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Is Holistic Rehab Effective?

A holistic rehab program combines traditional elements (like medications and therapy) with alternative medicine techniques (like yoga and acupuncture). The result is a form of treatment that addresses your addiction from multiple angles. For some people, it’s ideal.

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What Are Holistic Treatment Methods for Addiction?

Holistic medicine involves a whole-body approach to disease management. Instead of looking exclusively at someone’s drug use, a holistic practitioner might widen the focus to examine how the problem began and how changing core parts of a person’s life could make relapse less likely.

Addiction treatment professionals don’t corner the market on holistic care. Since the 1980s, professionals have attempted to define holistic medicine and how it works.[1] Since then, many people have tried these techniques to recover from drug addiction. 

While every program is different, holistic facilities tend to incorporate the following treatment methods:

  • Meditation: This term refers to practices that integrate the mind and body. A classic meditation session involves repeating a word or phrase while breathing slowly. But multiple meditation forms exist.[2]
  • Yoga and tai chi: Sometimes called moving forms of meditation, yoga and tai chi involve a series of poses conducted while focusing on breathing. 
  • Acupuncture: Very tiny needles are placed along energy meridians throughout the body. Sessions can be mildly uncomfortable but shouldn’t cause pain. Some people find sessions very relaxing.
  • Music or art therapy: Creative approaches involving music or art help people express ideas that aren’t easy to explain with words. 
  • Equine therapy: Participants work with horses and learn more about the roles of trust and nonverbal communication.
  • Nutrition: Meal prep helps people connect with their creativity, while tasty foods help to awaken the senses. 

Some programs allow participants to mix and match the therapy options they use. Others set treatment schedules based on client history and future plans. 

Are Holistic Treatments Effective?

The holistic treatment field is large, and it’s difficult to make sweeping statements about efficacy. But several forms of treatment used in these programs have been proven effective. 

These are treatment modalities that have been studied and proven effective: 


Researchers say that mindfulness-based meditation is effective in reducing drug cravings.[2] Therapists encourage patients to focus on what they can see, hear, taste, and smell when drug cravings appear. Focusing on their physical sensations can help them move away from destructive thoughts, making them less likely to relapse. 


The majority of research conducted on yoga and addiction focuses on nicotine. However, these studies suggest that a regular yoga practice can help people control drug cravings and limit their relapse risks.[3]

Yoga and tai chi can also help participants connect with their community. For people looking for new friends and activities in sobriety, yoga and tai chi studios can offer a helpful outlet and new lifeline. 


More than 30% of Americans have chronic or acute pain.[4] For some people, physical discomfort leads directly to opioid medication and addiction. If their conditions aren’t fixable via surgery or physical therapy, they will need a different form of help that doesn’t spark relapse concerns. 

Acupuncture hasn’t been proven effective in pain relief. That said, researchers say many people get relief from conditions like low back pain, migraines, and headaches from their sessions.[5] People in rehab due to pain may benefit from learning how acupuncture could help. 

Art & Music Therapy

Researchers say that people with addictions can experience multiple benefits from art and music therapy, including the following:[6]

  • Reduced opposition to treatment
  • Improved communication 
  • Increased motivation to change
  • Decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress

The type of therapy provided, as well as the willingness of the participant, plays a role. But these therapies could be helpful for people struggling with addictions. 

Holistic Modalities as Part of a Comprehensive Treatment Plan 

It’s not always easy to determine whether or not your treatment program offers holistic care. Some call those elements things like complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or whole-person care. Others don’t use a label at all. The best ones combine these approaches with more traditional forms of care. 

Well-studied and approved forms of treatment for addiction include the following:

  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): Substances like alcohol and opioids respond well to medications like naloxone, buprenorphine, and methadone. Prescriptions can correct chemical imbalances caused by addiction, reducing cravings and withdrawal discomfort. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Sessions help you examine the thoughts and feelings that lead to drug use and relapse. Building relapse prevention skills allows you to deal with cravings without using drugs. 
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): Sessions help you pick up coping strategies to assist you in moving away from drug and alcohol abuse. 
  • Motivational enhancement therapy: Some people aren’t quite ready to enter treatment and deal with addiction. Motivational sessions help you dig deep and explore how recovery might change your life for the better. 
  • Family therapy: Relationships can fail during active addiction. Group therapy with parents, spouses, and children can help you create a support system for sobriety.
  • Support groups: Connecting with people in recovery can help you develop a supportive community. You can learn from them and teach others too. 

Comprehensive treatment plans can be inpatient. You move into the facility and work on your recovery around the clock. An outpatient program could help you transition to independent living when you’re stronger in recovery. 

Who Might Benefit From Holistic Rehab?

Everyone with an addiction can benefit from a treatment program. Whether or not you include holistic elements is up to you. For some, it’s helpful. 

If you already use yoga, meditation, and similar approaches in your everyday life, including them in your recovery could be useful. If you are curious about these ideas and just haven’t tapped into them, you may also benefit from holistic rehab. 

Prior approaches and attempts could also help you decide. If you’ve attempted sobriety with a program that didn’t include holistic approaches, adding them now may be just what you need. 

If you balk at the idea of new approaches that aren’t technically scientific, a holistic program might irritate you. There’s no harm in advocating for yourself and your recovery. If you think it’s not right for you, speak up and keep looking for a program that does feel like a good fit. 

And remember, holistic approaches work best when they’re included as part of a comprehensive program. They shouldn’t be used alone to address serious problems like addiction. While holistic approaches can augment your treatment plan, traditional, evidence-based treatment should be the core of your addiction recovery program.

Ensure that any program you use is appropriate for the severity of your illness. Your treatment team can help you determine if holistic care is right for you.

Updated October 20, 2023
  1. Gordon JS. Holistic medicine: advances and shortcomings. West J Med. 1982 Jun;136(6):546-51. PMID: 7113200; PMCID: PMC1273970
  2. Meditation and mindfulness: What you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Published June 2022. Accessed August 31, 2023.
  3. Kuppili PP, Parmar A, Gupta A, Balhara YPS. Role of Yoga in Management of Substance-use Disorders: A Narrative Review. J Neurosci Rural Pract. 2018 Jan-Mar;9(1):117-122. doi: 10.4103/jnrp.jnrp_243_17. PMID: 29456355; PMCID: PMC5812135
  4. Volkow N, McLellan T. Opioid abuse in chronic pain: Misconceptions and mitigation strategies. New England Journal of Medicine. 2016; 374:1253-1263. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1507771
  5. Kelly RB, Willis J. Acupuncture for Pain. Am Fam Physician. 2019 Jul 15;100(2):89-96. PMID: 31305037
  6. Aletraris L, Paino M, Edmond MB, Roman PM, Bride BE. The use of art and music therapy in substance abuse treatment programs. J Addict Nurs. 2014 Oct-Dec;25(4):190-6. doi: 10.1097/JAN.0000000000000048. PMID: 25514689; PMCID: PMC4268880
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