Comparing Traditional with Holistic Treatment Approaches

Treatment approaches for drug addictionAddiction is a disease, and like many diseases, there are a variety of ways to treat it. Though no single treatment option produces the exact same results for two different individuals in the same amount of time, there are several methods that research has indicated are highly effective at treating those who suffer from addiction. This article will explore both traditional and holistic approaches to drug addiction and ultimately compare the two.

How does treatment begin?

The Traditional Approach

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are several main types of traditional treatment modalities when it comes to addiction; however, individual programs continue to evolve as research indicates what kind of approaches are typically effective, so many modern programs no longer fit into a standard classification. In general though, traditional approaches to drug addiction begin with a medical detox stage.

During medical detox, clients have access to a team of trained healthcare professionals who will help them manage the worst of their withdrawal symptoms. Following medical detox, clients can choose from a number of programs based on the extent of their addiction and their recovery needs, as well as their budget, schedule, and geographic location.

The Holistic Approach

Taking a holistic approach to addiction treatment simply means treating the disease by addressing the mind, body, and spirit as a whole. The main belief behind holistic medicine is that these three components are all interconnected, and when one is unbalanced, it causes problems in the others. According to the American Holistic Health Association, a holistic approach to addiction treatment integrates both alternative and conventional therapies to promote recovery. That means holistic treatment begins in the same way as traditional treatment: with medical detox.

What are some specific approaches?

The Traditional Approach

Different addiction facilities offer different treatment options. Some of the most common treatment programs following detox are:

  • Residential Treatment
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs
  • Outpatient Programs

Clients with severe addictions might graduate from one program to the next. For example, it is not uncommon for individuals to opt for residential treatment following the medical detox stage but to enroll in an outpatient program later. In residential treatment, clients have care 24 hours a day in a nonhospital setting, and they become part of a therapeutic community. In this community, they will find the support and encouragement they need to help them develop personal accountability for their actions. Residential treatment is highly structured and provides a safe space for individuals to address the root of their addiction without having to face stressors of the outside world while they are still vulnerable after undergoing detox. Many residential treatment programs employ some variation of the 12-Step approach to addiction, which can carry individuals through the other treatment modalities and well into recovery.

Those who have obligations at home, work, or school may not be able to attend a residential treatment program. In these cases, they might opt for a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). In a PHP, clients still have a structured schedule with intensive therapy sessions, but they go home to their families every night.

Like residential treatment and PHPs, outpatient programs rely on Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, peer groups, and other types of therapy, but they are much more flexible as far as scheduling goes. They also allow clients to spend time with their families during recovery, which is an important component of the support structure for many individuals who struggle with addiction.

The Holistic Approach

There are dozens of holistic ways to treat addiction, and some of them are purportedly more effective than others. Some common holistic treatments include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Animal therapy
  • Brainwave biofeedback
  • Yoga

Holistic approach to addiction treatment

People suffering from addiction might try a variety of natural or holistic approaches simultaneously, and it is common to implement them into a traditional treatment program. For example, some facilities offer art therapy or animal therapy, which might mean horseback riding or even swimming with dolphins.

Acupuncture is a popular holistic way to treat addiction. This ancient form of Chinese medicine consists of inserting tiny needles into specific points on the body in order to restore balance and promote healing. Acupuncture should only be done by a professional, but it is a valid form of treatment in the eyes of the many medical insurance providers that cover it.

Hypnosis is another popular way to treat the psychological contributors of addiction. The term hypnosis refers to a natural state of focused attention that can be produced by a therapist or individuals themselves. During hypnosis, the mind becomes more receptive to certain ideas that align with the client’s ultimate goals. Though hypnosis may not be effective at treating addiction on its own, some people have claimed to have success with it after combining it with other more traditional treatment approaches.

Massage therapy can treat a variety of ailments because it reduces stress, relieves anxiety, and promotes relaxation. According to the American Psychological Association, stress weakens the immune system, which makes the body more susceptible to disease in general. When it comes to addiction in particular, many people who are trying to recover from the disease suffer from anxiety, but massage therapy can help relieve it and subsequently minimize the effects of other related psychological symptoms of withdrawal.

How effective Is It?

The Traditional Approach

The efficacy rates of the different treatment modalities vary, but it is important for family members to remember that addiction is a chronic illness, and as with most diseases, relapse is common; however, it is always possible to reenter recovery.

According to a review originally published in the Assessing the Evidence Base Series, Intensive Outpatient Programs are as effective at treating addiction as residential treatment programs, and 50-70 percent of subjects who enrolled in outpatient programs reported abstinence when researchers followed up, as did the same percentage of subjects who enrolled in inpatient programs.

When it comes to specific treatment approaches and not just the general structure through which they are applied, researchers have found that various types of therapy have proven to be effective for some clients. For example, according to an analysis in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, Motivational Interviewing is 10-20 percent more effective at treating substance abuse than no treatment at all. Researchers who conducted a study originally published in Psychiatric Clinics of North America found that 60 percent of participants who received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for cocaine dependence had clean toxicology reports at the one-year follow-up point.

The Holistic Approach

Because holistic treatment attempts to treat addiction in such a way that it does not always produce tangible results, it is challenging to determine the efficacy of the various types of treatment. For example, according to a review originally published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the evidence for the effects of acupuncture on opiate addiction is currently inconclusive.

The best way for individuals to determine if a treatment approach is working for them is to pay attention to how they feel during and after its application. There is no set scientific way to measure improvements in the mind or spirit, but clients may feel a noticeable change in mood or personality after undergoing holistic treatment, which can have a positive effect on their overall recovery.

Holistic Treatment Articles

A Complementary Approach

Doctors and addiction experts do not recommend taking an entirely holistic approach to treating addiction because there is little tangible evidence of its efficacy; however, as a form of complementary medicine, it can help people feel more in control of their own treatment. The more engaged and proactive clients are in their treatment, the more effective their programs tend to be.

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