Exploring Alternative Treatments for Addiction

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that of the more than 22 million people who need treatment for a substance abuse issue, only 2.5 million actually receive treatment.

Just as there is no one cause of addiction, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Some fare better with inpatient rehab; others, from outpatient therapy. While the main components of addiction treatment—therapy, group and individual counseling, medication—are similar, rehab centers have recognized the value that alternative addiction treatments bring to recovery.

Alternative treatments during initial recovery phases

These complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments offer holistic treatment options that may include natural products like herbs/botanicals, vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and special diets.

CAM also includes mind and body practices—activities and techniques taught or conducted by trained professionals to help people accomplish a specific goal, reduce the addiction’s symptoms, and continue their recovery.

Those practices include yoga, meditation, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation, tai chi, Qigong, hypnotherapy, movement therapies, deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and music/expressive arts therapy.

Learn more about CAM here.

Alternative treatments and support during the long-term recovery phase

Many know about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which are faith-based 12-step groups that emphasize faith in a higher power and reliance on social support systems, but these programs don’t work for everyone. A growing sector of other recovery groups with different philosophies share the same end goal—to break the addiction cycle.

These groups include:

SMART Recovery, a nonprofit, nationwide group that teaches its members how to live a balanced life; cope with urges and cravings; manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and build and main motivation. The group also promotes self-reliance, support, and ownership.

LifeRing, an abstinence-based alternative to AA, enables members to recognize, deconstruct, analyze, and accept the dichotomy of addiction—the part that seeks sobriety and the part struggling to resist urges to abuse or use substances. The organization cultivates and fosters peer interaction to empower individuals and encourage personal growth.

Women For Sobriety (WFS), an organization that caters to women who struggle with alcoholism, uses the New Life Program based on the Thirteen Affirmations—addressing addiction’s powerlessness and promoting emotional and spiritual growth. It encourages participants to change negative behavior by changing thinking habits.

A healthy diet’s contribution to addiction recovery

Addiction can lead to many long- and short-term health issues, including cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, diabetes, malnutrition, gastrointestinal issues, increased or decreased appetite, poor sleep habits, dehydration or electrolyte imbalance issues. Many rehab centers offer nutritional counseling in addition to the traditional psychologically-focused therapies. Dieticians work with patients to strategize healthier eating habits that include avoiding or drastically reducing intake of sugar and caffeine; choosing easily-digestible foods high in fiber and lean protein; and adding in healthy foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, fresh fish, poultry, and lean meat to ensure patients get the vitamins and minerals their bodies need.

Incorporating exercise to supplement addiction recovery

Addiction can result in serious physical health issues that exercise can reverse or at least halt. In addition to reintroducing healthy endorphins to the body, exercise is a integral part of total wellness and also provides the perfect vehicle for adding routine and structure.

Physical activity increases cardiovascular health and improves the immune system. It facilitates a return to a healthier sleep cycle. It’s a healthy way to relieve stress, tension, and anxiety, and it offers a positive activity with which to fill time no longer used by the addiction. Exercise not only heals the body but the mind, too, by increasing nerve connections in the brain, which help it recover from the effects of substance abuse.

Ideally, the best addiction treatment is the one that works for you

For some, mindfulness, meditation, and other techniques CAM uses to teach recovering addicts how to recognize and handle triggers, forgive themselves, and make better, healthier choices are much more effective than traditional treatments. If any of these methods sound like they might offer you some relief, talk to your doctor about how to safely get started with one or more alternative treatments.

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