Alternative Therapies for Addictive Disorders

Addiction to drugs and alcohol has long been treated using traditional methods such as counseling, therapy and group support and often incorporating the ‘12 steps’ as a guiding philosophy. In recent years, medical research has impacted how addictive disorders are treated, with more evidence-based strategies and medications coming into play. Another growing area of addiction treatment includes alternative therapies.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) calls these alternatives “complementary and alternative medicine,” or CAM. NIH statistics show that the use of CAM is on the rise, with more than 38 percent of American adults using some kind of alternative medicine. For addiction treatment, there are a number of alternative approaches that can be used separately or in combination with traditional therapy. Here are some of the common alternative therapies that are available at our centers:


Acupuncture has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for millennia. Practitioners describe the healing technique as a way to balance the flow of qi, or life force, through the meridians, or pathways, of the body. This is achieved by inserting very small needles in the skin at key points in the body. Acupuncture is often used to treat pain and can be effective because the needles stimulate nerves and blood flow. Acupuncture may help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of detox and help patients to better resist the urge to use again.


The technique of neurofeedback involves the attachment of electrical sensors to the head to view brain activity as waves on a computer screen. The patient can then interact with the waves and change them and, in doing so, change his or her mental and emotional state. Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback which has been used to treat mental health conditions such as PTSD. The ability to use brain waves to effect mood may help reduce anxiety and cravings for addicts in recovery.


Meditation, like acupuncture, has been used in eastern cultures for thousands of years. The idea is to focus the mind and reduce random thoughts. This intense concentration aids relaxation and stress reduction. It can combat fatigue, relieve anxiety, depression and physical pain. Meditation has been used by patients in recovery to avoid relapse. It makes you more mindful of cravings and what leads to those cravings. It can also help calm someone who is struggling with temptation.

Exercise and Nutrition

Exercise is a natural mood booster and daily exercise, even in small amounts, can help recovering addicts improve their moods and resist urges. Exercise can offer a substitute to using drugs or alcohol by providing a natural high instead and filling a void with a healthful activity. Of course exercise is also good for the body and, when combined with good nutrition, it can you feel better both physically and mentally.

Art Therapy

The creative process is powerful and can help recovering addicts to feel better,  develop self-esteem and find purpose through the simple act of creating something. Combined with the guidance of a certified art therapist, the creative process helps a patient explore negative feelings and emotional conflict, learn to manage addiction, and make behavioral changes.


Yoga is yet another ancient practice that has found its way into modern alternative therapies. Yoga involves forming certain physical positions while breathing, meditating and being mindful. The idea is that this practice brings together the mind, the spirit and the body to create a sense of inner peace. Yoga can be a relaxing, peaceful and useful distraction from temptations and cravings.

Animal Therapy

Decades of research have shown that interactions with animals have a number of positive effects on us. The simple act of petting a cat or dog can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Animals, dogs especially, have long been used as therapy to help people relax and to brighten moods, particularly in hospitals and nursing homes. This practice has been expanded and animals are now used in all kinds of settings, including addiction recovery. One specialized branch is equine therapy, which uses interactions with horses to help addicts heal. The act of caring for and bonding with a horse gives addicts something positive to focus on and provides stress and anxiety relief.

There are many alternative therapies available for treating addiction. The important thing to remember is that no single approach works for everyone. It is also important to note that these therapies alone are not cures for addiction, but are used by some of our treatment centers to supplement more traditional treatment methods.