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Does Yoga for Addiction Recovery Help?

Yoga is beneficial for addiction recovery and can be an effective deterrent to using controlled substances. Many addiction recovery programs incorporate yoga and other wellness practices into treatment programs.

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Yoga for Reducing Cravings & Withdrawal Symptoms

Yoga can help to control withdrawal symptoms and cravings for substances when used as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

Recovering from an addiction and staying abstinent from a substance or activity that has become a habit or an obsession often requires major changes from the individual. 

There are multiple hurdles an individual who suffers from addiction will face in order to stop using the substance (or substances) in question. Stopping use is a difficult task in and of itself. Maintaining that sobriety is another matter entirely.

Cravings and triggers are the most common culprits when it comes to relapse. Individuals who undergo treatment for addiction often report yoga therapy as helpful in reducing cravings and irritability. Yoga can also help to decrease the likelihood of responding negatively to social or environmental triggers.

However, it’s important to understand that yoga is not a replacement for traditional treatment methods. There is no conclusive evidence that yoga can serve as effective addiction treatment on its own.

The Role of Yoga in Addiction Recovery Programs

Yoga is being utilized by many substance abuse programs all over the world as a way to encourage mental and physical health

Yoga has the potential to introduce an individual to a community of like-minded people. Joining a yoga class is a great opportunity to meet new people and, perhaps more importantly, to help the individual avoid the people and places that trigger the desire to misuse substances again.

Yoga has also been shown to help individuals cope with triggers and stresses that occur in everyday life, which ultimately helps a person to avoid relapse. Since yoga promotes physical and mental health, by adopting a new healthy lifestyle, this measure may reduce the likelihood of engaging in self-destructive behaviors that come along with using controlled substances.

Yoga as a Replacement for Substance Use

Addiction support groups tend to stress that people who are trying to overcome addiction must develop new tendencies and habits to take the place of prior practices and behaviors. Essentially, if you are looking to manage an addiction, changing the people you spend time with, the places you visit, and the things you do on a daily basis becomes necessary.

In such cases, yoga represents a wonderful replacement for misusing substances. Instead of going to happy hour for drinks with coworkers after work, for instance, you can consistently attend a yoga class.

Yoga can be part of a new, healthy routine that might inspire an individual to get a good night of sleep and wake up early. Having to show up to a yoga class multiple times per week can be an effective way of keeping an individual away from drug-seeking behavior.

Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is a tremendously versatile activity that can be either a relaxing, stress-free experience or a workout that improves strength, balance, and coordination.

Health-related benefits of yoga for those with substance use disorders include the following:

  • Improves strength and flexibility
  • Boosts self-esteem
  • Reduces overall stress levels
  • Improves mood
  • Facilitates a healthy night of sleep
  • Restores and renews energy
  • Provides natural pain relief
  • Gives the opportunity to join a new community of like-minded people
  • Improves mind/body balance

Yoga is an effective way to get back in touch with your body due to the fact that you are pretty much forced to engage with your body for the duration of the yoga session. Individuals who take yoga classes will be provided with instruction and will generally have access to a yoga studio that provides a relaxing ambiance. 

Yoga as Part of Comprehensive Treatment

While yoga won’t replace traditional addiction treatment, it can certainly augment a person’s recovery plan.

Studies have shown that yoga is helpful in helping manage substance use disorders when used in conjunction with traditional addiction treatment methods. Long-term data is not yet available on the subject and research is still being conducted regarding the long-term effects of yoga among individuals with substance use disorders. But in the short term, people have shown positive results from participating in yoga during recovery.

Yoga has been shown to help individuals who are addicted to the following substances:

  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Painkillers
  • Opioids
  • Inhalants
  • Hallucinogens

Yoga & Mindfulness

It is common for yoga teachers to teach mindfulness techniques, such as repeating certain mantras over the course of the session to ensure the individual is engaged in the process and working toward a deeper connection with the mind, body, and spirit. 

Given that intense focus is required to successfully hold certain yoga poses, the individual will often focus only on the task at hand, leaving behind all other matters, such as job stress or relationship issues. Many individuals who attest to the benefits of yoga consider it a great way to decompress and unplug from the stresses and challenges of everyday life.

Yoga has even been shown to produce states of euphoria among participants and improve brain health and functionality. This helps to improve overall well-being and encourage better moods.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) asserts that yoga is practiced by more than 13 million adults, with 58 percent of these adults claiming maintenance of health and well-being as their primary reason for building their yoga practice.

Given that people in recovery from addiction are attempting to develop healthy habits, yoga is most certainly an avenue to support a positive outcome.

Other Alternative Treatments for Addiction

Alternative treatments for addiction work best when used in conjunction with traditional evidence-based treatment. Medical detox and traditional therapy make up the backbone of recovery from addiction, and alternative treatments complement this model.

Alternative treatment options for addiction include the following:

  • Yoga and mindfulness therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Equine therapy
  • Biofeedback/neurofeedback
  • Peer support groups like 12-step programs 

Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs incorporate several, if not all, of these alternative or adjunctive treatments for addiction in their programs. You might try a few alternative therapies and find one that works well to support your recovery. If you do, make it part of your recovery plan.

Updated April 22, 2023
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