Substance use disorder (SUD) is an incredibly complex disease that resists treatment precisely because it destroys an individual’s self-control. While substance rehab experts have made major strides in finding effective treatments for SUD, it’s becoming abundantly clear that every individual responds differently to a given set of approaches.
For this reason, recovery is often a matter of trying out different combinations of therapies until the patient finally begins to improve. Today, so-called alternative therapies have also started to gain more attention in mainstream drug rehab treatment.
While most of these therapies tend to be insufficient by themselves, many have synergistic effects when combined with proven treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Below are some of the supplemental therapies that have shown significant promise in helping individuals recover from long-term substance misuse. If you’re in New England and feel that you or a loved one needs substance rehab, be sure to check out this comprehensive list of drug rehabs in Boston.
1. Meditation and mindfulness
Meditation and its related practice, mindfulness, have been found by multiple studies to significantly reduce stress and anxiety symptoms, which are common in people recovering from substance use disorder.
Many of us already practice some form of contemplation, such as during prayer, or when enjoying a hobby or quiet time. Advanced meditation practices, however, can allow recovering individuals to more effectively control their emotions and thoughts.
This added control over one’s emotions can make it easier to overcome residual cravings and become less reliant on daily anxiolytics and antidepressants. The introspection that comes with regular meditation and mindfulness can even help recovering individuals get more out of their regular sessions with counselors and therapists.
2. Outdoor and nature therapy
Weekend nature getaways or even trips to a local park can form part of effective mental hygiene, not just for recovering individuals, but for almost everyone else as well. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, there is evidence that being near natural features like a forest, a river, or an ocean can be a predictor of lower stress levels, compared to being in urban sprawl.
Urban settings are often quite stressful due to the noise, lack of privacy, and the overall rushed mood, which often leaves little time for recovering individuals to truly focus on getting better. This added stress on top of the challenges of recovering from substance use disorder may even increase the possibility of a relapse.
Regular nature trips can be key for some recovering individuals who find it hard to find some quiet time. For those that may not have such an opportunity, even a short trip to a park or to the beach can temporarily boost one’s mood.
3. Moderate exercise
We all know that exercise is important for maintaining a physically fit body. However, for most people, it can be a key part of having a healthy and resilient mind. Because of how closely the mind and body are linked, having a healthy body will almost always benefit a person’s emotions and executive functions.
It’s worth noting that exercise is one of the oldest proven therapies out there for treating substance use disorder and related psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. There is evidence that exercise can break the trauma cycle, which can allow a recovering individual to move on from their rut and become more proactive in their recovery.
Exercise also helps bleed off nervous energy which recovering individuals often have. Moderate to intense exercise results in a natural high that could be an excellent, wholesome substitute for those given by dangerous substances. Exercise is also proven to help sleep, another issue individuals with substance use disorders often have trouble with.
Yoga combines focused meditative practices with exercise, making it a particularly potent supplemental therapy for recovering individuals. Unlike many other exercises, yoga can be done by people of all fitness levels and can be as much of a workout as one needs it to be.
The main benefit of yoga over other exercises is that it actively engages the mind as one goes through the poses, which in themselves, can also be physically demanding. It combines the benefits of meditation and exercise in a holistic practice that is well-suited for recovering individuals of all physical conditions and financial means.
5. Owning a pet
We have to preface this by saying that owning a pet is not a responsibility to take lightly. However, for the right people, having that added responsibility is precisely the thing they need. Individuals recovering from substance use disorder and other psychiatric conditions tend to report being happier, less anxious, and less depressed.
If the individual is prepared to properly take on the responsibility of caring for another life, they might find taking care of a pet to be one of the most beneficial things they could do for their recovery. If owning a pet is out of the question, volunteering at an animal shelter can be a viable alternative.
It can be difficult for recovering individuals to objectively assess their emotional state if they do not somehow express it. A daily journal can help one better understand their current emotional and mental state and can also be a handy way to track progress. Journaling can also be useful for helping patients and clinicians better understand how effective different treatment approaches are, allowing them to change therapy and medication as needed.
7. Expressive arts
Not everything that one wants to say can be accurately described in a journal entry. Emotions can be complex and conflicted, and being able to express them in ways that one feels comfortable with can be helpful in one’s journey through recovery.
Dance, music, visual arts, poetry, writing, and other creative activities can offer a way for individuals recovering from SUD to express themselves, which can be key to moving on from trauma and healing. Most of these activities may also come with a socialization aspect, which, for some people, can further improve their mental state as well.
While these practices are largely proven to be beneficial, they should only be considered as a supplementary treatment for substance use disorder after consulting with a qualified clinician. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, group counseling, medication-assisted therapy, other mainstream treatment approaches are still the most effective at helping individuals with SUD maintain a sustainable recovery.
On the other hand, these activities cost very little to get into and they have proven synergistic effects with conventional therapy approaches. All of these approaches are commonplace in substance rehab facilities all over the country, which is a testament to their usefulness in helping recovery.