Anyone who has been affected by addiction knows that it is a complicated disease, which can impact a person both mentally, physically and even on a spiritual level. Additionally, there is a multitude of factors that worsen an individual’s experience of addiction
, including their financial situation, their environment and their support network.
These days there are many options in regards to treating individuals with an addictive disorder, but is there such a ‘one size fits all’ treatment? Holistic treatments, by definition, treat the individual as a whole. The main idea behind the holistic approach to addiction is to treat each person according to their individual symptoms, causes, triggers and both physical and emotional needs. The holistic approach encompasses both medical and non-medical treatments and often uses them in conjunction with one another to be able to provide healing for both mind and body. Treating the entirety of a person - both physically and mentally - provides an opportunity for lasting recovery and may reduce the risks of future relapses.
So, what treatments and therapies are used in the holistic approach?
One advantage of the holistic approach is that it utilises a vast selection of methods to treat addiction. Although medication
is still often used within the holistic approach, it is almost always combined with one or more non-medical treatments. These can include counselling
, group support, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, pilates and massage therapies. When combined with medication, detox programmes, group therapy and the 12-step programme the chances of success may become even higher. Holistic therapies aren’t designed to replace evidence-based treatments, but rather to complement and enhance them.
Why is it important to treat each person individually?
There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all' treatment. Every individual facing addiction has their own unique history, circumstances, causes, symptoms and triggers – and as such, their road to recovery will be equally unique to them. The holistic approach is specifically designed to treat each individual according to their unique experiences and responses to treatment. Some individuals thrive on group talking therapy, whereas facing large groups could overwhelm others. Equally, some individuals prefer a medical approach to their treatment, whereas others find huge emotional and spiritual benefits to therapies such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness. The benefit of the holistic approach is that the recovery path caters for each individual.
How does it treat the root cause of addiction?
Most medical treatments for addiction are designed to mimic the physiological effects of addiction so that the individual receives relief from withdrawal symptoms
and reduces cravings. They are often accompanied by the prescription of medication to reduce anxiety
and increase the amounts of serotonin and dopamine in the brain to alleviate feelings of depression
. Although these treatments are often highly effective in treating the symptoms, alone they cannot tackle the causes of an individual’s addiction nor address an individual’s triggers. The holistic approach addresses all aspects of an individual, including their emotional and psychological state. In reality, there are a whole host of factors that can affect addiction, and these can include an individual’s state of mind, their current environment and social support and a history of abuse. Furthermore, both genetics and upbringing can make some individuals more prone to addictive behaviours. The use of talking therapy and group work can allow an individual to explore the root of their addiction and allow them to become aware of their triggers so that they can work through any emotional healing and be proactive in their own long-term recovery.
Are using holistic treatments for addiction, controversial?
In a word, yes. Many medical practitioners hold reservations about the effectiveness of many holistic treatments or complementary therapies because of the little evidence currently available on the effectiveness of the treatment of addiction. However, with this in mind, it is only fairly recently that these kinds of treatments have been used in conjunction with addiction so some would argue that there has been little opportunity for any long-term scientific studies. However, the use of evidence-based psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy has been shown to be effective in addition to receiving medication-based treatments. Westley Clark, the director of the Centre for Substance Abuse Treatment of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has been quoted as stating, “SAMHSA endorses the use of evidence-based practices in substance abuse treatment—treatments scientifically shown to be effective. Many evidence-based programs which take a holistic approach to treatment may incorporate aspects of alternative or spiritual healing. These approaches may also be helpful so long as they are used as adjuncts to evidence-based practices.” The holistic approach aims to combine both
medical and non-medical treatments to provide the individual with a greater choice in how they approach their own recovery. A key argument in the holistic therapy debate is that individuals should be informed as to which therapies are science or evidence-based and which are not. Furthermore, it is extremely important for an individual to have the right to request the credentials or qualifications of their holistic therapist to ensure that their provider is fully trained. In Conclusion Treatments for addiction
should always be taken seriously, by both medical professionals and holistic therapists. In the treatment of addiction, each individual will have their own unique journey towards recovery and some of these individuals may prefer a strictly medically-based recovery plan. However, as complementary or alternative treatments become more widely known and accepted, some individuals feel a great benefit from addressing the emotional, mental and even spiritual contributors towards their addiction. The holistic approach aims to combine the best from medical treatments, psychological therapy and complementary therapies in order to provide the individual with the greatest opportunity to recover from their addiction long term, and to reduce the risks of relapse. One cannot argue that a benefit of the holistic approach is that the individual seeking help with addiction will have a greater support network as part of their recovery. Additionally, it can provide an individual with a wide range of day-to-day coping strategies alongside the use of medication. Ultimately, the decision should lay with the individual seeking treatment as they have the right to choose what treatment plan will work best for them and provide them with the tools for a successful recovery. Victoria Sumner