The treatment of substance abuse disorders such as alcoholism or drug addiction is so serious that service providers should always use every available tool. In fact, because addiction is an insidious, progressive disease that is virtually always fatal if left untreated, NOT using any means necessary should be unthinkable. Currently, the vast majority of addiction treatment programs in Washington State use what can only be described as a “cookie-cutter” strategy – a combination of individual counseling, group therapy sessions, educational classes, relapse prevention instruction, and fellowship groups based upon the famous 12 Steps. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that approach – in fact, it should be the “base” strategy for all addiction recovery programs. But what if there is more that can be done – what if there are other strategies that are too “alternative” or too cutting-edge to be as-yet widely offered?
Could a Holistic Approach to Addiction Recovery Be the BEST Approach?
Many of the best drug rehabilitation programs in Washington and the rest of the country add to that base strategy by taking a more integrative approach that includes holistic addiction treatment options. A holistic approach to recovery is based on the idea that addiction affects the whole person, which means that to be effective, treatment should also address the disease on multiple levels, including:
When giving his official opinion, Dr. Westley Clark, MD, JD, MPH, who for 16 years served as Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said: “SAMHSA endorses the use of evidence-based practices in substance abuse treatment – treatments scientifically shown to be effective. Many evidence-based programs that take a holistic approach to treatment may incorporate aspects of alternative or spiritual healing. These approaches may also be helpful, so long as they are used as adjuncts to evidence-based practices.”
What are Some of the Cutting-Edge Treatments Used by the best Drug Rehabs in Washington State?
One of the best things about incorporating holistic treatments into a recovery strategy is the fact that there are so many different options that can be beneficial:
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture, the practice of treating numerous conditions by inserting needles into specific points of the body, has been in practice since 2500 BC. Numerous clinical trials have been conducted since 1970, and the majority agree that acupuncture is an effective strategy for the treatment of opioid addiction.
- Art therapy – This is an expressive therapeutic technique whereby the patient draws, paints, sculpts, or uses other media to communicate feelings that cannot easily put into words. Exposure to traumatic events can play a role in the development or continuation of addiction, and art therapy can allow the healing process to begin, as the patient processes the experience.
- Equine-Assisted therapy – Working with horses in a therapeutic setting has been found to be beneficial in the promotion of the personal development of people who are recovering from addiction. EAT can help the patient learn teamwork, communication, confidence, self-esteem, and social interaction. A 2013 review published in Health Psychology said, in part, “the evidence is promising in support of the effectiveness of complementary adjunct interventions employing equines.
- Exercise – In 2010, a report published in Biological Psychiatry described how laboratory rats that engaged in regular exercise experienced reduced cravings for cocaine, and showed less damage to their brain’s prefrontal cortex than other rats that were not allowed to exercise regularly.
Also in 2010, the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health reported that addiction patients whose recovery programs included exercise regimes showed a marked reduction in their drug usage and enjoyed a quality of life that was “significantly greater”.
- Massage therapy – Massage plays an important role in helping recovering addicts because of its effect on dopamine levels. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure.
When an addict or alcoholic is experiencing withdrawal, dopamine levels are much lower than normal, resulting in harshly unpleasant symptoms.
In 1998, the Touch Research Institute discovered that a routine of regular massage can result in a lasting increase in dopamine levels. The next year, it was reported in General Pharmacology that therapeutic massage can increase endorphin levels by 16%.
In other words, therapeutic massage can help the substance abuser feel good again naturally—without the need for alcohol or drugs—and can provide a healthy outlet for repressed emotions, thereby relieving stress.
In a 2003 article for Counselor, the Magazine for Addiction Professionals, Joni Kosakoski, BSN, RN, CARN, wrote, “Emotional release can commonly occur with massage, which provides a safe, non-threatening opportunity to begin the process of recovering long-buried emotions and memories.”
