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Holistic Therapy

Traditional rehab programs for addiction treatment will not work for everyone. With this in mind, some rehab centers are incorporating holistic therapy into their traditional programs to help people in recovery address how substance abuse affects their minds, bodies, and spirits. A holistic approach to medicine involves acknowledging that all three parts of the self are connected and must be treated in tandem.

Focusing on the whole person ensures nothing is left out as people work to recover from their addiction physically, as well as mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Holistic drug addiction treatment has helped some recovering substance users:

  • Manage or end cravings for addictive, harmful substances
  • Manage withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs
  • Reduce stress and tension
  • Effectively address disorders, such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety
  • Change and improve their diets, and develop healthy eating habits
  • Change their views about using addictive substances
  • Make their health and well-being a priority
  • Build a solid foundation for spiritual health and well-being

Holistic Addiction Treatment 

There is a difference between holistic rehab programs and those that follow a traditional model for treating substance addiction.

Rehabs that use traditional approaches to addiction tend to view it as a chronic, progressive brain disease, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and use a treatment model that emphasizes evidence-based practices to treat alcohol and drug abuse. These include psychotherapies, or talk therapies, in which clients examine their thoughts, feelings, and issues related to their substance abuse or addiction. NIDA outlines the steps for a successful treatment program. They are: 

  • Medical detoxification for substance withdrawal symptoms
  • Behavioral counseling (includes group, individual therapy sessions)
  • Medications (for opioid, tobacco, or alcohol addiction)
  • Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse

Programs used in a traditional approach substance abuse recovery include 12-step facilitation therapy and behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Rehab that specializes in holistic drug addiction treatment, on the other hand, addresses addiction with practices that promote the healing of the body, mind, and spirit. They also teach clients how to understand the connection between them. These centers go beyond the physical dependence on addictive substances and guide clients into looking deeply at how addiction affects them in all areas of their lives. Holistic techniques help clients align the body, mind, and spirit with disciplines and therapies that promote balance among them. This balanced approach to living can strengthen clients’ resolve not to return to a life of addiction or habits that could lead them down the path to addiction again.

Some holistic rehabs do not view addiction as a disease. Instead, they may approach addiction as a chemical imbalance or a condition that stems from any number of situations, including emotional imbalances, past events one has been unable to make peace with, or thoughts and beliefs that aren’t rational or even true.

Another key difference between holistic rehabs and traditional rehabs is that holistic-centered ones may practice ridding the body of toxins through natural methods, such as healthy foods and water, and herbal medicines.  People going through an uncomfortable withdrawal may be treated with massages or visits to a spa-like environment where there’s a sauna to ease the symptoms.

Alternative Therapies Involved in Holistic Drug Addiction Treatment

  • Acupuncture – Benefits: This nonverbal intervention can promote calmness and openness and can help develop and improve one’s meditation.
  • Aromatherapy – Benefits: Essential oils such as lavender, sandalwood, and rosemary, among many others, can be used to promote healing from addictions and for recovering users in withdrawal.
  • Art therapy – Benefits: Can lower stress levels, provides nonverbal way to express thoughts and emotions, including anger, pain, and anxiety.
  • Physical exercise – Benefits: Relieves stress and retrains the body how to regulate its own mood and brain chemistry in a natural way; this “moving meditation” can help improve one’s outlook.
  • Massage therapy – Benefits: Touch can release “feel good” hormones of serotonin and dopamine and reduce agitation, stress, and anxiety, and it can help remove waste buildup in the body.
  • Meditation or mindfulness therapy – Benefits: Promotes self-acceptance, increases one’s focus and concentration, and helps with resilience.
  • Music therapy – Benefits: Enhances positivity, connects or reconnects people to their emotions, boosts self-esteem and self-image, and builds coping and problem-solving strategies.
  • Nutritional therapy – Benefits: Promotes healthy eating and teaches how to follow a well-balanced diet; ensures the body receives essential nutrients it needs.
  • Outdoor programs (such as wilderness therapy) – Benefits: Boosts intake of Vitamin D, which is essential to body’s health; relieves stress, improves concentration, helps ease depression, and provides outlet for exercise,
  • Reiki (a Japanese technique in which energy levels are manipulated) – Benefits: Transferral of energy from one person to another reportedly can provide relaxation and improve self-confidence and self-esteem; it may bring clarity and help one discover one’s life purpose.
  • Relationship counseling – Benefits: Helps people face challenging and difficult issues in family and couples’ relationships; it can help mend relationships and bring people closer together in outlook and mutual goals.
  • Spiritual counseling – Benefits: This encourages one to take a look at one’s beliefs and provides space for reexamining those beliefs and gives recovering users a spiritual foundation to build upon and beliefs they can turn to in difficult times.
  • Tai chi – Benefits: Helps people of all ages and increases body strength and mental alertness.
  • Yoga –  Benefits: Enhances mind-body awareness and helps develop one’s mental and physical strengths and improves their flexibility. Yoga also emphasizes devotion, meditation, wisdom, or humanitarian service.

All of these alternative therapies require clients to go beyond the surface to face their thoughts, beliefs, actions, and other things that they neglected when they were in active addiction. Some of them are physically challenging and require that clients test their physical strengths. Holistic approaches also require them to be open to new experiences and rely on help from others who can help them create a better life for themselves.

