Therapies for alcohol addiction often include medications and formalized therapy sessions with a licensed addiction counselor. These methods have been proven effective in countless studies, and they’re often the first form of therapy that medical professionals turn to in order to help their patients overcome a serious alcoholism issue.
But, just because they’re the most commonly used forms of therapy doesn’t mean they’re the only forms of therapy that are available for people who need help with an addiction issue. In fact, there are a significant number of other therapies that can be used in the fight against alcoholism. Some of these therapies fall under the holistic heading, meaning that they don’t rely on pharmaceutical methods or treatments developed by Western medicine. Instead, these therapies use a more natural approach, helping clients to heal damage and recover from addiction in a more organic fashion.
Recovery Through Fitness
There’s an old joke that states that the only form of exercise a person needs involves bending the elbow, bringing a drink from the bar to the person’s mouth. It might sound amusing, but the sad fact is that many people who abuse alcohol on a regular basis truly do not get other forms of exercise. Alcoholic drinks also contain a significant amount of calories. Combining a high intake of calories with a low amount of exercise could result in a significant amount of weight gain, and people who carry about a significant amount of extra weight can also feel a significant amount of depression, which might lead them back to drinking. Fitness programs can help people to lose weight and shed the extra pounds that alcoholism has caused, and this could provide the mental boost people need to feel better about themselves, and thereby feel less compelled to drink.
Exercise programs can also help to reverse the physical damage that alcoholism has done. For example, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, alcohol can have a severe impact on bone health by:
- Increasing production of parathyroid hormones, which can reduce calcium reserves in the body
- Reducing production of vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption
- Reducing testosterone levels in men
- Reducing estrogen levels in women
- Increasing cortisol levels, which decreases the formation of bones and increases the breakdown of bones
For all of these reasons, people with a history of alcoholism are at increased risk for osteoporosis, as compared to people who do not abuse alcohol. Adding weight-bearing exercise into an alcohol recovery program could help to reverse this damage.
Exercise also encourages the body to release endorphins. These chemicals help to reduce pain and increase the sensation of happiness and contentedness. These sensations allow a person to continue with exercise for a longer period of time, but they can persist long after an exercise session is over. Rather than taking antidepressants to assist with a low mood, some people in recovery find that a brisk walk or a jog on the treadmill can help improve their mood.
Paying Attention to Nutrition
Some Western medicine treatments for addiction use medications to attempt to help correct imbalances in the body that have been caused by years of alcoholism. While these therapies might be effective, some programs prefer to focus on basic nutrition. By paying close attention to what their clients are eating, addiction professionals can help to ensure that the diet will help the person heal, but the nutrition program may have additional benefits that go beyond basic pharmacology.
Alcoholism can lead to chronic deficiencies in B vitamins. These vitamins have a major role to play in mental health, and people who do not have enough of them may struggle with depression and/or insomnia.
Some medical professionals ask their clients to take vitamin B supplements, but other programs provide patients with foods packed with B vitamins, such as:
According to the American Liver Foundation, up to 35 percent of people who drink heavily go on to develop alcoholic hepatitis, or a swollen and damaged liver. Mild cases of liver damage like this may be treated, and sometimes, diet has a strong role to play in helping the liver to heal. Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, and opting for whole grains, may help the liver to improve.
Alcoholism can take up a significant amount of a person’s time, and some people truly enjoy the taste of the alcoholic beverages they’ve become addicted to. Programs that serve people healthful, nutritious and delicious foods can help reacquaint people with the taste of good food, and they may be inspired to cook meals like this on their own at home. Cooking helps to fill up the time, and good foods can help to replace the taste of good drinks. It can be a useful intervention.
Calming the Mind
Therapy sessions can help people to discuss the ways they think about themselves and the world around them, and this can help to improve mental health and decrease feelings of stress, but some holistic programs take this concept of calming a bit further. By incorporating meditation into their programs, they may be able to provide patients with a method they can use anywhere, at any time, to slow a racing mind and find a sense of inner peace.
Meditation is remarkably common in addiction treatment programs. In fact, a study published in the journal Pastoral Psychology found that 58 percent of programs studied used meditation as part of the treatment program offered. There are a number of different meditation techniques that might be used in an alcoholism treatment program. For example, some programs teach people to count their breaths while they progressively tighten and relax muscles starting at their head and working down to their toes. The mind stays focused on the counting, while the body progressively relaxes. This can be a useful technique alcoholics in recovery can use when they feel a craving to drink. Instead of relying on the alcohol to help calm them, they use the power of the mind and the working of the muscles to achieve the same effect.
When people feel a craving coming on, they can use this technique to acknowledge the craving, accept it as part of the healing process and then choose not to act upon the thought. It’s a powerful way to help people learn to process, rather than repress, the feelings they carry about with them every day.
Alcoholism can rob people of the ability to express their inner thoughts, hopes and dreams. Some people may have trauma that they’ve numbed for years with alcohol, and when they stop drinking, they find they have painful memories or issues they’re not sure how to handle.
While some people may be able to find the words to express their feelings in therapy sessions, others may struggle and find it difficult to truly express the pain they’re feeling. Sometimes, art therapy programs can help. Here, a licensed art therapist provides the person with tools for art, and then asks the person to answer a question with the art. People might be asked to draw self-portraits, for example, or they might be asked to create a work describing the home in which they grew up. As the art moves forward, the therapist continues to ask questions, highlighting the emotions that are coming out through the art and asking for clarification on ideas that don’t seem clear. Some people find that this sort of talking is a bit easier in an art therapy program, as their hands are busy and they don’t have to maintain eye contact. It’s important to stress that art therapy isn’t used as a substitute for talk therapy with a psychologist. As an article in the American Journal of Art Therapy puts it, art therapy is “ƒused basically to assist in the breakdown of resistance to alcoholism treatment.” It’s a method that can help the person open up and fully participate in conversation with a therapist.
Art therapy may also help some people adjust to life without alcohol. People who use art as part of their recovery programs may become accustomed to turning to their creative sides when they feel upset or under stress. Instead of drinking, they may scribble in notebooks, dash off a painting or sculpt a figure in clay. The therapy may teach them a way to stay abstinent from alcohol over a long period of time.
Small Word of Warning
For example, people who drink for long periods of time tend to develop persistent brain changes. As the alcoholism progresses, their minds become accustomed to feeling numb and slow. When these people try to stop drinking and their brains speed back up, seizures can result and those seizures can be life threatening. There’s no way to meditate out of a seizure, either, so medications are a must. While holistic treatments certainly have a place in alcoholism treatment, Western medicine may also play an important role for some people.
How We Can Help
At The Canyon, we offer a wide variety of holistic treatments in our addiction programs. We tailor our offerings to meet the individual needs of our clients, so some people will receive one sort of treatment while others may receive a completely different set of options. It’s just part of the comprehensive care we provide.
To find out more about our programs and how we can help, please contact us. Our counselors are standing by to answer your questions.