Yoga class meditatingAn alcohol addiction poisons every aspect of a person’s existence: the mind, the body, the spirit, and the whole world around the person.

Detoxification and psychotherapy have long been the pillars of rehabilitation, but newer schools of thought employ holistic and alternative methods to cleanse a patient of dependence. Health and wellness for alcoholics in treatment introduce a new paradigm of restoration and renewal in the aftermath of an addiction.

Health and wellness: holistic and alternative

man talking with woman doctorWhen we use terms like “holistic” and “alternative” to describe treatment, what do we mean? As with many things, it depends on the context and the language. In medicine, the idea of “holistic treatment” is about treating all aspects of patient, not just the symptoms or root causes. “Alternative medicine” itself is the belief that medical practices that are not verified or supported by established scientific accreditations are nonetheless valuable and beneficial – and may even be better than standard, accepted forms of treatment.

Alcoholism addiction treatment is, in some ways, already holistic. The whole point of psychotherapy is to examine (and change) every aspect of a patient’s life that may have contributed to the substance abuse, so the patient can see the entire world anew upon exiting treatment.

But in the health and wellness understanding of treatment, such radical change is not only within the purview of psychotherapy. Some rehabilitation centers offer such activities as exercise, swimming, and yoga to introduce new concepts of revitalization and rejuvenation to their patients. In some cases, this helps addicts rediscover activities they had once enjoyed, but which had fallen by the wayside as their respective addictions took over. Alternatively, patients learn new skills and hobbies that they can continue in their newly abstinent life, both for the pleasure of the hobby itself, and as a new and productive way to channel their healing.

Yoga in alcoholism treatment

Yoga, for example, has found a lot of support among the addiction treatment community. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says that even as 33 percent of American adults suffer from one form of addiction or another, yoga helps a lot of people find a sense of focus and center in treatment. Many addicts lack this focus because, in the words of the Huffington Post on the topic of yoga in recovery, “addiction is a disease of lack.”

  • Yoga, says the NCADD, increases awareness of body and mind in a gentle and peaceful way. By doing things as simple as counting breaths and clearing the mind of all conscious thought, patients learn to connect with themselves, and not external factors that may cue a self-destructive reaction. Learning to take care of oneself, goes the theory, gives rise to a newfound ability to deal with stressful situations by looking for positive ways to change things.
  • While yoga’s origins can be traced back through the millennia to the other side of the world, the practice has gained popularity in the modern-day Western world as a form of general stress control. Indeed, Mayo Clinic explains that stress reduction and management of chronic conditions makes yoga a way of achieving serenity in life, leaving no room for the seeds of an addiction to grow.

Alcoholism treatment and meditation

Man in group therapyAlso from the Eastern school of thought comes the idea of meditation. The practice of turning the eyes inwards teaches patients to see the negative things in their lives that led them to their addiction. Meditation brings to light the sources of resentment, frustration, and selfishness for what they truly are –not justified and righteous, but harmful and deleterious. In this way, meditation shares space with the methods and goals of standard psychotherapy: identifying the parts of the patient’s world that have corrupted their outlook. While psychotherapy does this by encouraging the patient to talk to his therapist, a meditation session might involve just the patient on his own. Using tips provided by an appropriate counselor, meditation might last anywhere from a few minutes to a whole hour, while the patient addresses his spiritual (or quasi-spiritual) self that is emerging from the shadow of addiction.

Psychology Today profiles one meditative style known as “mindfulness meditation,” but there are certainly others.

One even combines with yoga (or other forms of Eastern-based exercise and martial arts, such as tai chi or qigong) to form “meditative exercise,” merging breathing techniques and physical workouts to increase flexibility and strength – improving physical health to improve mental health.

