Addiction is a complex disease that impacts the mind, body, and spirit. While traditional treatment methods like counseling, medication, and 12-step programs are crucial, holistic and alternative therapies can provide critical additional support on the road to recovery.
In her decades of experience as an addiction specialist, Dr. Stanger has seen the power of integrative techniques to complement traditional treatment and set people up for long-term wellness. She explains that a holistic approach looks at the whole person, addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual elements of health. This allows us to support people in recovery multi-dimensionally.
The Benefits of Mind-Body Practices
Dr. Stanger notes that mind-body practices like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and breathwork have extensive research behind their benefits. These practices help counteract the physiological effects of addiction by reducing stress, calming the nervous system, improving sleep quality, and enhancing overall well-being.
She explains that mindfulness meditation, for example, has been found in studies to strengthen prefrontal cortex functioning, improving impulse control and decision-making – skills that are often compromised in addiction. Meditation also decreases activity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, leading to less reactivity and more resilience against triggers or cravings.
Yoga promotes relaxation while building strength, flexibility, and body awareness. This helps repair the mind-body disconnect that often occurs in addiction. Yoga is also shown to reduce perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. Moving mindfully through poses with a focus on breath brings greater presence and emotional regulation.
No matter what holistic modality is used, the central skills developed are awareness, presence, and acceptance. These serve people in recovery by teaching them to sit with discomfort, act more deliberately, and gain deeper insight into their own patterns. Mastering these skills helps prevent relapse when faced with triggers or life stressors.
“In my practice, I’ve seen even 10 minutes per day of meditation create more mindfulness for clients struggling with addiction,” Dr. Louise said. “This allows them to pause, step back, and make more conscious choices aligned with their recovery. Over time, their ability to self-reflect and manage difficult emotions improves dramatically.”
Nutrition and Gut Health
Substance abuse wreaks havoc on the digestive system and nutritional status. Poor diet and altered gut bacteria contribute to cravings, toxicity, and low energy during recovery. That’s why dietary changes and probiotic supplementation can be impactful.
Eating a balanced, whole-food diet provides steady energy and the nutrients needed to repair organ damage. Staying hydrated is also key for flushing out toxins and restoring healthy body composition.
Certain supplements like B vitamins, zinc, and amino acids help restore levels depleted by substance abuse. Probiotics replenish gut bacteria diversity, reducing inflammation and supporting the immune system.
Making informed nutrition choices empowers those in recovery to nurture their body and mind. This improves resilience against relapse triggers like fatigue, GI issues, and intense cravings. An integrative physician or dietitian can provide personalized advice.
“In counseling, we collaborate with clients to identify any nutritional deficiencies and digestive problems exacerbated by their substance use,” Dr. Louise continued. “Then, we develop a diet and supplement plan to help them feel physically stronger. Clients report that proper nutrition gives them the energy and mental clarity to engage fully in treatment and recovery programs.”
The Spiritual Dimension
According to Dr. Louise, beyond the physical and psychological aspects, addiction takes a toll spiritually. Feelings of shame, isolation, or meaninglessness often accompany substance abuse. That’s why nurturing spiritual health through connection, service, rituals, or faith-based practices can be integral to recovery.
Twelve-step programs provide a spiritual foundation through the concept of a higher power. Meditation and yoga also have spiritual roots. Finding a sense of purpose and meaning enables those in recovery to transcend the past and start fresh.
Support groups facilitate spiritual growth by building community and showing we are never alone in this journey. Volunteering and acts of service allow people to discover their inherent worth. Through spiritual practice, recovery becomes more than just abstinence – it becomes a fulfilling way of life.
“For many in recovery, exploring purpose and connecting to something bigger than oneself is truly transformative. This empowers them to serve others also struggling with addiction. I encourage clients to explore spirituality in whatever way resonates – be it through nature, prayer, meditation, or finding fellowship in a faith community,” Dr. Louise said.
The Key Is Personalization
Dr. Louise said “The diverse spectrum of holistic approaches allows individuals to tailor support to their unique needs. A person drawn to introspection and inner calm might benefit most from meditation, while someone needing an outlet for pent-up energy could prefer intense yoga. Spiritual soul-searching might resonate for some but not others.”
The most impact comes when we incorporate compatible practices into our lifestyle, not just doing them in isolation. For example, meditating daily, attending yoga classes several times a week, cooking wholesome meals, and joining a hiking group. This creates a matrix of support.
It’s best to introduce holistic strategies early in recovery to build self-efficacy and coping skills. Relapse can still happen, but people learn to reset and continue evolving through setbacks. Ongoing participation provides a buffer during times of higher stress or vulnerability.
While holistic modalities shouldn’t replace professional treatment, they powerfully complement it. Whole-person healing happens when we integrate practices caring for body, mind, and spirit. This comprehensive approach gives people in recovery an invaluable toolkit – not just for surviving but for thriving.
Other Complementary Approaches
A person in addiction recovery can benefit greatly from practices and connections that support their overall health and well-being. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, breathing exercises, and walking can help ground them in the present moment. Journaling provides an outlet to process thoughts and feelings. Caring for physical health through nutrition, exercise, and sleep gives energy and resilience.
Investing in emotional health through activities like calling a friend, attending a support group, or doing relaxing self-care can lift one’s spirits. Being of service through volunteering and supporting others as a sponsor provides a sense of purpose. Having these beneficial practices and connections in one’s life can help sustain an individual on their recovery journey by supporting them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
“The key is finding holistic supports that resonate with each individual. An open, curious approach allows people to discover which tools work best for them,” said Dr. Louise. “This empowers clients to take an active role in their healing process.”
When traditional treatment and holistic practices are integrated, people gain an expanded toolbox of strategies to draw upon through life’s ups and downs. This creates a strong foundation for maintaining long-term wellness and preventing relapse. The future of addiction recovery is bright when we embrace therapeutic methods caring for the whole person.
About Dr. Louise Stanger
Dr. Louise Stanger, an award-winning interventionist and licensed clinical social worker with over 35 years of experience, specializes in substance abuse disorders, mental health issues, and trauma. Dr. Stanger’s invitational approach to mental health and substance abuse interventions, informed by extensive research, has earned her acclaim and numerous awards, including the 2019 Interventionist of the Year. She is also a prolific author, with books covering topics like addiction, well-being, and recovery, including the #1 bestseller Addiction in the Family: Helping Families Navigate Challenges, Emotions, and Recovery. Dr. Stanger’s mission is to bring hope and compassion to those affected by addiction and mental illness while helping families heal.