By Kimberly Hayes
What Is Alternative Addiction Treatment, and Is It Right for You?
It’s an unfortunate reality that more people are suffering from addiction, whether it’s alcohol, opioids, or other substances. As people are also seeking treatment, the options for recovery are no longer limited to the traditional 12-step model.
Alternative therapies for addiction can include mindfulness meditation and exercise programs, such as swimming and yoga. These therapies provide a solution for many people who don’t respond to the traditional model, or who simply need a little extra help preventing relapse in recovery. They don’t come without risk, though, so it’s important to look at your unique circumstances before choosing any addiction treatment program.
The Science of Addiction
Some people still debate whether addiction is a disease or a choice, but scientists agree that there is a biological component to substance abuse disorder. As explained in the Harvard Health Blog, brain science explains how someone with substance abuse disorder has a deficit to the part of the brain that controls executive function, or our ability to make choices. This deficit means it isn’t simply a matter of choosing to stop using. Someone who has substance abuse disorder receives signals from their brain that using drugs is associated with pleasure, while the lack of the substance is associated with stress.
How Alternative Treatments Help
The science behind addiction means that treatment has to break this cycle of pleasure/stress signals associated with substance use. While traditional addiction treatment can help, alternative therapies that help you manage stress and replace that “reward” to your brain with a healthier habit can do even more to break this cycle.
Exercise – One of the best healthy habits for overall mental well-being is exercise. Getting your heart rate up releases endorphins, which are the chemicals in your brain that reduce stress and make you feel happy. Because of how addiction affects your brain, finding ways to manage stress and get that “high” feeling in a good way is essential to recovery.
To maximize the mental/physical benefits of exercise, try activities that are naturally relaxing and have a meditative component like yoga or swimming. Many people who are in recovery find that yoga is a form of movement that connects mind, body, and spirit, which helps them reconnect with themselves while lowering stress and anxiety.
Meditation – Experiencing stress and negative events can be a reality of life for everyone, so for someone recovering from addiction, learning how to handle negative experiences without substances is a critical tool for recovery. Learning mindfulness through meditation helps you become more aware of your feelings, accepting them without judgment and detaching from them. This practice of owning your experiences and working through them, rather than reaching for a quick fix to escape them, helps maintain recovery long-term. According to The Fix, mindfulness also helps people in recovery understand that whatever is causing pain has an end, and it also helps you develop patience and perspective.
Alternative Medical Practices – Other alternative addiction treatments include complementary and alternative medical practices, such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy and therapeutic touch. For some people, acupuncture can make withdrawal symptoms less severe, while therapeutic touch can be effective at preventing relapse. Acupuncture and other alternative medical therapies have not been widely studied, so they’re best to use along with other treatment, rather than as a single approach.
Who Should Avoid Alternative Treatment?
One of the most important components of traditional rehab treatment programs is the support. Having professional support, as well as a group of people who have shared experiences, is crucial for long-term recovery. Alternative treatment approaches such as exercise and mindfulness are more individual, so it can be risky to use these treatments without also having professional support.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use alternative therapies along with professional help. In fact, when used as part of a traditional treatment program, alternative therapies are safe and boost your long-term success.