Addiction treatment programs typically utilize a range of therapies to address various aspects of healing and encourage comprehensive recovery.

Examples of such therapies include motivation enhancement therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and the topic of today’s article – holistic therapy.

holistic addiction treatment example

By definition, the word holistic in medicine refers to the concept of treating the entirety of a person.

When therapy is classified as holistic, it adopts techniques designed to treat aspects beyond the physical symptoms of a disease, such as psychological and social ill-being.

Holistic therapy offers inclusive treatment of addiction that creates a personalized approach based on the unique mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of each patient during their recovery journey.

Applying holistic modalities to substance abuse treatment programs provides deeper insight into a patient’s suffering, enabling more profound and long-lasting results.

Understanding the Holistic Approach

To better comprehend the holistic strategy of addiction treatment, let’s trace its origin and fundamental philosophies.

Origin and Principles

The focus on holistic healing is far from being a new direction. With frequent mentions in various ancient medicines, we can safely say this practice is several centuries old.

Holistic therapy has evidence in the ancient Greek medicine of Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), Indian traditional medicine known as Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine (TMC).

These civilizations had in common the idea of healing both a person’s body and soul. They strongly believed in the presence of a connection between all the elements that make up the health of a human – the body, the mind, and the spirit.

In addition to this belief, holistic medicine views support and love as key healing tools. It also emphasizes the innate healing power that people are born with while striving to alleviate the very root of the illness, not just its symptoms.

Its Significance

As a mode of medicine that addresses the whole individual, holistic medicine aims for a person’s physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. It’s based on the conviction that the overall health of people is a collective result of the health of all aspects of their being.

As such, achieving a proper balance in physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health is the only way for a person to be truly of optimal health.

This is why concentrating addiction treatment efforts on just one or two of those areas and neglecting the rest is likely to have a negative impact on the patient’s recovery. They may get initially better, but they’ll only reach long-lasting sobriety if treatment is provided on all levels.

Core Components of Holistic Addiction Therapy

Now that you’re more familiar with the origin, philosophies, and importance of the holistic approach in medicine, it’s time to look at it in the setting of addiction treatment.

Like any type of therapy used in addiction treatment programs, holistic therapy features a set of healthy living elements that form its core. Here’s a breakdown of each component:

Mindful Practices

Some of the most effective methods used in holistic therapy are those classified as mindful practices.

That’s because they take advantage of the brain’s tremendous ability to affect the person’s actions, feelings, and physiological functions.

With the right training, a patient’s brain can be their best alley as it helps them effectively deal with urges and remain calm against temptations.

Meditation, guided visualization, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation are among the most common techniques for mindfulness. These exercises help addicts deflate stressful situations and process emotions to prevent lapses or relapses.

Physical Therapies

Next are types of holistic therapy that involve a physical element.

These include exercises that the patient actively performs, such as Yoga and Tai Chi, as well as activities that the patient receives, such as acupuncture and massage therapy.

Yoga and Tai Chi aim to create a link between movement, breath, and mindfulness. It encourages self-awareness, promotes relaxation, and helps the patient “be” in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.

The goal of acupuncture and massage therapy is to help patients alleviate stress and renew their inner balance. By relaxing the body and mind, they can relax physically, mentally, and emotionally, which aids in reducing urges.

Nutritional Counseling

An integral part of a person’s bodily health is what they eat. Nutritional counseling is used in holistic addiction therapy to manage the dietary lifestyle of patients.

After evaluating the dietary habits and physical condition of the patient, a professional develops a nutritional plan with consideration to their addiction.

Such plans satisfy the patient’s nutrition requirements, aid in detoxification, offer alternatives to unhealthy foods, and provide advice on how to fix unhealthy eating habits.

A strong body corresponds to a strong mind, both of which are essential to achieving and maintaining recovery.

Expressive Therapies

A lot of addiction patients struggle with opening up about their experiences, feelings, trauma, inner conflicts, and so on. This created a need for other self-expression methods that rely on non-verbal modes.

To that end, treatment programs incorporate a range of creative activities to help patients explore and show their thoughts and emotions without having to talk.

Examples of expressive therapies include:

  • Art therapy: drawing, painting, writing, sculpting, and crafting are examples of artistic activities that can support soul-searching and provide insight into what’s going on deep down. Patients are free to interpret their emotions and challenges without fear of being under judging eyes.
  • Movement/dance therapy: although it’s a newer type of expressive therapy, dance/movement therapy is quite effective. It promotes “feel good” chemicals inside the brain, which reinforces positive emotions that support recovery maintenance by curbing cravings.
  • Music therapy: music is a highly powerful tool when it comes to evoking and translating emotions. This form of expressive therapy involves listening to certain types of music and playing instruments to create personal pieces.

Nature and Adventure Therapies

Last but not least, nature can offer a therapeutic effect for addiction treatment within the holistic approach.

Being outdoors promotes self-reflection and self-discovery. Connecting with different elements in nature–from plants to animals to the wilderness experience–fosters a sense of peace and grounding that boosts recovery.

Common nature therapies include: 

  • Gardening: not only is this a productive distraction technique to resist urges, but it also offers a rewarding experience for patients as they care for a living thing and watch it respond to them.
  • Equine therapy: research shows that patients working with horses demonstrate improvements in emotional and cognitive capacities.
  • Wilderness therapy: also known as outdoor behavioral therapy, it involves camping outdoors with peers for a certain period.

Benefits of Holistic Addiction Therapy

The holistic approach to addiction therapy is widely adopted in treatment centers thanks to the following advantages:

Addressing Underlying Causes of Addiction

Holistic therapy focuses on healing the root of the problem, not just its symptoms.

Consequently, it highly benefits addiction treatment since it becomes a lot more effective when it addresses the points that originally triggered the substance abuse.

Resolving the underlying causes such as mental issues and emotional trauma supports long-term recovery and limits the occurrence of relapse.

Nurturing Personal Growth

Many of the techniques used in holistic therapy work to cultivate personal growth by stimulating self-expression and self-awareness.

When the patient gets to know themselves on a deeper level, their confidence and self-worth increases to help them stay sober.

Fortifying Coping Mechanisms

Addiction treatment programs include behavioral therapy and life coaching sessions to equip patients with coping mechanisms for dealing with urges.

Since it supports greater control over one’s self, holistic therapy strengthens these coping techniques and enables patients to draw more profound effects from them.

Enhancing Comprehensive Well-Being

While traditional addiction treatment is mainly concerned with physical well-being, holistic therapy broadens the range of healing to include the patient’s mental and emotional well-being. 

Integrating Holistic Therapy with Traditional Treatments

Holistic therapy was, is, and will always be a supportive type of therapy. It’s supposed to complement other addiction treatment methods and can never replace them.

The very definition of holistic therapy confirms these conditions.

After all, the holistic approach focuses on treating the patient as a whole, which is only possible by also incorporating medical and psychological therapies within a multi-faceted treatment plan.

Potential Criticisms and Considerations

The biggest criticism surrounding holistic methods regards their efficacy.

While it’s not as thoroughly researched as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, many studies prove that the holistic approach produces positive results in addiction treatment thanks to its benefits in achieving comprehensive well-being.

Still, it’s important to note that not all holistic solutions are effective for every case. A personalized program should be designed to suit the individual needs of each patient.


Thanks to a wide range of therapeutic techniques, the holistic approach made available more ways to treat different causes of addiction and manage its triggers.

Keeping an open mind when exploring addiction treatment options is a must to achieve all-around well-being and prevent relapse.


Published on: 2017-04-29
Updated on: 2024-05-10