The Role of Complementary Therapies in Addiction Treatment
Often referred to as alternative or holistic methods, complementary therapies are designed to treat both the body and mind and offer a ‘whole-body’ approach to addiction treatment. Many people have benefitted from a wide range of complementary therapies and have learned to improve their communication skills while discovering new and more effective ways to manage cravings, stress and uncomfortable emotions.
While they can provide a number of benefits within addiction treatment, complementary therapies are not designed as the sole method of treatment throughout addiction recovery. They work best when combined with more traditional methods such as detoxification, medications and individual or group counselling.
It is also important to note that while a number of the complementary therapies listed below have been scientifically proven to be effective at helping to treat addiction, others are merely thought to be beneficial and have little to no scientific backing. Therefore it is important to seek advice from medical professionals before attempting any of the below methods.
What are the different types of complementary therapies available to treat addiction?
There are a number of different approaches to complementary therapy, designed to suit a wide range of individuals. Some of these methods are more physical and interactive such as adventure therapy and equine therapy, while others such as aromatherapy and massage therapy are driven by touch and sensation.
Commonly known for its relaxing effects, aromatherapy involves using essential oils and other plant extracts to create a calm and healing environment. An addiction-based aromatherapist will select specific oils that are thought to benefit the patient and their unique needs, such as grapefruit oil for rebalancing serotonin levels and lavender for relaxing and calming a troubled mind.
It is thought that simply smelling a particular scent can activate the limbic system which controls emotions, allowing us to alter our mood and mental state by using specific oils. It is important to undergo a full allergy test before undergoing aromatherapy, and seek advice from your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Music has the power to impact our moods and emotions – who hasn’t cried while listening to a sad song or danced around the house with an upbeat track playing? As a result music therapy is thought to be highly effective in addiction treatment as it allows patients to express their emotions, calm their nerves and communicate in a creative manner. 
Music therapy can involve playing, performing, listening to and writing music. You do not need to possess any musical talent or know how to play an instrument – anyone can take part in and benefit from this type of therapy.
It is common for people struggling with addiction to feel disconnected from their own mind, body and spirit. They may seek to self-medicate through the use of drugs or alcohol, rarely allowing themselves to be present at the moment due to the pain of past traumas or experiences.
The use of mindfulness and yoga during addiction treatment allows these patients to connect with themselves again and find the strength to tackle their problems head-on. Feeling calm, relaxed and grounded on a regular basis can allow individuals to make well-informed and more conscious choices, and allows them to take a step back and think before reaching for addictive substances during a time of emotional distress.
Addiction can affect all aspects of our lives, and one particularly noticeable impact comes in the form of our physical health. Many people struggling with an addiction begin to suffer from nutritional deficiencies, often due to the fact that they are replacing healthy food with their substance of choice.
They also may not be taking the time to cook and eat nutritional meals, and other side effects of certain substances such as vomiting or sweating excessively can also take their toll.
Focusing on health and nutrition during addiction recovery as well as being educated on the importance of a varied and healthy diet can help patients to feel physically stronger and more capable of tackling their underlying problems. During the process, they will likely gain an immense amount of self-respect and begin to take care of themselves in a kind and loving manner.
Being outside in nature can be extremely therapeutic, and adventure therapy aims to combine the benefits of the wilderness with confidence-boosting and adrenaline-rushing activities. This form of holistic therapy can improve socialisation skills, build trust and allow the individual to see themselves as a capable and independent person.
Adventure therapy can include hiking, kayaking, skiing, camping, swimming and rock climbing – any activity that involves an element of daring and allows the individual to step outside of their comfort zone while utilising problem-solving skills.
Many people struggling with addiction are battling their own inner demons – these may be past experiences or inner beliefs that make it extremely difficult for them to imagine living without the escape of drugs or alcohol. As a result, they may be unable to express their emotions verbally to a counsellor, particularly at the beginning of their treatment.
Art therapy is a creative outlet for these patients, allowing them to communicate and express themselves through the medium of art. This can include painting, drawing, colouring, sculpting and any other type of creative process. A trained therapist will observe their artwork and potentially ask questions about the thoughts behind the piece, which can be a less intimidating way for patients to begin to verbalise their experiences.
Acupuncture is a holistic treatment that involves inserting very fine, sterile needles into specific points on the body which are then left for 20-30 minutes while the patient sits quietly. It is not usually a painful process, although the targeted areas may become red and feel hot to the touch. 
There are specific areas of the body that are thought to relate to addiction, and addiction-based acupuncture aims to stimulate these areas in order to decrease cravings and feelings of depression while helping to promote wellness. The most common area of the body in which addiction is treated with acupuncture in the ear, and there are thought to be five points on the ear which can be stimulated in this way.
Naturally gentle and calm, horses can provide a soothing environment in which to heal from addiction. Equine therapy involves working with a horse and a specially-trained counsellor in order to carry out tasks and boost confidence, as well as having the chance to communicate with and articulate their feelings to another living being. 
There is usually no actual riding involved in this type of therapy – instead, the patient will learn to groom and care for the horse and complete certain tasks such as leading the horse to a specific point, and these may be carried out individually or in small groups. It is not necessary to have prior experience with horses in order to access this type of treatment, as all information will be provided throughout the therapy.
Psychodrama involves role-playing and acting out specific situations within a group of people, led by a trained and experienced counsellor. It can be an extremely beneficial way for individuals to practice healthy ways of dealing with stress, managing potentially triggering situations and learning how to communicate more effectively.
This method of treatment can also be helpful when used to unpack past traumas and emotional events, as the individual is able to work through their experience and emotions in a safe place and gain some much-needed closure. They will also gain confidence in themselves and improve their social skills, which can all increase the chances of long-term recovery.
Recovering from an addiction can be mentally difficult and draining, but it can also take a physical toll on the body. Aches, pains and general discomfort are common side effects of withdrawing from addictive substances, and massage therapy aims to use the power of touch to relieve these symptoms as well as experience the benefit of non-verbal communication. 
It’s normal and common to experience sadness during a massage therapy session, and many patients may find that they cry during or after the treatment. They may have experienced past trauma during which physical touch became associated with fear and pain, and massage therapy can be an important factor in overcoming these barriers.
How can I access complementary therapies?
To learn more about accessing the various types of complementary therapies listed above, contact our team at Rehab Recovery for information and guidance regarding the treatment centres and programmes that are available in your local area. Some types of complementary therapies are available on the NHS so it is also recommended that you speak to your doctor and request that they refer you to any available services.