Fear of going through alcohol or drug withdrawal holds many people back from seeking treatment. When you first quit substances and your body detoxes, you’ll likely experience acute physical side effects that can last up to two weeks. Then, as your mind readjusts to functioning without substances, you’ll enter the post-acute withdrawal stage. Although this might seem daunting, combining traditional treatment modalities with holistic practices can help ease withdrawal symptoms and significantly improve the success of your recovery.
What Does “Holistic” Mean?
If we take a step back, some people might be unsure of what “holistic” actually means. Holistic drug rehabilitation aims to treat the whole person—their mind, body, and spirit—rather than just the physical aspects of their addiction. This type of treatment is used to complement evidence-based treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing, to address the underlying causes of your addiction. Holistic techniques may include yoga, mindfulness, and meditation which teach you how to use healthy coping strategies and nurture your overall well-being for lifelong recovery.
How Withdrawal and Stress Lead to Relapse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of those suffering from a substance misuse problem relapse after completing treatment. A large reason behind this is that many people have difficulty coping with withdrawal symptoms.
The severity of withdrawal varies greatly from person to person, depending on how long they have been using substances as well as the physical and emotional toll that the drug has taken on them. Acute withdrawal symptoms often include tremors, nausea, and muscle aches while post-acute symptoms range from mood swings to insomnia. All these side effects can disrupt your daily life and lead to higher levels of stress.
While traditional treatment programs offer prescription medications to relieve any discomfort, these usually target physical symptoms and don’t teach you how to manage stress. How an individual handles stress can have a tremendous effect on their success in recovery. If a person turns back to their substance of choice to escape from stress or pain, it can not only lead to relapse but also turn into a vicious negative spiral.
Fortunately, studies have shown that a wide range of stress-relieving, holistic therapies can alleviate both emotional and physical withdrawal discomforts.
What Are Some Holistic Practices?
The soothing effect of holistic techniques can become a powerful coping mechanism if you are dealing with withdrawal symptoms, drug or alcohol cravings, an emotional imbalance, and a lack of spiritual grounding. Again, holistic practices are complementary and should be used alongside a traditional treatment approach which includes counseling. Below is a list of proven holistic therapies and their benefits:
Acupuncture – First developed in China over 5000 years ago, acupuncture has proven to be an excellent complement to addiction counseling services, offering clients relief from chronic pain and withdrawal symptoms as well as promoting mental clarity. Fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points in your body, also known as acupoints, to release pressure and allow energy to flow freely.
Although the benefits of acupuncture are still being researched, one study showed that ear acupuncture had real promise in easing opioid withdrawal pain because it stimulated the production of endorphins. Other potential benefits include improved mental and physical state and reduced muscle aches, anxiety, and cravings.
Yoga – Yoga is a spiritual activity that combines meditation, body positioning, and breathing exercises. If you’re overwhelmed by stress, yoga can ground you and allow your mind to concentrate and focus on the present. You don’t need to be an expert to reap the benefits of this physical practice. Doing different yoga poses gives you a natural high and “feel-good” emotions many people look for. This effective relapse prevention tool can improve blood circulation, minimize the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, help manage emotions, stop racing thoughts, and ease cravings.
Massage Therapy – Massages have been proven to increase the production of feel-good neurotransmitters known as dopamine and serotonin while reducing cortisol levels. This holistic practice can be especially beneficial during the early stages of recovery when dopamine levels drop drastically. Oftentimes, people in recovery fear physical touch or have low self-esteem. Many experts report that massages are not about giving their clients pleasure, but rather showing them how to relax and get connected to themselves.
Meditation – Meditation means to engage in contemplation or reflection by concentrating on your breathing or repeating a mantra. Everyone meditates differently and it’s most important that you meditate in a way that works for you. Meditation can happen in a silent room or with music. It might happen alone or with other people. No matter how it’s done, consistency is the key because the more you practice, the better results you will have.
Over time, you will find that meditation allows you to detach from the stress and obligations of everyday life and become more connected with yourself. You might learn to self-love as well as become more compassionate with others around you. In addition, many people going through withdrawal experience reduced anxiety, increased relaxation, and more emotional stability.
Qigong – Dating back thousands of years in China, qigong is a holistic treatment practice that involves specific postures and sequences of gentle movements, coupled with changes in mental focus, breathing, coordination, and relaxation. Qigong is associated with lower anxiety levels, reduced withdrawal symptoms, and higher success rates in treatment.
Aromatherapy – Aromatherapy uses plant extracts to assist people in recovery who are dealing with physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. When you smell the fragrances from the oils, your limbic system is activated, which is the area of the brain that helps control emotion. In the PAWS stage, many people report experiencing periods of confusion or brain fog. Essential oils like sage and rosemary can help combat this by sharpening concentration and mental clarity. And if you are having digestive issues or stomachaches, peppermint and ginger are great solutions to ease the pain.
Sweat Lodge – A sweat lodge is a purification ceremony that was first developed by Native Americans. In a relaxing, judgment-free environment, you and other individuals in recovery gather in a dome structure to cleanse your mind, body, and spirit of your addiction. Hot rocks are laid across the floor, heated by a fire outside the lodge. You will sweat out impurities and any toxins during the ceremony and sometimes the leader repeats a mantra or prayer. Sweat lodges are an intense spiritual experience and empower many people to push forward in their recovery.
Forest Bathing – This is a spiritual activity that involves spending time in a forest and becoming immersed in nature through the smells, sounds, and feelings associated with a forest. This process can relieve stress and promote a calming effect on the individual and even decrease blood pressure.
Holistic therapies can make a huge difference in reducing withdrawal symptoms and improving recovery success rates. They decrease stress and increase one’s psychological resilience, leading an individual to be more relaxed which studies show helps the body heal at a faster rate. By integrating holistic therapies into one’s recovery, a person not only protects the integrity of their recovery but also improves the overall quality of their life.