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Therapies – Alternative

Substance abuse treatment tackles the long-term effects of addiction on a person’s life. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drugs (and alcohol) essentially change the brain in fundamental ways to the point where an actual brain disease takes root. Like a medical disease, addiction is chronic in nature in terms of the ever-lingering potential for relapse that can stay with addicts for years into the recovery process.

Alternative therapies in substance abuse work outside the traditional treatment model in an effort to address addiction’s effects at a holistic level. While the basis for traditional treatment approaches stems from years of empirical data and clinical studies, these approaches primarily focus on addiction’s physical and psychological components.

Alternative treatment models incorporate a more inclusive approach, addressing other addiction-related components that traditional approaches overlook. Ultimately, choosing between traditional and alternative therapies in substance abuse treatment has as much to do with one’s individual preference as it does the underlying principles that make up any one treatment model.

Complimentary & Alternative Medicine

holistic drug rehab

Acupuncture, mindfulness and neurofeedback training are some potential alternative substance abuse treatments.

Alternative therapies in substance abuse treatment find their basis within the field of complementary and alternative medicine. Complimentary medicine works alongside traditional treatment models by using alternative approaches to enhance the therapeutic effects of traditional medicine.

According to the White House Commission on Complimentary & Alternative Medicine Policy, alternative medicine works to replace the traditional treatment model in theory, approach and application. Alternative approaches incorporate different worldviews, products and practices for the purpose of treating illness and supporting overall health and well-being.

Complementary and alternative medicines encompass a variety of treatment models that can vary considerably in terms of the theories and principles that underlie any one treatment approach. While different in theory, most of these models do have similar overall objectives, some of which include –

  • A holistic or “whole person” treatment approach
  • Administering treatment based on a person’s individual needs
  • Attending to the spiritual aspects and needs of the individual
  • Supporting and strengthening the body’s own healing mechanisms
  • Promoting self-care habits for maintaining health

When applied within the field of substance abuse treatment, alternative therapies leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with any and all factors that may support or threaten a person’s recovery progress.

Traditional vs. Alternative Therapies

Traditional therapies used in substance abuse treatment closely adhere to the theory that views addiction as a chronic disease state. Much like the protocols used in the treatment of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, traditional therapies work to manage the symptoms of the disease (addiction) while equipping addicts with the tools needed to live life without the need for drugs.

In effect, traditional therapies take a symptom-based approach to treating addiction using physical and psychological treatment interventions. Alternative therapies view the mind and body as made up of a set of interdependent systems.

From this viewpoint, the health and well-being of the individual relies on these systems working together as a whole in a coordinated fashion. In terms of substance abuse treatment, this means treating the whole person – mind, body and spirit – as opposed to treating sets of physical and psychological symptoms.

Types of Alternative Therapies

While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are just a few of the more commonly used alternative therapies in substance abuse treatment –

Neurofeedback Training

Neurofeedback, a close cousin to biofeedback, enables a person to interact with his or her brain waves through the use of EEG sensors, according to the U. S. National Library of Medicine. The sensor devices attach to the head and from there display the subject’s brain waves across a screen.

Neurofeedback has become an effective alternative therapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Within the past decade, substance abuse treatment centers have started using neurofeedback therapy as a method for helping addicts identify relapse trigger “states,” such as anger or anxiety. Once identified, a person can redirect brain wave activity and thereby quench drug-using urges.

Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation practice teaches a person how to center and relax the body and mind. As an offshoot of meditation practice, mindfulness meditation works to enhance a person’s awareness of his or her thoughts and emotions, which ultimately influences how a person responds and behaves.

With mindfulness meditation, addicts learn redirect the faulty thinking patterns that feed into negative emotional states, such as anger, sadness and feeling stressed. In effect, mindfulness meditation functions as a relapse prevention therapy.

Biochemical Restoration

Ongoing biochemical imbalances create the conditions where depression, anxiety and drug cravings can take shape. These conditions make a person more susceptible to addiction.

Biochemical imbalances may take the form of –

  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Inflammation
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Adrenal fatigue

Biochemical restoration therapy focuses on creating a healthy chemical balance throughout the body using –

  • Nutrition plans
  • Micronutrient supplements, such as amino acids
  • Exercise
  • Relaxation practices


As an effective therapy for relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety, acupuncture has grown in popularity as a substance abuse treatment approach. Acupuncture works by stimulating certain key acu-points throughout the body.

Acu-points lie along the body’s energy pathways. By stimulating or applying pressure, blocked pathways open up and allow energy to circulate naturally throughout the body. This form of therapy can help reduce drug cravings, restore emotional balance and relieve symptoms associated with detox and withdrawal.


While the premise behind the use of alternative medicine seeks to replace traditional treatment approaches, alternative therapies should only be used as a compliment to your primary addiction treatment program. Ultimately, the limited attention given to alternative therapies accounts for the overall lack of empirical data to back up the effectiveness of the alternative model.

That being so, no single treatment approach works for everyone, as different people do respond in different ways. Likewise, the therapeutic benefits available through alternative therapies may work wonders for some people, especially those more inclined towards spiritual health concerns.

Anyone considering alternative therapies for substance abuse treatment may want to first consult with his or her therapist, doctor or treatment facilitators before committing to any one treatment approach. As this field of substance abuse treatment is still relatively new, it’s always best to work with experienced alternative medicine practitioners who also have experience working with addicts.

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