By Naomi Carr
Updated: 29 September 2023 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair
Addiction can be caused by and contribute to many emotional and physical difficulties, impacting all areas of an individual’s personal, professional, and social life. Holistic approaches to addiction treatment can contribute to improvements in each of these areas, helping to provide individuals with the best chance of recovery.
Table of contents:
What is holistic addiction treatment?
The term ‘holistic’ is often used to describe an approach to treating various mental and physical health conditions and addictions. But what does it mean?
Holistic treatments aim to treat the person as a whole, incorporating all aspects of the mind and body into the recovery process. This tends to involve treatments that focus on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, rather than just one aspect, behavior, or symptom of the condition.
This is also the case with holistic addiction treatment, which involves individualized treatment plans that are tailored to meet each person’s needs. These types of treatment are often used alongside traditional medicinal or therapeutic approaches, to help people with substance use disorders on their path to recovery.
Holistic addiction treatment can help people overcome addiction by promoting and teaching healthy lifestyle choices that create positive changes in all areas of their lives. This can include:
Learning about healthy diets
Reducing emotional distress
Improving physical well-being
Improving interpersonal relationships and support networks
Planning for the future
Finding purpose and meaning in life
What types of holistic treatment are there?
A holistic approach to treatment can involve numerous different types of therapy, education, and activity. Some types of holistic treatments that are well-known in mental and physical healthcare and addiction recovery include:
Mindfulness exercises, such as meditation and yoga
Creative and expressive therapies, such as art, music, and dance therapy
Life skills and vocational development
Self-awareness and acceptance
Herbal and plant remedies
Does holistic addiction treatment really work?
Currently, the scientific evidence for holistic addiction treatment is limited, when compared with other treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). At present, few studies have comprehensively investigated this topic. However, there is growing interest in this treatment approach and increasing numbers of reviews on its effectiveness in addiction treatment.
As holistic treatment becomes more widely accepted and used, the benefits of this approach are becoming clearer. Individual aspects of a holistic approach, such as yoga and art therapy, have shown positive outcomes in addiction recovery. Similarly, holistic therapies have been found to be effective in treating various other conditions.
A clear benefit of a holistic approach to addiction treatment is the view that the individual is more than their addiction. Holistic approaches integrate all aspects of the individual’s identity, mind, and body, recognizing that past and present emotions, behaviors, and well-being impact their chance of recovery.
Holistic treatment can focus on each person’s needs, with the understanding that not all people are the same nor will each treatment work in the same way for each person. This means that each person is given the treatment they require to give the best chance of sustained recovery and prevent relapse.
Holistic approaches are not intended to be used as a replacement for traditional treatments, but rather to augment and improve the outcomes of these treatments. Holistic treatments used alongside traditional approaches can help make significant improvements in mental and physical well-being, increase overall functioning, and improve quality of life.
For example, this approach can help people to:
Improve their self-esteem
Learn how to express, understand, and communicate their emotions
Recognize and process past trauma that has contributed to their addiction
Gain more self-awareness and recognize substance use triggers
Use support networks to maintain abstinence and communicate emotional distress
Replace substance use with healthier and less harmful behaviors
Feel an increased sense of purpose
By learning these skills, people can change addictive behaviors and may be better equipped to improve their chances of recovery compared to traditional treatment approaches alone.
Do rehab centers offer holistic treatment?
Some rehab centers will only offer traditional treatment approaches, while others offer a range of treatment approaches with various holistic therapies. Many rehab centers will include common holistic approaches such as mindfulness and meditation, nutritional guidance, exercise, and group talk therapies.
Treatments are likely to vary at each rehab center, so it can be helpful to research places if you are looking for a treatment plan that incorporates specific therapies.
For example, some places may be more focused on a spiritual approach to holistic treatment, involving spiritual guidance and healing, which may not be available at all centers.
Many rehab centers that offer holistic treatment will be committed to creating an individualized treatment plan that meets your needs, with a range of treatments and therapies available.
Holistic approaches to recovery
The most effective holistic approaches to addiction recovery will often vary depending on the person, their past and present experiences, and what they hope to get out of their treatment. Several holistic approaches can be used to form an individualized treatment plan, including the following.
Yoga and meditation
A big part of holistic treatment is the learning and use of mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is a way of reconnecting to the mind and body and bringing awareness back to the present moment.
Yoga and meditation can be considered mindfulness techniques. Meditation uses breathing and stillness to increase self-awareness and allow the individual to observe their thoughts and feelings. Yoga uses breathing and movement, to not only bring awareness to the mind but also to the physical sensations experienced in the present.
These practices can help in addiction recovery by improving impulse regulation, creating a deeper connection between the body and mind, and helping to reduce negative emotions.
Addiction can often take a toll on physical health, so an important part of recovery is to improve nutrition and physical well-being. This can involve education about the nutrition our bodies need to function, how to form and maintain a healthy and balanced diet, and how to cook nutritious meals.
Similarly, exercise can help to improve physical well-being, and therefore aid in the recovery process. Additionally, exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, increase cardiovascular health, and provide an outlet for emotions such as anger and stress.
Many rehab centers offer a variety of exercises and outdoor activities, such as group sports, running, hiking, horseback riding, dance, yoga, and tai chi.
Within these treatment programs, exercise does not need to be competitive or exhausting. Instead, it can be used to provide numerous mental and physical health benefits, connect with nature, and build relationships, all of which can be helpful in the path to recovery.
Many different types of expressive therapies can be used to enhance addiction treatment, such as art therapy, music therapy, equine therapy, and dance therapy. These techniques can provide a space to express emotions, feel free of expectation and judgment, and connect with deep or hidden thoughts and feelings that aren’t easily processed in talk therapy.
This can be particularly beneficial for people who struggle to communicate their emotions verbally and can improve confidence and self-esteem. Creative therapies are increasingly being studied for their effectiveness in addiction treatment. They are becoming more widely accepted and recognized as evidence-based treatments.
For many centuries, acupuncture has been seen as an effective treatment in Eastern countries. It is becoming more widely used in Western treatment and is often an important part of the holistic approach.
It has been found to cause changes in brain chemistry, directly affecting mood and impulse regulation. This can have significant benefits in addiction recovery, decreasing the chance of relapse, reducing physical and emotional pain, and contributing to mind and body relaxation.
Individual and group talk therapies
Traditional psychotherapy approaches, such as CBT and psychodynamic therapy, are effective treatments in addiction recovery. Many rehab centers offer these traditional approaches, which can have significant mental health benefits and reduce addictive behaviors.
Holistic approaches to talk therapy can involve individual or group discussions, allowing people to share experiences and support one another. This might involve therapies focused on spiritual healing and guidance, mindfulness skills and practice, art and creative writing, understanding and improving relationships, and personal development.