Information on Holistic Substance Abuse Treatment

Created On Tuesday, 12, January 2016
Modified On Friday, 17, September 2021


Holistic drug rehabilitation is considered an alternative approach to substance use treatment. Holistic addiction treatment is a non-medical recovery method and is often used to complement traditional practices. However, holistic rehabilitation aims to heal the mind, body, and spirit—the overall well-being of the person is treated, which does appeal to many recovering addicts. Holistic rehabilitation is offered through inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. Rehabilitation programs use a combination of exercise, meditation, and nutrition to help people overcome addiction. Some of the common holistic therapies include yoga, guided meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, exercise, nutrition, art therapy, adventure therapy, and even animal therapy.

Holistic rehabilitation is not anything new for treating addiction and is used by many cultures across the globe. However, within the United States, much of the debate with the evidence showing that these techniques are effective with treating addiction. According to the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment in an article titled Revisiting Holistic Interventions in Substance Abuse Treatment, holistic approaches focus on all aspects of the person. The rehabilitation includes emotional, physical, and social well-being, encouraging growth through self-exploration and expression. The article states, "There is an urgent need in the substance abuse field for integrated treatment models that deal more effectively with individuals etiological, biological, psychological, social, spiritual, and cultural considerations."

DRS femme2A

Also, holistic and integrated approaches often explore the areas of a person's addiction that go untreated during a standard treatment program. The treatment programs offer personalized, non-medical methods of addiction recovery. The benefit of holistic treatment is it treats the physical and mental addiction symptoms and the emotional and nutritional imbalances. Holistic programs will help addicts identify underlying causes of addiction and help them strengthen resistance to cravings. Also, these facilities are promoting physical fitness, increasing self-confidence, and like any other program, reducing the appeal of drug and alcohol use.

The Benefits of Holistic Substance Abuse Treatment

There are many benefits with holistic rehabilitation, and therapies such as art, music, and wilderness programs offer a number of benefits. When holistic treatment is used alongside traditional approaches, it can be successful. Substance abuse and addiction affect people in different ways, and millions of Americans struggle with addiction. Traditional treatment methods include behavioral interventions such as counseling, group therapy, family therapy, or cognitive therapies. However, no one form of treatment is right for every person, and a well-rounded and comprehensive approach is typically more effective.

Holistic treatment refers to a whole-person approach to treatment and targets the emotional and spiritual aspects of addiction along with the physical and medical sides of addiction. Holistic treatment programs believe that addiction is treatable, and the person does not have to live in recovery. Common holistic treatment includes art and music therapy, mindfulness and stress management, meditation, yoga, nutritional counseling, wilderness or adventure therapy, equine therapy, and art therapy. Many holistic therapies are implemented alongside traditional approaches, such as behavioral therapies, which provides a well-rounded approach.

Holistic programs offer a whole-person approach and follow the belief of treating the mind, body, and spirit. The approaches to treatment allow patients to explore the various ways they have been affected by their addiction. Also, the process heals the physical harm done by addiction and spiritual harm. Holistic programs tend to challenge the individual to look within themselves and find the motivation to succeed. These programs are typically always helpful for stress relief offering natural and effective strategies for relieving stress.

Additionally, there is a reduced risk for relapse and long-term benefits as former patients continue to practice meditation, nutrition, and exercise, for example. According to an article in Science Daily, a study found that tackling the biological, social, environmental, and mental health obstacles while also addressing a person's substance use works best for those wanting to stop using drugs. The researchers found a positive association between the number of interventions a drug rehab programs included and its effectiveness in combatting non-medical drug use.

When is Holistic Substance Abuse Treatment the Best Option?

Holistic programs are excellent options for addicts who have struggled with traditional therapies and want more with the physical and spiritual side of treatment. For example, these programs help people improve sleep, healthy eating habits, establishing a healthy exercise regime, an outlet for stress relief, and reduced drug or alcohol cravings. Holistic treatment is a good option because it introduced patients to low-cost coping skills and activities, which are easily incorporated into everyday life. Holistic treatments are affordable and can be continued following the completion of treatment.

Someone who is looking for a peaceful, tranquil, and compassionate environment for treatment would find these programs a good option to consider. Creating a peaceful environment is one of the cornerstones for holistic programs. Also, there is a greater variety of treatment options that include holistic and spiritual techniques and cognitive-behavioral therapies. The main objective of holistic programs includes identifying underlying causes of addiction, strengthening resistance to cravings, promoting physical fitness, increasing self-confidence, and reducing the appeal of drug and alcohol use.