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Benefits of Holistic Drug Addiction Treatment

If you are not sure if a traditional rehab or a holistic one is right for you, it may be welcome news to hear that it is possible to have the best of both worlds. There are traditional programs that incorporate holistic therapy practices into their traditional treatment models (such as residential, partial hospitalization, and outpatient) to give clients the best possible outcome for their recovery.

The programs use complementary and alternative practices (known as CAM), that at least nearly 30 percent of adults report using, according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, CAM systems, practices, and products are generally not considered a part of conventional medicine. However, holistic therapy practices can be used along with conventional medicine and alternative medicine practices. Integrative medicine use CAM treatments and conventional medicine, the center says.

There are advantages to getting addiction treatment at a rehab that uses holistic therapies with conventional treatment methods. They include:

Specialized help for dually diagnosed clients

A pile of stones labelled mind, body, spirit, and soul

Clients who have a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder at the same time, a condition known as dual diagnosis, can benefit from an integrated approach to addiction care. Mental health care professionals at centers with an integrated approach can evaluate clients and assess what needs they have.

More customized options

Rehab centers that offer a variety of holistic treatments give clients more options to explore in recovery. That means you or your loved one can have more of a say in what you would like to see in the treatment program. Along with seasoned professionals on staff, you or your loved one can get the care you need in the way that is most beneficial to you.

Hands-on participation

Integrated care that uses CAM practices allow clients to take more of hands-on approach to their healing. Participation keeps people engaged in their recovery, because they have invested in the outcome. Practices such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, and many others allow them to examine themselves in a new light and help them focus on evaluating their thoughts and beliefs and take responsibility for their lives. Clients can develop spiritual tools that can help them avoid triggers that often end in relapse, which commonly happens after treatment.

More interest in recovery

Substance abuse treatment programs that use holistic treatments in addition to evidence-based practices might appeal to people who are have not been interested in traditional models of treatment. Having programs that combine the tried-and-true as well as alternative methods can help some people feel more encouraged to complete treatment and start the life of their dreams.

Integrated treatment that combines evidence-based approaches and holistic therapy in rehab has helped many people recover from substance abuse. For example, a person who is in cognitive-behavioral therapy to learn how to change problematic behaviors and dysfunctional thinking may also be participating in music therapy or art therapy so they can learn how to work through their emotions.

Reach out to your personal doctor or a mental health care professional to ask about any therapy you are unsure about. It is important to make sure it is a therapy that is the right fit and beneficial to your recovery.

Does Holistic Therapy Work in Addiction Rehab?

Do therapies such as acupuncture or yoga actually work for people in addiction treatment? The answer to that question depends on the person you ask.

Person undergoing addiction therapy practicing mindfulness

A Psychology Today article written by Anne M. Fletcher M.S., R.D., highlights that some experts say that, in general, there is no evidence that supports claims that holistic approaches benefit addiction recovery. Alternative therapies aren’t evidence-based treatment as one argument goes.

As the Mayo Clinic notes on the topic, doctors who practice conventional medicine are careful about making recommendations for complementary and alternative therapies, because they have not been trained in integrative medicine while others realize scientific evidence doesn’t exist for some CAM therapies.

People who support holistic therapies for addiction recovery say alternative methods can make recovering users open to receiving addiction treatment and those methods can and do support traditional psychotherapies that are evidence-based. Observers say alternative methods keep some people engaged in the recovery process and committed to seeing it through. Incorporating different elements from different approaches can also help create a recovery program that is tailored to a client’s specific needs.

Holistic Therapy FAQ

As relaxing and peaceful as many holistic therapies sound, it is still important to look into any that you are considering and see if they are compatible with your treatment plan and overall recovery goals, both short-term and long-term.

Do your research and ask questions about the therapy or therapies you are interested in. Psychology Today highlights that in some cases, people are not well-informed about the alternative therapy they are considering or how the center goes about ensuring that they will receive quality care. “Handling alternative treatments should be within this context—clients have a right to know, ‘How well does what we do work and what are the risks?’” he said.

Will My Health Insurance Pay for Holistic Addiction Therapies?

Holistic therapy in addiction treatment is expensive. Some health insurance providers may not cover complementary or alternative medicine practices, but some do. The best course of action is to call your insurance company to see what its policy is. The questions you should ask include:

  • Does my insurer cover this treatment?
  • Do I need a referral or prescription from my medical doctor?
  • Will I have to meet a deductible or pay a copay?
  • Is there a limit to the number of visits I can have?

It is advised that you ask the insurance representative about possible additional costs. If your insurance does not cover CAM therapies, you will need to cover the cost out-of-pocket or find another financial resource. If there is no coverage for a specific treatment you want to cover, consider negotiating and see if a payment plan or some other arrangement is possible.

What Else Should You Ask About Holistic Therapy?

Perhaps you will want to ask yourself or your loved one if there is a willingness to be open to ideas that might be different from your own. You do not have to be religious or spiritual to benefit from understanding the perspective that the mind, body, and spirit are connected and that there is a philosophy that all three must be examined for improved chances for a successful recovery.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. Health Consequences of Drug Abuse from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, July). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction from

Fletcher, Anne M., M.S., R.D. (2013, April 2). Holistic Rehab Therapies: Do They Work for Addiction? from

Renter, Elizabeth. (2015, March 9). Does Your Health Insurance Cover Alternative Medicine? from

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