What is Holistic Addiction Treatment?



… It is important that everyone understand that there is no one path to recovery. The path to recovery for individuals with addiction is as individualized as a number of ways and reasons that people become addicted.”

“Many individuals will utilize one or more of the services in their paths to recovery, some will utilize one or more of them several times. The important thing is that all programs will be effective for some, but none will be effective for all.”

~Karen Yost, Executive Director of Prestera Center of West Virginia

If you are looking for drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation for yourself or a loved one, you will quickly find that there are an overwhelming and almost-endless number of choices and options. If this is your first time seeking treatment, it is understandable if you are confused about what the next step to take should be and which choice is best for you and your individual situation.

Take a look at the myriad prevailing approaches to drug and alcohol treatment:

Biology-based– This approach focuses on the fact that addiction is a chronically re-occurring brain disorder that is chiefly characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and abuse/misuse. The main focus is the role of genetics, emphasizing how the brain’s structure and chemistry, along with a person’s genetic predisposition, can in large part determine their behavior.

This approach to addiction aims at correcting the underlying biological cause. The goal is to “restore” or “fix” what is malfunctioning or broken.

For instance, an individual with an abnormal brain chemistry that makes them acutely at risk to drug addiction might be helped with medications that can make drug use less pleasurable and rewarding. Typical medications might include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.

Psychology-based– This approach concentrates on motivating the person to change. One way of achieving this is provide that person with education and counseling about addiction’s true effects on their life and the true personal cost of their addiction.

More importantly, this approach aims at demonstrating the positive benefits of a life of sobriety.

Emphasizing that a person must first want to make a change and must then take the steps to make that change, the psychological approach teaches how to recognize unhealthy negative behavior and thought patterns and more importantly, how to substitute positive alternatives.

A psychological approach attempts to uncover any underlying  issues or past trauma that a person may have suffered. Co-occurring disorders such as PTSD and depression are very common among alcoholics/addicts, so psychological counseling has proven to be extremely beneficial.

Socially/Culturally-based – This approach employs the concept that a person’s social circles can have a profound influence upon their recovery efforts.

This specifically means how friends and family affect and are affected by new day-to-day sobriety. When an addicted person is newly clean and sober, often the group dynamic in the social circle changes so radically that family counseling is necessary.

Alternately, the social-cultural approach may refer to attendance at support groups of other recovering addicts who meet to give and receive support from sharing and discussing their common problems, pains, and experiences. Usually, these are “12-Steps” meetings based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Spiritually-based– This approach to addiction recovery is rooted in the theory that a person’s spirituality can have a positive effect on their drug rehab.

There are two parallel trains of thought with this approach – first, the idea that “Hope” can provide psychological motivation; and second, that recovering addicts/alcoholics can actually gain strength from a “Higher Power”– any force that is outside of and greater than themselves.

There is little question that spirituality has been proven to help recovery. A 2003 study uncovered that patients who stated that they received some type support during addiction recovery from their spirituality or religion were almost twice as likely as those who did not get such support to still maintain their sobriety and refrain from using cocaine and heroin at the five-year mark.

Holistic = Multifaceted = the Best Approach

Among the various treatment paradigms, the holistic approach may be the best, most comprehensive solution, because the focus is on the addicted person as a whole, and treatment is offered encompassing each aspect and – spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical.

A holistic approach will include some or all of the time-tested methods listed above, but it will also include non-traditional therapies such as:

  • stress reduction techniques – According to the National Institutes of Health, stress is a significant contributing factor for developing a problem with drug or alcohol, and also it also plays a major part in relapse. Holistic patients will learn how to use social support, and both coping and problem-solving skills.
  • exercise – A study published in 2010 in Biological Psychiatry showed that rats that perform regular exercise had reduced cravings for cocaine and suffered less damage to their brain’s prefrontal cortex than rats that did not exercise.

Similarly, it was reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health that same year that addicted patients who incorporate exercise into their rehabilitation programs enjoy a much higher quality of life, and even more importantly, a reduction in their drug usage.

  • nutritional therapy – newly-recovered addicts can easily mistake the normal symptoms of hunger –headache, dizziness, nausea, irritability –for a physical craving for drugs or alcohol. The ability to recognize a sensation for what it IS (hunger) instead of what it ISN’T (a craving for drugs) can help the recovering addict keep to things in perspective and allow them to take proper positive actions.
  • acupuncture – Proponents of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) say that addiction is caused from an imbalance in the patient’s liver, and that targeted acupuncture can restore that balance. Also, acupuncture helps calm the individual’s nervous system, taking them out of the “fight-or-flight” mode that many addicts find themselves in.
  • yoga – Adhering to the belief that one of the main causes of addiction is an individual’s inability to cope with painful emotions, memories, or thoughts, yoga focuses on teaching new ways to maintain control and balance. Controlled breathing, for example, helps a person learn self-discipline by keeping their thoughts and emotions in check.
  • massage therapy – Because the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a major part in addiction, massage therapy can potentially play an integral role in helping an addict during recovery.

During withdrawal, the body’s dopamine levels are far lower than normal, and it is this disruption of the brain’s reward center that can make withdrawal so unpleasantly difficult.

In 1998, the Touch Research Institute found that a regimen of regular massage treatment results in a long-term increase in the body’s dopamine levels. In 1989, a study published in General Pharmacology showed that massage therapy can increase the blood’s endorphin levels by 16%.

In addition to helping the person begin to feel good again without drugs, therapeutic massage can also help a person relieve stress and provide a healthy outlet for pent-up emotions.

In 2003, Joni Kosakoski, BSN, RN, CARN wrote “Massage: Hands Down, a Treatment for Addiction” for Counselor, the Magazine for Addiction Professionals. In the article, Kosakoski 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.”

There is a distinct philosophy employed by a holistic addiction treatment program that takes into account the totality of a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Maureen Schwehr, NMD, a craniosacral instructor and naturopathic physician, says, “The spirit is who we really are. Our mind is our thinking brain, and our body houses this. If you’re an addict, you often have to ignore your body, because you are, in essence, hurting your ‘house’.”

Because every person suffering from an addiction is different, there is “no one-size-fits-all” treatment plan that will work 100 percent of the time for 100 percent of patients. One person may benefit fully from one approach, another individual gets everything that they need from a completely different approach, and yet another person may take pieces and bits from numerous strategies to form a whole plan that works just for them.

When taking a journey on the road to recovery, the specific path taken is of far less importance than the arrival at the final desired destination –lasting sobriety. To put it another way, it does not matter how you got here, it only matters that you are finally here.