Ending Addiction for Good

Three Holistic Treatments Helping Addicts Recover

Acupuncture, yoga, and mindfulness meditation show health benefits for addicts.

Quality addiction treatment consists of far more than 12 step meetings and weekly visits to a psychologist. For those who want a deep and meaningful recovery, research has shown that there are a variety of complementary therapies that help addicts transition from a life of substance abuse to one of sobriety. Recent studies show how acupuncture, yoga and meditation offer support in the pursuit of creating a creative life without relapse into addiction.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture, which has been practiced for thousands of years in the Far East, has proven itself as a tremendously effective adjunctive therapy for addicts at multiple levels of recovery—from detox to years into sobriety. One recent study shows that acupuncture can improve brain function in heroin addicts.

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In controlled laboratory experiments of heroin addiction related brain damage, acupuncture restored nerve cells, endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria in the brain’s hippocampus and frontal lobe. The research team noted that they produced evidence demonstrating that acupuncture can partially reverse the effects of heroin related brain injuries.   

Researchers also noticed other benefits of acupuncture: the pathological damage to the brain was significantly reduced and the two proteins responsible for cell preservation and death, respectively, were better regulated by needling two specific acupuncture points.

Chronic pathological damage is a common result of illicit use of heroin. Almost one fourth of people who try heroin will become addicted to it, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse. 4.2 million Americans have tried it at least one time and many of these individuals are under the age of 26. Acupuncture may help these individuals not only stay on the path of recovery, but also undo some of the physiological damage addiction has caused.

Yoga

The field of epigenetics is changing the way we look at genetics and gene expression. The way our genes express themselves is not static. Yoga may help to change our gene expression in positive ways.

A recent Norwegian study found that yoga practice results in changes in gene expression that boost immunity at a cellular level, and it doesn't take long…

A healthy immune system helps fight stress and can increase overall health. It also aids in addiction recovery by helping the body repair from the neglect and damage substance abuse can cause. Regular yoga practice also improves sleep patterns and can lessen certain food cravings, leading to a desire to eat a healthier diet. In important ways, yoga practitioners develop a healthier lifestyle that yoga itself reinforces…and the better a person feels physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the more likely they are to remain sober.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is a meditation technique to increase awareness and help prevent certain behaviors.

Researchers at the University of Utah, led by Eric Garland, found that mindfulness treatment brought about a 63 percent reduction in opioid misuse. At the same time, conventional support groups delivered only a 32 percent reduction in misuse. He and his colleagues reported their findings in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

How does mindfulness meditation work?

Mindfulness, a concept that stems from Eastern religions, is about training one’s mind to pay attention to cues and regulate automatic habits. Reappraisal refers to reframing, or viewing a stressful event from a positive, growth-promoting perspective. Savoring means learning to attend to positive events in an effort to expand sensitivity toward experiences that are naturally rewarding, such as relationships.

Study participants were able to improve their awareness of opioid craving and determine the difference between a legitimate need for pain relief and a substance-abusing-desire for opioids.

Meditation has shown many other positive benefits for substance abusers, including the development of patience, lessened reactivity to stressors, and more positive feelings about ability to handle difficult situations when they arise.

Whether used individually or in combination, it is clear that acupuncture, yoga, and mindfulness meditation each provide benefits to those recovering from addiction. 

Constance Scharff, Ph.D. is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center.

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