- Pet therapy – Also known as Animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, this option is used in the treatment of a wide variety of chronic illnesses, including addiction. It is hypothesized that people bond with animals because early human survival was dependent upon cues from animals about whether their surroundings were safe or contained any threats. There are a number of physical and psychological benefits realized through AAT, including:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Lowered heart rate
- Increased endorphin levels
- Decreased stress
- Lessened feelings of anxiety, tension, and anger
- Increased feelings of trust, empowerment, and self-esteem
- Improved social functioning
- Poetry therapy – Properly known as “bibliotherapy”, helps people in recovery by giving them a healthy way to properly process, express, and release pent-up emotions that may have been blocked by the emotional and cognitive changes of addiction.
Poetry therapy is done in two stages, typically in a group setting.
First, group members will read aloud from a piece of verse that the therapist chooses. This selection is meant to represent those emotions and experiences that are common among people with substance abuse disorders.
Then, the group is asked to write down the feelings that the verse evoked within them. Specifically, they are asked to express what they felt in relation to their addiction or any other traumatic events in their past.
The therapist guides the group and encourages members to share what they have written, and group members can then comment with their own response, either to the original piece of verse, efforts of their peers, or both.
This helps greatly with the isolation and disconnection typically filled by most addicts/alcoholics. When a person hears the supportive words of others in the group, they understand that their feelings and experiences are common to others as well, and they begin to stop feeling so alone.
From this fellowship, every person in attendance can draw inspiration and strength from the other.
- Psychodrama –This therapy method uses theatrical methods such as role-playing or dramatization as a means of helping clients process experiences and emotions to gain insight into their lives and about their disease of addiction.
This is not just another variation of talking—this is experiential therapy.
Rather than just talking about their problems, clients work through their issues in a hands-on manner, safely within a supervised, therapeutic environment. In this way, they are able to gain a new perspective on how their addictive behaviors affect both themselves and others, shaping the relationships in their life.
The hope is that along with this new perspective also comes the desire to practice new behaviors.
- Somatic experiencing – This is a therapeutic method which aims at overcoming the symptoms of PTSD or other health problems caused by physical or mental trauma—including substance abuse disorders.
The idea is that traumatic experiences such as childhood abuse, violence, divorce, rape, etc., cause disturbances in the autonomic nervous system. Unlike animals, humans typically do not rapidly recover from incidents of trauma, and this can lead to disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
SE involves working face-to-face with the therapist in order to resolve any physical dysregulation that may still linger in the patient’s body following the traumatic experience.
Sessions do not typically focus on talking about past trauma. Instead, clients are guided by the therapist in order to experience small portions of the traumatic event—feelings, physical sensations, images, etc.—so they can fully release any resultant stored tension and restore balance to their nervous system.
- Yoga – Tracing its origins back to India, yoga is a spiritual/mental/physical set of disciplines stressing optimal mind and body health through body positions and controlled breathing. Several studies over the years have shown that the practice of yoga provides several physical and mental benefits:
- Adrenal regulation
- Stress reduction
- Mood stabilization
- Decreased anxiety
- Lower blood pressure
- Heightened immunity
- Better sleep
Although all of these are beneficial, the improvement in sleep quality is absolutely critical. Poor sleep is the most frequently heard complaint from people new to recovery. It is often the reason people relapse.
Dr. Sat Bir Singh Kalsa, PHD who is an Associate Neuroscientist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at the Departments of Medicine and Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, had this to say about the practice of yoga as it applies to the disease of addiction:
“When people take substances, they’re seeking a certain experience…just wanting to get away from whatever it is making them unhappy. Yoga is an alternative -a positive way to generate a change in consciousness that…empowers people with the ability to access a peaceful, restorative inner state that integrates mind, body, and spirit.”
Make no mistake – addiction is a disease with many contributing causal factors, so there is no one single type of treatment that will offer a cure or even always be particularly effective when used alone. But when used in combination, each may add just enough to where the sum total makes a real difference. Northpoint Recovery—conveniently located in Boise, Idaho, is the #1 addiction recovery program in the Inland Northwest. In addition to offering a nationally-recognized Evidence-Based Treatment plan, Northpoint also maximizes every patient’s chances of successful recovery by thinking “outside of the box” and employing several of the cutting-edge alternative treatments listed above. If you or someone you care about suffers from a substance abuse disorder manifesting as drug addiction or alcoholism, contact Northpoint Recovery today, and get the help and hope you need.