomfort and pain, at the root of many drug cravings. Types of holistic therapies used to treat addiction include:

  • acupuncture
  • chiropractic care
  • massage
  • Tai Chi
  • Ayurvedic medicine
  • Chinese medicine
  • herbal medicine
  • Reiki
  • yoga
  • guided meditation
  • homeopathy
  • naturopathy
  • osteopathy
  • exercise

A complimentary holistic approach to drug and alcohol treatment provides an additional level of emotional and physical support. While genetics most often plays a key role in addiction, environmental and socioeconomic factors, as well as a history of past physical or sexual trauma, can leave someone vulnerable to drugs or alcohol. Holistic therapies seek to improve the physical and emotional well-being of an individual toward empowering their recovery success.

Through the reduction of stress and anxiety relating to these life-circumstances or specific events, as well as use of alternative therapies to relieve chronic pain, multiple studies have revealed similar results- many holistic or alternative therapies compliment traditional, evidence-based drug and alcohol treatment with positive results.

Mechanisms For Success In Applying The Holistic Approach To Addiction Treatment

Theories as to why holistic approaches to treating drug and alcohol addiction are effective abound, and most involve changes in the biochemistry, or better, a restoration of balance to the neural network within the brain and along the central nervous system. Drugs and alcohol wreak havoc on this vital communication network, and holistic therapies like acupuncture, Reiki, yoga, and even exercise do much to induce a positively associated physiological response to decrease stress, perception to physical and emotional pain, and improve overall feelings of well-being.

In some cases, these practices increase endorphins, affecting the body’s opiate receptors, which can reduce pain. If you’ve ever experienced a “runner’s high,” then you’re familiar with both the endorphin and dopamine response. It feels good, and moreover, because it involves the opioid receptors, these practices can reduce cravings for opiate drugs.

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Other mechanisms for the success of a holistic approach include increased neurotransmission of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Gamma-aminobutyric acid is an amino acid that reduces nerve cell communication, resulting in a reduction in anxiety and stress-related symptoms.

Certain parts of the brain are also stimulated with the use of some holistic therapies. Acupuncture, for example, stimulates the hypothalamus, which relates to many functions within the body’s nervous system, as well as the pituitary gland, key in regulating hormones within the body.

Effective Holistic Therapies Used To Treat Drug And Alcohol Addiction

Holistic therapies may be divided up into areas of focus. Some, like chiropractic, involve physical manipulation of the body, others like Reiki or acupuncture, are forms of energy medicine, and some are biologically based, as is the case with herbal medicine or nutritional therapies.

Generally speaking, each is a powerful tool in complementing the recovery process by reducing drug cravings and stress or physical pain. Some are more widely studied than others, as is the case with regular exercise, yoga, chiropractic, and acupuncture. Other therapies may emerge as more or less powerful as research progresses into the effectiveness of each.

Though it may not be the first thing we think of when someone says alternative therapy, simply making time for a walk each day has been shown to increase natural levels of endorphins and dopamine. This combined with nutritional therapy can provide a well-rounded approach to improving overall physical health, while restoring these natural pain and stress relievers.

Exercise as well as yoga are effective in elevating levels of GABA, an important neurotransmitter, which inhibits nerve cell communication, and can reduce anxiety. Studies also indicate a reduction in depression associated with increased GABA neurotransmission among those who practice yoga. The effectiveness of yoga at stress reduction is the primary mechanism for its success as an holistic therapy in treating drug or alcohol addiction.

Acupuncture is a widely studied alternative therapy for drug and alcohol addiction because of its impact on the opioid receptors in the body. Stimulation of these receptors increases the body’s threshold for pain and can reduce cravings for opiate drugs like heroin.

Studies verify that Reiki can reduce feelings of anxiety or depression significantly, and may show similar promise to yoga in addressing these stress-related symptoms.

While guided meditation is effective in reducing blood pressure, and may be utilized as a tool in stress-relief or toward the development of improved coping strategies, research is still ongoing and its effectiveness as an alternative treatment is not yet known. Study results are inconclusive, however, due to its other known health benefits, it may still be used as part of a comprehensive plan to treat a substance use disorder.

Though much research is still underway on the effectiveness of other complementary or holistic therapies, evidence supports the use of exercise and nutritional support, yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, and Reiki as effective complementary holistic therapies in the treatment of substance use disorders.

Most Effective Holistic Therapies for Addiction Treatment:

Locate The Evidence-based Drug And Alcohol Treatment You Deserve

As with any holistic or conventional approach, it is best to locate a treatment style that is both evidence-based and one that will meet your needs. If you or someone you love is suffering with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, is an online resource for the professional support and the evidence-based therapies available to meet your individual needs. Contact us today about a comprehensive treatment plan that will help you on a path to a new and rewarding life in recovery.

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Holistic Rehab For Substance Abuse Infographic

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