The term “holistic care” keeps popping up more and more in the field of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, but what does this term mean exactly? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of holistic is “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.” In healthcare, holistic treatment means looking beyond just the disease and its symptoms. Holistic care is an effort to bring the mind, body and spirit into alignment.
Treating the Whole Person in Addiction Recovery
SUDs are complex and involve many underlying issues. As we learn more about addiction and unravel its mysteries, the way these disorders are treated continues to evolve. Part of this evolution is an increasing number of SUD treatment facilities offering holistic treatment alongside conventional treatment like therapy and medications. Holistic therapies allow for a more integrated, comprehensive approach that addresses the whole person.
There are many types of holistic treatments such as:
- Nutritional counseling
- Massage therapy
- Art therapy
There are relatively few studies on the effectiveness of holistic methods because they were once relegated to the fringes and have only recently become more mainstream. Despite the limited studies, evidence continues to emerge showing that these and other holistic methods, when combined with conventional treatment, are valuable tools for helping people in recovery to stop using substances and remain abstinent.
Holistic Therapy for Addiction: Yoga
Yoga is a mind-body practice that has roots in ancient India. It pairs breathing with various postures, stretching and sometimes meditation. There are different types of yoga and different disciplines within the practice. Yoga can be extremely helpful for people with substance use disorders who self-medicate to deal with stress and alleviate anxiety. It also induces dopamine homeostasis, which can be beneficial in the management of addictive behaviors.
Holistic Therapy for Addiction: Nutrition Counseling
For years, nutrition education and counseling have not been at the forefront of research or SUD treatment. However, this is slowly beginning to change as studies detect positive associations between nutrition services and substance abuse treatment.
The importance of providing healthy, balanced, calorically appropriate meals for patients in treatment for SUD cannot be stressed enough. According to research (Alyssa Salz, MS, RD, LD, 2014):
“Proper nutrition and hydration are key to the substance abuse healing process because they help restore physical and mental health and improve the chance of recovery. Macro- and micronutrient deficiencies can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low energy, all of which can lead someone to start using drugs or alcohol or trigger a relapse.”
Nutrition education is an essential element of substance use treatment programs and can enhance treatment outcomes. Nutrition education programs need to be included in substance use treatment programs to help patients achieve and maintain optimal health in treatment and throughout the recovery process.
Holistic Therapy for Addiction: Massage Therapy
Massage therapy can be highly effective in treating substance use disorders because it increases dopamine and serotonin levels and decreases cortisol levels in the brain. It can be especially effective early in the recovery process, as there is a significant drop in dopamine levels at this time. Massage can also provide comfort for patients suffering from aches and pains due to the withdrawal process.
Many people who use substances are disconnected from their bodies and have past experiences with touch that were hurtful. Massage allows patients to experience touch as healing rather than something harmful and damaging. It also allows them to feel more connected to the body.
Holistic Therapy for Addiction: Meditation
Meditation has become a common holistic offering at substance use treatment facilities in the past few years. It can help patients improve their impulse control which can in turn decrease relapse rates.
Meditation improves brain health and can be helpful during early recovery as the brain begins to heal from the damage due to alcohol and substance use.
Sara Lazar, a Harvard neuroscientist, discovered that meditating can change the brain. In a study, people who meditated had more gray matter in some regions of the brain. One of those areas was the frontal cortex, the area associated with memory-making and executive decision making. The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain, got smaller in the group that meditated. The amygdala plays an essential role in stress and fear reactions, and the group that meditated reported less stress. For those patients who use substances to self-medicate against stress and anxiety, meditation could help them maintain abstinence during stressful times.
Holistic Therapy for Addiction: Art Therapy
Many of the issues and feelings leading to and surrounding substance use are dark, painful and difficult to talk about and process. Incorporating art therapy into substance use treatment gives patients alternative ways to express and process their feelings. Art therapy can open up and help facilitate discussion in groups and assist patients with building connections. Art therapy can be combined with spiritual components to help patients explore, express and become more in tune with their spirituality.
Casa Palmera offers a unique approach to treating substance use disorders. We are dedicated to being the leader in holistic care because we know how complex and multifaceted people are. We incorporate traditional treatment alongside non-traditional therapies that allow our patients to recover physically, emotionally and spiritually. Treatment is not one size fits all. That is why each patient receives an individualized treatment and aftercare plan to help them on their journey. Call Casa Palmera in Del Mar, California, today at (855) 508-0473 to learn more about our customized holistic approach to treating substance use disorder.