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Alternative Addiction Treatments and Therapies

Taking the first step toward getting help for your addiction can be scary and perhaps overwhelming considering the multitude of treatment options available to you. Ideally, any kind of therapy, including addiction treatment, is best when it is tailored to you as an individual. What works best for one person may not be the same for another. When treatment centers and therapists apply cookie-cutter approaches, they often fall flat, because they fail to address the underlying issues and unique personality characteristics of each individual.

It’s important that you find a place that feels like a good fit for you, as this will help to instill, increase, and maintain your motivation for recovery. Fortunately, complementary and alternative approaches have been gaining a lot of traction in recent years, increasing the availability of these methods.

Types of Alternative Therapies

There are a number of options available to you that offer a variety of types of treatment techniques and comprehensive programs. These techniques will consider the factors unique to your recovery. The following list details some of the alternative treatments and therapies you may find as you search for a program that fits your needs.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)

EFT is often referred to as “tapping,” as it involves using the tips of your fingers to tap on a sequence of points on the body that are related to acupressure points or meridians. Thus, it is an energy psychology technique that helps to energetically balance you, as well as free up areas where your energy might be blocked.

While you are tapping, you will verbally make statements that identify or name the current emotional issue or presenting problem, while practicing acceptance of yourself regardless of these problems and feelings.

EFT may help address the underlying causes of your addiction and help you to cope more effectively with cravings.

Yoga and Mindfulness-Based Therapies

hands-shape for the Sun

Individuals struggling with addiction are often disconnected from their bodies and perhaps engage in their substance use with the intention of self-soothing and numbing painful thoughts, emotions, and experiences. As such, you might say that their use of alcohol and other drugs requires a certain level of mindlessness. In other words, alcohol and drug users are not fully engaged in the present moment and are acting out their habits almost as if on automatic pilot rather than out of a place of awareness.

Therapy that involves mindfulness training can help you increase awareness and connect back with yourself so that you may have a better understanding of how your addiction plays itself out in your life. You can learn to respond to the stresses in your life rather than reacting to them automatically and thus may be able to make more conscious decisions. There are many ways you might begin to practice mindfulness—from learning to be more present in your daily life to more formal meditation.

Yoga might even be considered a moving meditation and can provide another way to access the benefits listed above. For many, the practice of yoga can also engender a spiritual connection or sense of interconnectedness, which may also address the feelings of isolation and shame that often accompany addiction.

Since 2012, there has even been an integration of yogic philosophy with the traditional 12-step model in the form of Y12SR, or The Yoga of 12-Step Recovery.

Equine Therapy

If you participate in Equine-Assisted Therapy, you will be accompanied by a licensed mental health professional as well as an equine specialist. You do not have to know how to ride a horse, as all of the activities are done on the ground. You may engage in activities directly related to the caretaking of the horse, as well as more structured activities designed to help address therapeutic issues.

Taking care of horses can foster feelings of self-competence, and the more structured sessions can provide a safer way for you to begin exploring deeper emotional issues without judgment while in the calming presence of an animal.

The relationship you develop with the horse will mirror how you relate to yourself and others, and issues that are often hidden by the addict will come out during interactions with the horse. Through this process, you and your therapist can identify patterns that underlie and fuel your addiction, while experientially practicing new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Art Therapy

woman painting for art therapy
Art therapy is another type of experiential therapy that may involve any number of mediums, such as pens, paint, tissue paper, clay, beads, or even wooden boards and nails.

Similar to equine therapy, it may offer a less jarring way for you to begin addressing issues that contribute to your substance use and addiction.

The overall benefits of art therapy are twofold:

  • The actual process of creating your art can be therapeutic and relaxing.
  • The content of your art can be explored with a therapist to uncover and heal emotional wounds related to your addiction.

Adventure Therapy (AT)

It may be fairly common nowadays to see some form of experiential adventure-based therapy incorporated into alternative substance abuse treatment programs. If you tend to be a more active person, you may feel more motivated to engage in this form of treatment, as it will help you to self reflect and work through your addiction in a more dynamic and mobile way.  It might include activities such as a ropes course, hiking, camping, or playing games.

