Addiction is a complex beast. It affects the whole person, and very often infiltrates every area of life, interfering with the ability to live, work, and play. Left untreated, it claims thousands of lives, breaks up families, and steals joy away from people who would otherwise be giving so much back to the world. Unfortunately, it is also a disease that isn’t taken seriously – both by people suffering from addiction and from society at large.
The propensity to treat addiction like the common cold (something you just have to muscle through and deal with) is incredibly damaging. It leads doctors and specialists to move towards a medication-first model, neglecting to address the needs of the whole client.
Although medication can and often does play a role in treating addiction (as in methadone maintenance or medical detox), failing to address associated psychological traumas and struggles can significantly reduce abstinence rates. That’s where alternative therapy strategies come in.
It may seem strange to include biofeedback with information about alternative therapies, but this incredible experience has the potential to give you greater control over everything from anxiety attacks to cravings when delivered correctly.
Biofeedback involves placing sensors on or around the body that monitor statistics like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and breaths-per-minute. It monitors involuntary autonomic nervous system reactions to help you become aware of what’s going on with your body at any given time. The goal is to learn to detect those changes without the use of a machine, and hopefully, learn effective strategies for managing them without turning to drugs.
Ideally, biofeedback sessions occur under the guidance of a trained psychotherapist. He or she can help you to identify when stress occurs. Then, they’ll teach you to use meditation, guided imagery, mindfulness, or even relaxation strategies to counter the effects of cravings, stress, and other potential triggers.
Research shows that biofeedback works; it’s effective for everything from migraines to chronic pain and even relapse prevention.
Reiki and Touch Therapy
Like biofeedback, Reiki and other forms of touch therapy (including massage) aren’t technically a psychotherapeutic approach, but they can benefit the recovering addict’s mental well-being immensely.
Many people who struggle with addiction experience struggles with intimacy, friendship, closeness with family, and just lack a regular physical connection to other human beings. To be clear, this isn’t about sex; it’s about the need for physical touch, something we all have whether we indulge it or not.
Reiki, though it isn’t quite a scientific approach, claims to work with life force and/or energies to reduce stress, anxiety, and cravings slowly over time. But much of the benefit likely stems from the fact that practitioners give compassionate, thoughtful care, something that can encourage the client to care for themselves better in the first place.
While reiki isn’t likely to cure anything, it is non-manipulative and therefore has very few disadvantages.
Massage and other therapeutic touch strategies, however, are scientifically verified. Studies prove that regular massage therapy (particularly full body relaxation) can reduce stress, improve circulation, and reduce aches and pains – each of which detox and abstinence can increase. Furthermore, there is at least some benefit that massage therapy improves emotional stability over time.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
At first glance, EFT might seem rather strange. Sometimes referred to as “tapping,” the process has you rapidly tap on various parts of the body while repeating positive affirmations.
Scientifically, there isn’t any proof that EFT works, but anecdotal evidence abounds. Clients (some of whom are addicts, too) claim that EFT has direct benefits on stress, anxiety, panic, worry, and other negative emotions. It isn’t clear whether they contrive those benefits from the affirmations or from the tapping, but there are no known negative side effects to EFT; it’s worth a try.
Existential therapy is, in fact, a type of psychotherapy. Its approach is uniquely suited to addiction simply because it focuses on life philosophy, helping the recovering addict to reconfirm their place in life and find meaning within it.
Understanding your purpose outside of substances can be very difficult; many addicts center their entire lives around using or accessing substances. Moving on from that cycle is one of the most important steps you can take.
In existential therapy, a psychotherapist uses discussion and a variety of other sub-strategies to help you focus on issues that cause internal conflict. It also encourages you to look at philosophical issues (like life, death, and what comes before or after) so you can develop your own understanding of your place in the world.
Therapists often combine existential therapy with other therapy strategies, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Yet another seemingly strange alternative therapy, EMDR helps recovering addicts to process and de-compartmentalize traumatic experiences and memories. Practitioners have the client hold traumatic memories in their mind while simultaneously having them track a finger or object back and forth.
Scientists don’t fully understand exactly how or why EMDR works yet (that’s true for most forms of psychotherapy), but some believe that processing multiple forms of information and sensory input at the same time has the ability to “overwrite” painful memories and soothe the associated reactions.
Whether that’s true or it’s simply the distraction that helps to desensitize clients to the memories, there’s plenty of evidence to show that it does work. Studies showed a correlation between improvement in outcomes even when compared to simple supportive listening and doing nothing at all.
With an estimated 75 percent of people with addiction experiencing trauma, abuse, or other negative life experiences somewhere along the road, the link between trauma and addiction is demonstrably clear.
Hypnotherapy has a lengthy relationship with addiction treatment; it’s been used within smoking cessation since the late 1970s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this therapeutic strategy relies on hypnosis to subconsciously reduce cravings and negative emotions.
Not all therapists offer hypnotherapy; it requires specialized training. Those that do frequently treat people with maladaptive behaviors and/or childhood trauma issues, as this is where hypnotherapy seems to work best.
Self-hypnosis is also a potential approach; it also doesn’t require a therapist’s assistance. Guided meditation and visualization are two common forms of self-hypnosis. Some people also draw parallels between sitting meditation and self-hypnosis simply because focusing on your breath can induce a trance-like state of relaxation, too.
Feel free to experiment with either of these three strategies at home, but be mindful that self-hypnosis should never replace therapy altogether.
Struggling to handle your addiction and the ensuing chaos it causes? You aren’t alone; millions of Americans each year experience it. Whether you simply have a few too many drinks at night or you’re already at rock bottom, what makes the difference is your willingness to approach it and work hard to resolve it. Alternative therapy strategies like these can significantly benefit your recovery from a holistic perspective.