What Are the Best Alternative Treatments for People in Recovery?

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Alternative therapies for the treatment of substance abuse disorders are very much in fashion at the moment, and many rehab facilities offer a range of treatments in addition to traditional treatments. But are these alternative therapies actually effective, or are they just a way to pass the time while justifying higher prices? The answer depends on which treatment you’re talking about specifically, because some are better researched than others. Here’s a little more information about alternative treatments for addiction.

When to Seek Alternative Treatments

Even though alternative treatments lack a strong base of research supporting their effectiveness, doctors often recommend them when mainstream options aren’t producing the desired results. However, they usually recommend those with at least some evidence behind them. The key point is that you don’t need to choose between conventional and alternative treatments — you can use both at the same time. If you are already undergoing a course of treatment, and if an alternative treatment is safe and affordable for you, you could give it a trial run to see how it works for you.


Diet and Exercise

In the field of substance abuse treatments, exercise is like a gifted amateur about to turn pro. Exercise can help repair the same parts of the brain that are damaged by many substances of abuse, and it is also an excellent stress-reducer. While there is only limited evidence linking nutrition to abstinence, a healthy diet rich in fiber, protein and “good” fats can help stave off hunger, which itself can lead to substance cravings. Exercise and nutrition are also important for increasing your overall health, which is important because addiction survivors have often led unhealthy lifestyles for long periods of time.



Meditation, along with similar practices like Tai Chi and yoga, may have benefits for people in recovery. During meditation, you get a lot of practice in accepting your bodily sensations without reacting to them. This can make cravings and withdrawal symptoms easier to deal with when they arise. Meditation is also an effective stress-reduction method, which can be crucial in recovery, because when some people experience high levels of stress, they may relapse in an attempt to take away the emotional pain. Good stress reduction techniques can help prevent this from happening.



Acupuncture involves a trained practitioner inserting needles into specific parts of the body, which is thought to rebalance energy flow in a way that heals the body. A review published in the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that, despite decades of research, the evidence for acupuncture was “inconclusive and difficult to interpret.” So, the jury is still out on this one. However, some people have reported benefits from acupuncture, and some doctors recommend it in addition to conventional treatments. 


Other Alternative Treatments

Many other alternative treatments are available, which generally have limited or inconclusive evidence in scientific research. These include practices like reiki, herbal supplements, homeopathy and reflexology. Although the research doesn’t back such practices up, there are certainly many people who swear by them and believe they have been useful. Some researchers think that these benefits might come from the placebo effect, or there may be some benefit from the personal and attentive care that you tend to receive from practitioners of these treatments. 



Always start with a course of treatment recommended by your doctor, and follow it diligently. Once you are doing this, move on to the alternative treatments with the most evidence — exercise, diet, and meditation are good places to start. Once you have these in place, if you feel like you need more help, you could try another approach. However, it’s safest not to try an alternative treatment by itself, and be very wary of any alternative medicine practitioner who advises you to ditch your doctor-led treatments or stop taking your medications.

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 What Are the Best Alternative Treatments for People in Recovery?