Holistic Treatment for Substance Use Disorders
Holistic treatment for Substance Use Disorders is a viable option that is becoming more widely available. For years, the addiction treatment field was a one-size-fits-all proposition. Typically, treatment programs focused on withdrawal and detox, introduction to 12 Step principles, and relapse prevention planning. It was common for such programs to offer a 28 or 30 day stay for their participants. Today we find a great diversity of addiction treatment programs that vary in their philosophical approaches, as well as their courses of treatment. For instance, among others, there are:
- Holistic treatment programs—these programs view addiction and recovery as a whole person issue. Services offered will cover a range that together encompass the physical, mental, emotional, behavioral and spiritual aspects of addiction and what is required to recover.
- 12 Step based programs (programs that use the principles of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) as their core.
- Non-12 Step programs—these programs can have a range of philosophies and approaches but are overall characterized by not relying upon the 12 Steps as their foundation.
- Luxury rehabs—these programs offer surroundings and amnesties-like those you may find in luxury hotels or in a spa setting–along with their treatment services.
- Executive rehabs—these programs make accommodations for those who must remain in touch with their businesses and continue to have some work time while in treatment.
- Faith-based programs—faith-based rehabs provide services with a particularly religious orientation.
- Gender specific programs—programs, especially for men or women, provide services only for those groups.
- Dual diagnosis programs—these treatment programs cater to individuals who have both a Substance Use Disorder and another mental health condition.
There are many different treatment philosophies and interventions that can be used in any of the types of rehab programs above. If you are looking for a particular type of treatment, the broad categories above do not completely describe what you can expect in a program beyond those larger descriptions. You should still inquire of each program you consider what exactly they offer beyond those broader categories.
The Holistic View of People and Life
The term ‘holistic’ is derived from the word ‘whole’ and is sometimes written as ‘wholistic’. It refers to an individual’s whole experience in life. Generally, the holistic view of addiction takes into account the various aspects of an individual’s life such as the following realms:
- Physical health
- Emotional issues
- Mental functioning
- Spiritual or religious aspects
- Social support and interaction
Each of the above is involved in an addictive process and will be involved in any addiction recovery effort you make. They are also intricately related. For example:
- Physical health weighs heavily on how one thinks and what emotions are felt. These all contribute to one’s behavior.
- Emotional issues are driven by mental aspects such as thoughts and beliefs.
- Mental functioning is affected by physical issues. Some physical conditions impair cognitive abilities.
- Behavior is driven by thoughts and beliefs, as well as emotions. It can be strongly governed by spiritual or religious concerns.
These above examples constitute just the tip of the iceberg we find when we attempt to understand the whole person and the dynamics involved in a comprehensive look at one’s life. People are complex creatures and it is difficult to separate one ‘part’ of ourselves from others. It is also impossible to list all the interactions of various life realms, but these examples should illustrate that interconnectedness and complexity.
Why Addiction is a Whole-Person Issue
Addiction is an illness that eventually erodes all realms of functioning if left unchecked. For example, the symptoms of addiction compromise:
- Physical health—all addictions involve two characteristic physical symptoms. These are withdrawal symptoms when use is abruptly stopped or the usual ‘dose’ is lowered, and tolerance which is an increasingly need for more substances over a period of time to achieve the desired effects. Also, physical health is compromised in very specific ways by continued use, and these are often determined by the type of substance used.
- Mental health—all addictions also negatively impact mental health. High rates of depression, for example, occur during prolonged substance use; suicidal risk increases when substances are used, and there are substance-induced psychiatric disorders which include such symptoms are mood and cognitive alterations.
- Behavior—every addiction also involves behavioral changes. A cardinal characteristic of addiction is compulsive use, for example. One feels an overwhelming need to engage in substance use even when there is the desire to stop. Also, behavioral changes are quite apparent during intoxication. Additionally, urges and impulses are more obvious in behavior during addiction as there is less self-control and greater disinhibition.
