The path to recovery from addiction can be a rocky one--full of twists, turns, setbacks, and disappointments--but it can also be one of the most rewarding and, well, lifesaving experiences you ever have.
In 2017, nearly 20 million Americans reported battling substance abuse. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of 67,367 Americans in 2018 alone. Between 1999 and 2018, drug overdose death rates have risen dramatically, claiming more than 750,000 lives. Two-thirds of these deaths are caused by highly addictive opioids, which have saturated the market with easily accessible prescription and synthetic options.
Addiction is a complex disease. In the vast majority of cases, unmet emotional, psychological, and physical needs drive the addiction to begin with and keep it in motion despite efforts to stop; without addressing the underlying causes, it’s nearly impossible to overcome the addiction.
Addiction stems from and causes damage to mind, body, and spirit. Therapies that leave out any one of these things are dangerously incomplete and can set a well-intentioned person on a frustrating path of relapse, disappointment, and defeat. That’s why holistic treatments are such an important part of addiction treatment: they treat the whole person--mind, body, and spirit.
Holistic medicine is often misunderstood as a collection of alternative therapies that reject medical science and lack any real evidence or benefit: therapies that promise much, but don’t really do anything.
On the contrary, holistic medicine doesn’t reject medical science--it embraces treatments of all types and origins, including conventional medical therapies. It recognizes alternative medicine as a vital complement to conventional medical therapies. One cannot succeed without the other.
According to the American Holistic Health Association,
“Holistic medicine is the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat disease, and most importantly, to promote optimal health.”
The principles of holistic medicine, according to the American Holistic Health Association, reveal a dedication to finding the best treatments, not the most natural as some have associated with the practice:
- Holistic physicians embrace a variety of safe, effective options in diagnosis and treatment including education for lifestyle changes and self-care, complementary alternatives, and conventional drugs and surgery.
- Treating the underlying cause is preferable to treating symptoms alone.
- Prevention is preferable and more cost-effective.
- Illness is viewed as a manifestation of dysfunction of the whole person, not just an isolated event.
- A major determinant of healing outcomes is the quality of the physician-patient relationship, in which patient autonomy is encouraged.
- Physicians significantly impact patients by their example.
- Illness, pain, and the dying process are learning experiences for the patient and physician.
- Holistic physicians encourage patients to evoke the healing power of love, hope, humor and enthusiasm, and to release the toxic consequences of hostility, shame, greed, depression, and prolonged fear, anger, and grief.
- Unconditional love is life’s most powerful medicine. Physicians strive to adopt an attitude of unconditional love for patients, themselves, and other practitioners.
- Optimal health is much more than the absence of sickness. It is the conscious pursuit of the highest qualities of the physical, environmental, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social aspects of the human experience.
The holistic approach to health sets patients struggling with all sorts of illnesses on a better, stronger path to recovery, and it’s especially necessary and helpful in treating addiction, which so aggressively affects every part of a person--mind, body, and spirit.
Alternative and conventional medicine both serve essential functions in treating addiction. Modern medical treatments act as firefighters: they come in and put out your body’s fires. Alternative medical treatments are the rebuilding team: they take away broken, burnt, and damaged things, and replace them with sound, stable, fire-proof structures. Rebuilding can’t take place until the fire is extinguished, but without it, you’re just left with a burnt down structure that will flame back up at the introduction of a spark.
During the detoxification process, conventional medical intervention often must take the driver’s seat; the effects can be severe and even life-threatening. But even in the detox phase, alternative treatments are often used to produce calm and balance in such a physically intense situation.
Once the fire is out and detoxification is over, alternative medicine can take a more active role than conventional medical treatments in the rebuilding process. Here again, both pieces are essential to successful recovery in many cases--though some do find success with no conventional medical intervention at this stage.
Holistic addiction therapy dramatically improves the chances of lasting recovery. It makes patients feel more productive, satisfied, and response-able in their recovery. This sense of autonomy and control over the recovery process is a powerful motivator, helping break the cycle of disappointment and relapse so many struggle with.
A holistic approach to recovery involves many different types of physical and emotional treatments, including nutrition therapy, acupuncture, meditation, exercise, massage, as well as group and individual therapy, and medication management with drugs like Suboxone.
Nutrition therapy is a vital part of addiction recovery. Macro- and micronutrient deficiencies can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and low energy, which can trigger substance abuse to begin with as well as increase the likelihood of relapse if not addressed.
Even in cases where nutritional deficiencies did not lead to initial substance abuse, drug and alcohol abuse lead to nutritional deficiencies, which can then impair the recovery process. Addressing these deficiencies with a nutritional and herbal supplement regimen and nutrition counseling increases the likelihood of lasting recovery.
Nutrition therapy and education serves to heal and nourish the body damaged by alcohol or substance abuse, stabilize mood and reduce stress, reduce cravings for drugs and alcohol, address the medical conditions that are co-occurring or have resulted from substance abuse, and encourage self-care and a healthful lifestyle.
Acupuncture and similar energy therapies have several benefits for addiction recovery. It can be used to treat chronic and acute pain, which is often the driving force behind opioid addiction; it reduces the impact and perception of stress; it decreases inflammation; it stimulates neural regeneration; and it impacts neuroendocrine activity. There is solid evidence that acupuncture helps relieve depression, anxiety, and insomnia--conditions that often go hand in hand with addiction.
Mindfulness meditation is a way of bringing nonjudgmental self-awareness to thoughts, feelings, and present moment experiences with an emphasis on acceptance. It’s a particularly helpful practice in addiction recovery because it has shown benefits in depression, anxiety, pain, and stress-coping, getting to the root cause of many addictions rather than temporarily covering up the symptoms.
Exercise is a powerful tool in addiction therapy. It helps bolster the mind-body connection, releases endorphins for elevated mood, reduces stress and tension--known relapse risk factors,--and brings needed structure to the day. It promotes feelings of autonomy and control over recovery in a way that few other things can.
All of these alternative therapies, and many others not mentioned here, are an integral part of treating the whole person--mind, body, and spirit,--getting to and treating the root cause of the addiction, and promoting well-being, motivation, and feelings of autonomy throughout the recovery process. Combining these methods with conventional medical therapies--taking the holistic approach--increases the chances of lasting recovery; it gives so many struggling people the ability to break the cycle of relapse and defeat. Give yourself victory over addiction!