How Does Holistic Treatment Help?

When a person is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it is incredibly important that they find a treatment program that will encourage them to stay sober.

Today, there are many treatment options available. Medication-based treatment, 12-Step programs, and group therapy are just a few of the many options people use to start their journey toward recovery and keep it going.    

Although most people stick to traditional treatment methods, there are some people who have found success with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Also known as holistic treatments, these methods are used by to treat a variety of ailments like headaches, the common cold, and even addiction. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that around 38 percent of American adults use holistic treatment in their daily lives. 

But what exactly is holistic treatment, and how can it help someone recover from an addiction? In this article, we will discuss some of today’s most popular holistic treatments, as well as why some people consider them effective in fighting addiction. However, it is important to know that holistic treatments are most effective when combined with traditional treatment methods, as some of these treatments are not universally accepted by the medical community.

Holistic Therapies

Holistic therapy is a term used to describe any kind of alternative medicine or medical treatment. It considers the whole person – body, mind, and soul – to impart overall wellness and health (hence why it’s called holistic). Holistic therapy encompasses a wide variety of practices, including:

  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Chiropractic medicine
  • Energy healing?therapy, or Reiki
  • Hypnosis
  • Herbal supplements
  • Meditation
  • Diet and exercise
  • Yoga

Holistic treatments have become popular additional services in many high-end addiction facilities. Individuals can practice meditation and yoga or get realigned by the chiropractor along with tried and true recovery methods like group sessions and family therapy. There isn’t necessarily any harm in using holistic medicine to treat addiction when you’re also using traditional scientific methods. However, one question remains: Is holistic therapy effective on its own?

According to Psychology Today, there is no scientific evidence that these treatments are beneficial to people recovering from addiction. There is also little to no evidence that holistic therapy even contributes to longer periods of sobriety.

However, there are several instances of anecdotal evidence (both online and at rehab facilities) where holistic treatment was instrumental in helping a person recover from a drug or alcohol addiction.


The psychological benefits of mindful meditation have been espoused by yogis, businessmen, and everyone in between. To meditate, a person typically sits cross-legged on a cushion, chair, or the floor with their back straight. Then, they close their eyes and focus on their breath. By directing attention to the act of breathing, an individual can experience a sense of calm that can soothe anxiety and relieve stress.

Of course, it’s wonderful for any person to feel less stress and anxiety, whether they’re suffering from drug addiction or not. Given that some people fall into addiction after abusing drugs to combat psychological mood disorders like depression or anxiety, there is some logic to the argument that meditation can benefit people in recovery.

However, it is important to remember that recovery is not just about feeling better in the moment; it is about gaining the skills necessary to prevent relapse in the long-term.

Whether meditation accomplishes this goal is uncertain; a 2009 study in the journal Substance Abuse found the evidence for meditation promising but inconclusive. Although meditation is a popular holistic treatment (one that is even encouraged by psychologists), the hard sciences remain undecided on its merits.


Another popular form of holistic medicine is the traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture. During an acupuncture treatment, a trained professional inserts very thin needles into a person’s body, along various meridians (pathways by which it is believed that energy flows). The needles are expected to influence energy flow through the body, realigning a person’s chi and relieving them of their ailment – be it a migraine or cravings for drugs.

Acupuncture is largely considered a pseudoscience, which means that there is no hard evidence backing claims of its efficacy; however, the practice remains popular around the globe. For example, a 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that 6.5 percent of Americans had tried acupuncture at one time. Most people seek out acupuncture to relieve chronic pain, but there are individuals who believe that this method can also help them overcome substance abuse.

So, does acupuncture work? According to a study published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, maybe. Researchers discovered that acupuncture helped to maintain homeostasis during recovery, and that it may directly impact the neurotransmitters that regulated dopamine release (the same brain pathways that are impacted by drug use). Just like meditation, there is not yet enough hard evidence to make a scientific conclusion on acupuncture’s efficacy.


Reiki is another ancient practice that is quite like acupuncture. This method also involves the flow of energy through the body but without the use of any needles. Instead, a Reiki practitioner increases energy flow to parts of the body by placing their hands on the client’s head or torso. Reiki practitioners and clients claim that the practice is quite relaxing, like a massage. Advocates of Reiki also claim that this treatment can relieve mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

According to Psych Central, there have been many studies of varying quality on the benefits of Reiki, though little of this research is specific to addiction. Most studies report that individuals who undergo Reiki therapy experience a relaxing sensation, which has a notable benefit for one’s overall wellbeing. But like most holistic therapies, studies on Reiki fail to yield any hard evidence to legitimize it in the medical community, and it remains a pseudoscience.

Of course, this does not mean that Reiki has no merit at all in addiction recovery. Like meditation, some people find Reiki sessions to be calming and soothing, which can be quite helpful when they’re struggling with a craving or other addiction-related anguish.

Some professionals say the efficacy of a treatment like Reiki depends on how much a person wants to believe in it.

When Is Holistic Treatment Effective?

As we’ve seen here, there is very little evidence to back up many claims of most holistic treatments. So why do rehab centers continue offering these services? According to the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, there is some evidence that holistic treatments are effective complements to traditional therapeutic methods. While acupuncture and exercise alone may not help someone overcome addiction, they can be useful outlets in between therapy sessions and 12-Step meetings.

Ultimately, holistic treatments don’t cause harm to the individuals practicing them, so there is no reason to avoid them while undergoing addiction treatment. However, there is also little proof that they work, so if a person would rather not try them out, there’s no harm in abstaining either. Addiction recovery is a deeply personal and emotional process, and it is important to engage in activities that will benefit the goal of long-term sobriety.

The key to a successful recovery is dedication to sobriety and a personalized treatment plan that will suit the individual. Intervention, withdrawal, and therapy can leave an individual feeling raw, exposed, and vulnerable. So, if meditation, Reiki, or hitting the gym can help someone feel better, the treatment holds benefit for them. On the other hand, if holistic treatments don’t improve a person’s recovery journey, they do not need to continue with the practice.