Psychotherapy’s effectiveness is based on how it shows a patient new ways to think. Neurologically, this comes from the brain carving new neural pathways, or what we would call “learning.” Meditation works by doing much the same thing. A study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital (and published by Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging), and reported on by Science Daily, shows that patients who participated in an eight-week mindfulness meditation made tangible improvements in the regions of the brain that have to do with their sense of self, their sense of empathy, and stress. The study’s senior author said that her study showed that meditation is not just a case of relaxing and feeling good; it is an active way of providing psychological benefit to the patient.

man runningYoga is a form of exercise, and the relationship between exercise and sobriety is a well-documented one. Newsweek magazine quoted a neuroscience professor as saying that the brain of a person who is exercising releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure and the sensation of being rewarded for a beneficial action. Not coincidentally, drugs and alcohol derive their addictiveness from making the brain produce dopamine, but the key difference is that controlled substances force the production of dopamine far beyond normal levels (which is the key biochemical mechanic of addiction). Exercise, on the other hand, provides a much more moderate and a much safer boost in mood and energy, without the dangers of overstimulation.

For this reason, sober exercise programs have become popular both within and without formalized treatment. Like yoga and many of the other health and wellness practices discussed here, exercise can easily be continued once formalized treatment concludes. Exercise shares many advantages with yoga, such as relieving stress and improving brain chemistry, but it also makes a patient invest in their health and body. It makes them seriously consider taking proper care of their physical self, to the point where poisoning themself with alcohol does not make sense. Exercise boosts self-image and self-confidence, gradually diminishing the need for any kind of (chemical) crutch that the patient may have relied on to feel good about themself.

In “How Exercise Keeps You Sober,” The Fix explains that working out can help a patient channel the obsessive and intrusive thoughts that spring from the risk factors that led the patient to addiction. To that point, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that physical workouts are “vital for maintaining mental fitness,” and that anxiety disorders (which affect 40 million American adults) can be controlled and managed with a regular routine.

Physical fitness will only go so far without a healthy diet to back it up, and nutrition can be made a part of a treatment program. The reasons are unsurprisingly practical. An alcohol addiction can be physically devastating (particularly affecting the liver, heart, brain, and pancreas, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), so what goes into the body after breaking the craving for more alcohol is incredibly important. This is especially true when a patient is coming out of detoxification, where the vomiting and diarrhea that result from withdrawal will likely deprive the patient of vital body nutrients.

To that effect, the types and contents of food that a patient consumes can go a long way into repairing the damage done by a dependence on alcohol. This covers food sources such as:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Vitamins
  • Water
  • Amino acids
  • Fatty acids
Carbohydrates (whole grain breads and cereals) and fatty acids (eggs, salmon, trout, and tuna), for example, are very useful in boosting mood, says Healthline. What a person eats can literally change the structure and composition of the brain (both in terms of biochemistry and physiology), leading to changes in behavior. Indeed, there is a direct relationship between unhealthy alcohol habits and poor dietary choices, likely because the damage alcohol does to the nutrition system goes towards furthering the consumption of alcohol, making drinkers less concerned about eating healthily and more concerned about drinking more. Nutrients like the ones mentioned above, explains The Fix, give the body energy by boosting the immune system, and building and repairing organ tissue that may have been damaged by the way alcohol blocks the breakdown of certain nutrients.

This is a fact of treatment that patients would do well to remember after they are discharged. Medline Plus warns that recovering addicts have a higher chance of relapsing if they fall back into poor dietary habits.

But food itself doesn’t have to be merely nutritional. The health and wellness approach in treatment teaches patients to invest in the art and creation of cooking, giving rise to the aptly named practice of “cooking therapy.” As with exercise, cooking therapy provides an outlet for inspiration and boredom; a patient not inclined to burn off steam in a gym for an hour might instead find solace and comfort in what The Wall Street Journal called “A Road to Mental Health Through the Kitchen.” At the very least, patients are encouraged to think of things more pleasant than the ruins of their addiction; at the very most, they can discover new sources of self-esteem, by playing an integral role in the simple bonding exercise of eating.

And the dishes do not have to be exotic. Medical Daily reports that an activity as simple as baking can be a therapeutic activity, focusing the body and mind on a tactile, beneficial project that can be shared with others.

Get well today

Addiction is a vast kaleidoscope of myriad cause-and-effect dynamics, but the truth is that treatment, too, can be a fascinating mix of ancient and modern, the far-flung and the familiar. While an alcohol addiction can threaten to rip everything away, treatment offers to make everything new and better.

If you call The Recovery Village today, professionals can tell you about some of the holistic and mindful ways they have of helping you, or a loved one, overcome a dependence on alcohol.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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