The strong social support, personal reckoning, and spiritual connection advocated by 12-step programs have helped millions of individuals struggling with addiction.
But there is no one-size-fits all approach, and treatment specialists are increasingly incorporating alternative therapies to ensure that recovery methods resonate with the mind, body, and soul of the individual.
Below are five approaches that may be able to help you get and stay sober, as part of a holistic approach.
In 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine officially defined addiction as a “disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.”
While there are social, emotional, and psychological aspects to addiction as well, the recognition of addiction as a physiological disorder is an important step forward.
It helps to de-stigmatize substance use disorder—which had often been judged as a ‘character defect’ or lack of self-discipline—as well as point the way toward new types of treatments.
Neurofeedback targets the physiological substrate of addiction directly. Using EEG sensors attached to the scalp, neurofeedback technicians monitor and identify maladaptive patterns in the brain.
The brain is then ‘trained’ to correct these patterns, usually with the use of audiovisual techniques such as computer games—for example, when your brain patterns are within the target range, Pacman navigates the maze and eats the pellets!
A neurofeedback session often starts with breathing exercises or guided imagery, but no explicit instructions are given on how to successfully play: your brain ‘figures it out’ based on feedback from the game. Over many sessions, winning rewards and reinforces the healthy brain patterns causing Pacman to out-maneuver Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde.
While more research needs to be done on this innovative technique, studies have shown promise for neurofeedback’s ability to reduce cravings.
Neurofeedback can also support recovery by helping individuals regulate their mood and behavior, increase focus, and decrease risk factors for relapse such as anxiety and insomnia. It is increasingly being incorporated at treatment centers.
Acupuncture is a method of traditional Chinese medicine, which typically involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body.
It is based on the idea that there is a life force, called Qi, flowing through the body in specific patterns. Disruptions of this energy cause disease and discomfort, and acupuncture can help restore the balance.
(For another interpretation, scientists speculate that acupuncture may work by modulating neurotransmitters; stimulating the endocrine system, which affects stress and relaxation; affecting circulation; and/or reducing inflammation.)
Acupuncture has long been recognized for its ability to ease chronic pain. One well-known acupuncture procedure for treating addiction, developed in New York in the 1970s, is the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol (AKA ‘acu detox’), which focuses on five points in the ear.
While the evidence for acu detox is largely anecdotal, it has shown effectiveness in easing pain during detoxification, particularly for opiate withdrawal. After detox, it has been reported to help reduce cravings and ease anxiety.
Three- NAD IV Therapy
NAD, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (say that five times fast!), is a naturally-occurring co-enzyme involved in metabolism and cellular repair. Substance use disorders can decrease the amount of NAD available in the body, which negatively affects brain function.
If you’re in the early stages of your recovery journey, NAD has shown promise in assisting with the detox process. NAD IV therapy involves intravenous injection of NAD, usually over the course of 6-8 hours for about 10 days.
While intensive, NAD IV therapy is reported to greatly ease withdrawal symptoms, and as the treatment goes on, to reduce cravings and improve mental functioning. This treatment appears to be particularly effective for those struggling with alcohol or opiate addiction.
Four- Activity-based therapies
Activity-based therapies run the gamut from art therapy to pet therapy to adventure therapy. What they have in common is the idea that recovery involves changing your lifestyle by creating new, healthy habits.
Whether you want to paint landscapes, take care of a furry friend, or climb mountains depends on your own personality and interests. The important aspect is replacing the old habits of addiction with new hobbies that focus your energy on something meaningful and empowering.
All of the activities mentioned above—along with others, like exercise and gardening—have been shown to aid the recovery process by, among other things, improving mood and self-esteem. Keeping your mind and body engaged can not only distract you from the desire to use, but fills the time you used to devote to your addiction with positive, fulfilling activities.
It’s not unusual for someone struggling with addiction to have the conscious desire and intention to kick the habit, yet to find it extremely difficult to do so. If this is the case for you, hypnotherapy may be able to help by targeting unconscious processes underlying addictive behaviors.
Hypnotherapy utilizes deep relaxation to ‘bypass’ the conscious mind, and the practitioner’s suggestions to alter subconscious processes. Depending on your particular struggles, hypnotherapy may target self-defeating beliefs or past traumas underlying the desire to use.
Hypnotherapists may also provide suggestions which alter your relationship to the addictive substance (e.g., “Doesn’t wine give you a headache?”), or have you visualize your happy, sober future self—providing an imaginatively experienced goal to work toward. For some, hypnotherapy has the power to uproot deep-seated, subconscious processes which make it difficult to let go of addictive behaviors.
Like all the therapies mentioned above, hypnotherapy is intended as a supplemental treatment. What works for you is highly individual—but one or more of these alternative modalities may be able to assist in your journey of recovery and self-realization.