- Relationships—addictions negatively affect relationships. For example, substance use typically involves withdrawal from usual relationships to some degree as one focuses increasingly upon using and less upon usual social and family involvement. Codependency and enabling may develop within relationships. And, usual standards of interaction can be violated through untrustworthy behavior in service of the addiction.
- Spiritual health—addiction’s progression is closely linked to an erosion of a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life, as well as to a feeling of isolation and disconnectedness. Spiritual health is characterized by a feeling of connection, as well as the practice of ethics and morals. It includes deeply held values and a positive direction in one’s life. Similarly, if religious faith and practices are important in one’s life, addiction erodes those as it progresses as well.
- Financial health—addictions negatively impact financial health at some point as they progress. Many divert financial resources to drug use and supporting an addicted lifestyle to a great detriment for themselves and families. Others also lose the ability to support themselves and their families when addiction symptoms become severe enough.
There are other important life realms that serve as slices of our total experience that addictions can also negatively impact. These include one’s standing in the community, legal status, sexuality, self-concept, self-esteem, and self-respect. While not comprehensive, such aspects of ordinary life described here illustrate the range of life realms that can be affected by an addiction. A review of them makes it abundantly clear that addiction is an illness that is not contained to one facet of life, but that negatively affects one’s entire experience. It is consequently a (w)holistic illness. Those who practice holistic treatment for addictions take this view to mean that the remedy for such a pervasive illness must also be a pervasive one.
What to Expect in Holistic Treatment for Substance Use Disorders
Not every holistic addiction treatment program will be the same. However, there are certain commonalities such as an emphasis on:
- The importance of the mind-body-spirit connection
- The value of alternative health practices
- The need for a well-rounded and balanced lifestyle
- The importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to a Substance Use Disorder
Also, holistic treatment practitioners typically believe that an individual has many related parts and that if one is out of balance, all others will be negatively affected. Consequently, adjusting an imbalance in one area is considered to have a positive effect on overall health and well-being.
Most holistic addiction treatment programs will use concepts and techniques that you may find in other programs that do not describe themselves as ‘holistic’. For example, withdrawal and detox services; individual, group and family counseling; illness and recovery process education, coping skills classes, and relapse prevention planning, are common in most treatment programs. However, holistic programs will incorporate other modalities along with these such as:
- Tai Chi
- Nutritional counseling
- Dietary supplementation
- Herbal medicines
- Experiences in nature
- Expressive therapies (art, music, dance…)
- Functional medicine
Choosing the Right Holistic Treatment Program
If you are interested in holistic treatment for Substance Use Disorders for yourself or a loved one, you should take care to explore each program’s offerings. Like other types of treatment programs, all holistic treatment centers are not alike. Any reputable program will gladly answer your questions about their services and daily schedule, including which alternative treatments and activities you would have there. You can also inquire about the training and experience of their staff members to get a better idea of what to expect during a course of treatment. Be aware, too, that the above list of alternative techniques is not comprehensive, but indicates the range of alternative health practices holistic programs offer.
Choosing the right holistic program for yourself or a loved one involves several other considerations. For example, are you willing to travel to treatment? Unfortunately, this may be necessary if you definitely want a holistic approach. If you do consider traveling to treatment, how will this affect your loved ones’ participation in your program? Also, do you have the financial resources necessary for the program you choose? Not every treatment program costs the same, will take your insurance or will make the same financial arrangements for funding treatment. You will have to inquire about these things each time you consider a program.
If you are like most of us, the decision to get addiction treatment comes at a particularly difficult time in your life. Addiction brings chaos and turmoil, and by the time you are ready for treatment, you have likely been in a highly stressful situation for a long period of time. Your loved ones will have had a long period of stress as well. Emotions can run high at such life junctures, and your ability to manage can be terribly strained. If you find that you need direction and guidance in your search, you can contact us for help. We have information about programs in many locations and will assist you free of charge as you search for viable treatment options.