Rehabilitating from addiction is not easy, and there are numerous risks associated with addiction that prevent people from wanting treatment and becoming rehabilitated. Holistic programs are excellent options for anyone struggling with prescription drug addiction. Long-term prescription drug use takes a physical and mental toll that is difficult to recover from, especially involving opioids. According to the 2018 Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes, approximately 17.4% of the population filled at least one prescription for an opioid. Person-level prescribing was highest among older groups, with 26.8% of persons aged 65 and 26% of persons aged 55 to 64.

Before considering holistic rehabilitation, whether, for prescription drug addiction or a street drug addiction, an addiction assessment is a good place to begin. The assessment process could happen over the phone or in-person, and it benefits the addict and family. An addiction assessment would help the addict or family determine if holistic treatment were a good option to consider. Well-rounded treatment is always a better option to consider. According to an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 40% to 60% of patients treated for substance abuse return to active drug use within a year following treatment discharge. However, statistics vary, and research surround substance abuse treatment effectiveness differs.

How do Holistic Drug Rehabilitation Programs Operate?

Holistic treatment views the body as a whole entity, which includes physical, spiritual, and mental. All parts and functions of the body work together, and holistic rehabilitation aims to treat all of it. Substance abuse causes damage, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Holistic treatment services include traditional methods to complement the holistic services. Like any other form of rehabilitation, the goal of holistic treatment is to help the person discover their true sense of self and give the individual purpose to maintain his or her sobriety. Typically, the combination of holistic and traditional therapies increases success rates helping the person renew and awaken their spirit, cleanse and nourish their body, and quiet and focus their mind.

Holistic treatment centers operate with a highly individualized approach because there is no singular approach that works for every addict. Holistic drug rehabilitation programs often create personalized treatment plans, which focus on the mind, body, and spirit. Holistic treatment offers long-term recovery options that help patients become more engaged and responsive. Also, there tends to be better aftercare that the individual continues with throughout their life.

According to a research paper titled A Holistic Approach to Substance Abuse Treatment and the Mind, it says: "Holistic or integrative treatment approaches treat the whole individuals. Treating the total person—the mind, body, and spirit is crucial to the healing process. Holistic treatment is a supportive treatment approach that tries to discover and restore the imbalances in a person's life" (page 5). Treatment models that include creative therapies, exercise, yoga, massage, acupuncture, and nutrition significantly help with recovery and the healing process.

Are there Alternatives to Holistic Substance Abuse Treatment?

Alternatives to holistic treatment would include traditional behavioral therapies, such as cognitive therapy, 12-step treatment, motivational interviewing, or family therapy. Traditional therapies are considered evidence-based approaches to drug addiction treatment. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, behavioral approaches help engage people in drug abuse treatment, providing incentives for them to remain abstinent from drugs alcohol. These treatment models help patients modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse and increase their life skills to handle stressful circumstances.

When incorporated with holistic approaches like nutritional therapy, exercise and recreational therapy, meditation, wilderness therapy, or massage, and acupuncture, it does increase the rate of success. Some of the most successful holistic recovery programs build in traditional treatment methods. Nutritional therapy is a key aspect of holistic programs and helps addicts focus on proper nutrition and helps their body recover from drug and alcohol use. Exercise and recreational therapy incorporates daily exercise to help build a routine, relieve stress, and strengthen the body. Exercise is an important part of substance abuse treatment.

Meditation is commonly used, which helps recovering addicts have a clear mind and is a useful technique to use during aftercare. For example, this could include yoga and tai chi as meditative practices to help residents focus on treatment and clarity of mind. Many of these services are incorporated with cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is a strategy of changing maladaptive behavioral patterns incorporated into new learning processes. The therapy identifies and corrects problematic behavior by applying a wide range of skills. The skills that individuals learn through CBT remain after the completion of treatment and are incorporated with the holistic techniques.

Twelve-step facilitation therapy is also included in holistic treatment approaches. Peer support is a common aftercare process helping recovering addicts maintain a connection with other sober people. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation is the best approach, and addicts should ensure the treatment is well-rounded and provides all the necessary services. However, not everyone struggling with addiction receives the help they need. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among people aged 12 or older in 2019, 1.5% received any substance use treatment in 2019, 2.1 million people aged 12 or older received substance use treatment at a self-help group. Also, 1.7 million people received help at an outpatient program, and one million received help at an inpatient center.

