Holistic Approach to the Addiction Recovery Process

Executive Summary

Came across a great article written by Lucy R. Waletzky and Marsha J. Handel on behalf of the American Holistic Health Association that we are sharing below on the topic of holistic remedies that are used to treat addiction. 

As with every health condition, decreasing stress and boosting one’s immunity and psychological resilience can help the body cope better, heal more quickly, and maintain health. The holistic approach encourages the patient to include healing strategies that support the whole person. For the best chance of success, the healing approaches mentioned below need to be combined with total abstinence, a 12 step program and other addiction recovery resources.

Contact People: Lucy R. Waletzky, MD, Marsha J. Handel, MLS; American Holistic Health Association

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There are many healing modalities that offer specific benefits related to withdrawal and relapse prevention. These modes of care can help to reduce tension, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, improving overall mental, physical and spiritual well being. They also provide tools that help increase control over one’s behavior in positive ways.[1]

Many of the healing approaches described are currently used in addiction treatment centers and are increasingly being studied in scientific clinical trials. Some studies of acupuncture, brainwave biofeedback and meditation have already shown dramatically improved success rates.

Acupuncture - Auricular, or ear, acupuncture is based on the idea that points in the ear are associated with specific parts of the body. Thus acupuncture needles placed in the ear can achieve a therapeutic effect anywhere in the body. Acupuncture is often used to reduce symptoms related to withdrawal and detoxification and may also have a role in relapse prevention by reducing anxiety, craving, irritability, the inability to focus, and muscle aches.

Biofeedback - Biofeedback uses instruments to provide information back to patients on their internal bodily processes so they can then learn to change those processes. This can include reducing muscular tension, heart and respiratory rate, and blood pressure, for example. Biofeedback has been found effective in several aspects of addiction treatment such as stress reduction and anxiety sensitivity, a fear of arousal-related bodily sensations that are interpreted as signs of impending catastrophe. Anxiety sensitivity is thought to increase drug withdrawal severity and to lower tolerance for withdrawal symptoms. People practicing biofeedback often say they gain psychological confidence when they learn they can control their physiology.

Brain Wave Biofeedback (neurofeedback) -  In this type of biofeedback patients learn to alter their brainwave patterns. In one type of neurofeedback, the training involves restoring a normal pattern of alpha and theta waves which are disturbed by long-term substance abuse. Brainwave biofeedback has shown dramatic success in several studies to prevent relapses from drug and alcohol addiction.

Exercise -  Exercise provides benefits on many levels – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – that can contribute to the process of addiction recovery. A regular exercise program can boost mood and immunity, increase self-esteem, improve sleep, increase vitality, and promote a deepened awareness of the connection between mind and body.

Herbal Therapy - Herbs are natural botanical substances that have effects on the body. Many herbs have long been used in detoxification. Among the herbs currently being studied are ginseng for its effect on drug tolerance and dependence, kudzu for its potential to moderate alcohol abuse, kava and valerian to treat insomnia that accompanies withdrawal, and milk thistle to improve liver function. 

Hypnosis -  Hypnosis is a state of heightened awareness that creates an openness to learning. This state of focused attention and concentration can be induced by the self or by a therapist. Hypnosis can be used as part of a total recovery program by re-enforcing ideas and suggestions compatible with a person’s goals, and can help clients reach their goals in more rapid, reliable and safe ways.

Meditation - There are many different types of meditation which all work to quiet the mind and promote relaxation and mental clarity. In particular, studies have shown Transcendental Meditation's (TM) effectiveness in reducing the rate of relapse. In addition to reducing tension and anxiety, TM may also enhance a sense of control in anxiety-provoking situations that strengthen the long-term resistance to stress.

Nutrition - How we eat can have a powerful effect on how we feel and how well our bodies function. Diet and nutritional supplementation can strengthen our immune systems, improve mood, enhance the natural process of detoxification, and restore the body to a healthy balanced functioning level. 

Prayer -  Prayer can have a strong impact on healing by deepening one’s inner spiritual awareness and connection to a higher power. It can help people cope with stress, provide a sense of hope and optimism, reduce feelings of powerlessness and isolation, and enhance a deeper sense of safety and well-being.

Qigong - Qigong, a traditional Chinese health practice, consists of a series of slow-moving exercises, breath work, visualizations, and meditation. These serve to gather and stimulate the movement of energy (or Qi) in the body. Qigong is believed to have general health promoting and healing effects. It has also been shown to be helpful in addiction by lessening anxiety and promoting more rapid reduction of withdrawal symptoms during detoxification.

Yoga -  The techniques of yoga, which include stretching, diaphragmatic breathing, guided relaxation and meditation, can induce the relaxation response and have other profound restorative effects. Regular practice of yoga can increase flexibility, calm the mind, improve concentration, and promote patience. It can also contribute to a greater sense of control in more acute states when experiencing cravings, insomnia, and agitation.

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