A survey of new techniques in treatment of alcoholism and addiction inevitably leads to the emergence of holistic medicine as a complementary approach for a variety of programs. From drug- court mandated acupuncture, to a staff naturopath at many higher end rehabs, the presence of holistic medicine comes in many forms and serves many functions. In what ways (and at what cost) are these alternative treatments proving effective?
Acupuncture: Perhaps the most widespread form of alt. therapy is acupuncture. Rather than representing a new trend in the field of medicine, acupuncture practitioners are carrying on an ancient Eastern tradition and bring it to new settings. I found a substantial trove of information on the use of acupuncture and discovered auricular (or ear based) treatments seem to present the most widespread practice in the field. The Lincoln Clinic in New York experienced an array of benefits adding acupuncture to their 12-step, therapy and urine-testing based program. According to their long term observation, “The primary value of acupuncture, however, is that its immediate effect is often a cessation of withdrawal symptoms, encouraging patients to come again for treatment in the future.”[i] Unfortunately a mitigating view comes from a study of cocaine users conducted by researchers from Ivy League universities. They found absolutely no difference between the control group (given random needle placement), the actual acupuncture group and group who merely watched calming videos[ii]. Although the cocaine users in that study were not affected, a similar study involving heroin abusers found that their withdrawal symptoms were diminished with needles (perhaps somewhat ironically). Overall the message about the effectiveness of acupuncture seems to be this – the treatment can help with the immediate physical symptoms of drug withdrawal, as in the case of opiates – yet as a broader cure for cravings and the overall symptoms of addiction, it seems to be lacking. Certainly not the miracle solution some would seem to suggest, at least insofar as chronic alcoholism’s concerned.
Yoga: Another ancient practice thought to have important benefits for those in the recovery community, Yoga actually embodies a variety of different techniques or forms. Each of these can offer their own sets of potential benefits. Kundalini yoga, for instance, centers on rigorous breathing exercises and can activate the same endorphins that exercise and physical exertion release, all of which have been proven beneficial to the brain chemistry of someone coming off of drugs or alcohol. On a deeper level the group that seems to gain the most from yogic practices is the segment of the population who hold a deep dissatisfaction with life, and addicts certainly fit that description. In addressing this view the practices of yoga can be similar to the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, emphasizing more constructive ways of self-talk and views of the environment. Another additional benefit is that the yoga community itself can be a healing mechanism for the addict seeking a place they can feel comfortable. Other than the rooms of Anonymous programs there are few places where the anxiety ridden addict can feel at ease: the yoga studio provides one. Research in the benefits of yogic practice for recovery has shown potential for the practice when integrated into traditional therapies, serving as a connecting force between the mind, body, and spirit. For those suffering with addiction almost any help in achieving such unity can be a welcome aid indeed.