Common Terminology with Holistic Drug Rehabilitation

Term Definition
Holistic Drug Rehabilitation a process of using natural techniques that focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit. The programs are usually comprised of integrated multidisciplinary treatments and therapies, providing a well-rounded approach.
Whole Person Treatment for Addiction treating the whole person for rehabilitation involved rehabilitating the mind, body, and spirit. Rehabilitation techniques are integrated and comprehensive, addressing all aspects of addiction.
Adventure and Wilderness Therapy the therapy process is defined as the prescriptive use of adventure experiences provided by qualified addiction treatment professionals. The therapy assesses the issues, helps young people develop coping strategies, and the individual emerges with a more positive sense of self and hope for the future. Therapies include hiking, rock climbing, camping, canoeing, rafting, and other outdoor activities.
Nutritional Therapy this process addresses the nutritional deficiencies created by addiction. The aim is to identify and treat underlying biochemical imbalances through supplementation of vitamins, minerals, and healthy eating.
Alternative Psychotherapy is different from traditional psychotherapy because the therapy would involve music therapy, art therapy, or wilderness therapy, along with some traditional approaches.
Complimentary Therapy this process comes from complementary or alternative medicine and would include things like acupuncture or massage. The therapy process helps physically reduce the issues connected to stress while contributing to the rehabilitation of the addict.
Art Therapy a therapy combining the creative process and psychotherapy. Art therapy facilitates self-exploration and understanding—the process using imagery, color, and shape as part of the creative therapeutic process. Thoughts and feelings are expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.
Music Therapy is a clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized therapy goals. Certified Music Therapists use music within therapeutic relationships to support development, health, and well-being.
Neurofeedback Therapy neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that uses real-time displays of brain activity in an attempt to teach self-regulation of brain function.
Biofeedback Therapy is a technique used to help a person learn to control some of the body's functions, such as heart rate. The individual is connected to electrical sensors that help collect information about the body.


Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.

Michael Leach, CCMA - Medically Reviewed on September 17, 2021

More Information

Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.


« I remember being a child and aspiring of going to college, playing soccer professionally, being in love, being a mom and living my childhood idea of a good life. Those dreams were quickly shattered by the unravelling of my family dynamic. I had never experienced deception, fighting, split holidays but once I did I knew I needed to do something. I had this constant desire to fix the broken pieces to make my family whole again. Unfortunately 7 year old me didn’t fully comprehend marriage, divorce or the darker things in life. I decided that if I couldn’t fix my family and the sadness that engulfed our once perfect life then I couldn’t really control anything which led to a feeling of worthlessness. Not to mention my idea of love and family was altered in a way that changed my life in many ways, but not immediately. It wasn’t until about 8 years later that I tried drugs and alcohol for the first time. I got into toxic relationships that proved my twisted theory that loves isn’t real, I betrayed trust and destroyed relationships with the people that cared for me most. I quickly spiraled and within a few years I was no longer “recreationally” using drugs I was a full fledged drug addict. And you see the cycle started with feeling worthless and feeling that I couldn’t fix things. I would do drugs, lose a job, be in physically violent relationships and then feel worthless again. It all made me right in a way. Eventually things caught up to me and the lifestyle I led brought me to become homeless and mentally and physically beaten down. I was emaciated and couldn’t recognize myself anymore. I finally made the decision, after quite some effort from my family and an intervention, to go to rehab. I didn’t think it then or even weeks into my treatment but that was the best decision I ever made. I took ownership for my actions and that’s when I really got down to the root of where my addiction began and it was not the first time I used drugs. It started with bad decisions much before that and once drugs were introduced it was a solution to a problem I didn’t know how to handle. Treatment helped me to rediscover myself, my purpose in life and gain qualities I didn’t know I could possess. I’ve been sober for 4 years, married a man who treats me well and have a beautiful baby boy. Treatment isn’t easy. Hell, deciding to go to treatment isn’t easy. And life after isn’t always easy. But every day you either make the right or wrong choice with every problem you encounter. I never thought this is where my life would be or that I would enjoy life as much as I do. » - Cori K. from Oregon