Similar to equine therapy, the way you participate in the adventure activities can provide a parallel to your life. In other words, it can help you gain insights into what might be driving and maintaining your addiction, in addition to some ways you might attempt to heal. It can also effectively promote the development of numerous life skills that can aid in your recovery. For example, adventure therapy tasks typically involve some type of challenge. This provides an opportunity for you to:

  • Learn more about how you react to stressful situations. Individuals struggling with addiction often have trouble effectively responding in a healthy way to life’s challenges, so through AT, you may gain insight about how maladaptive coping skills contribute to your substance use.
  • Get real-time feedback about how the environment or situation is impacted by your responses and attempts at problem-solving. AT then gives you the opportunity to adjust your behaviors in the moment and learn better coping skills that you can also apply to your life outside of treatment.

Processing, reflection, and discussion after the activity can further integrate what you learned, and the successful navigation of the challenge can help you to develop a greater sense of self-confidence.


Biofeedback is a method that helps individuals monitor their bodies’ physiological processes to affect psychological change. You would be connected to some kind of technological device that would measure and give you immediate biological feedback, like:

  • Heart rate.
  • Skin conductance.
  • Muscle tension.

As you watch your body’s physiological reactions change in real-time, you can learn the crucial skill of self-regulation that is so important in addiction recovery.

For example, a biofeedback program called HeartMath utilizes an earpiece or finger piece to measure heart rate variability (HRV), or the beat-to-beat changes in your heart rhythm. This information is displayed on a computer screen in front of you so that you can monitor what factors might affect your HRV in a positive or negative way. Enhancing your HRV can help you deal with stress more effectively, affording you the potential to influence drug-related choices you may make. You will also learn techniques to help effect more positive change.

Neurofeedback works very similarly in that you are using real-time feedback to self-regulate. This process differs in the fact that you hook up electrodes to your head to monitor brain waves instead.

Both of these methods can help increase relaxation, reduce cravings, and help you learn to more effectively manage times of emotional stress or dysregulation.


group of people participating in charades
Psychodrama is another experiential treatment, during which participants act out a scene, often related to an interpersonal issue. There are several different types of approaches, from more structured to more free-flowing, although there are some specific techniques that are commonly used to increase awareness and promote behavioral change:
  • Role reversal allows the participants to switch places with one another and act as another person. This technique can help widen your perspective, as standing in someone else’s shoes can help you see how they might perceive the same situation. That can also help promote the resolution of anger or past hurts; as you act as someone you have felt angry towards, you may realize that it’s people who are hurting who end up hurting others. Furthermore, as another participant stands in your shoes, thoughts or feelings that you were unaware of may be revealed.
  • Doubling allows a therapist or another person to act out the inner voice of an actor. Oftentimes with substance abuse, the user is unaware of how they are actually feeling or may be in denial about their addiction. Having someone act out your inner voice can help you get more in touch with your emotional truths and the real consequences of your addiction.

Through the development of these scenes, you also have the opportunity to act in different ways and see in real time how these adjustments impact the scene. As such, you are able to develop newer and more effective coping skills for a variety of situations—whether interpersonal or even intrapersonal.  Psychodrama may also help to resolve issues related to trauma, which often underlies addiction.

What Are the Benefits of Alternative Treatments for Addiction?

Utilizing non-traditional therapies or alternative treatments for addiction recovery has numerous benefits:

“These alternative methods are beneficial for overall psychological health and well-being and can improve certain factors that likely contribute to success with both treatment programs and relapse prevention.”

  • Alternative therapies offer a more comprehensive approach that addresses the whole person on a mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual level. Making sure that none of these areas gets left behind can increase your chances for success during treatment and reduce the risk of relapse. You can think of it this way: when you are trying to learn something new, the more ways it gets into your brain, the easier it will be to recall. Similarly, with treatment, the more ways you integrate the things you learn in treatment, the better your chances are of recovery.
  • They utilize the body’s innate wisdom to heal and offer a more natural approach that may be more attractive to some individuals.
  • Some people may find traditional methods intimidating, and adding a non-traditional approach can feel more accessible. Furthermore, many of the experiential approaches listed above can uncover underlying issues that may not be revealed in talk therapy.
  • They provide individuals with new life skills and/or ways of being in the world that can dramatically increase their chances of maintaining their recovery and navigating the challenges of everyday life more successfully.
  • Many of the approaches above also offer a way to calm the overly active nervous system that tends to fuel alcohol and drug use.
  • As most of the alternative methods are active mind-body approaches, they can help you to embody new insights and change rather than just think about it on a cognitive level.

Despite the growing popularity of alternative treatment methods, more research is still needed on their effectiveness. Much of the current information derives from individual reports, clinician observations, and pilot studies or small research studies. Even so, they are proving to at least be effective as supplements to more standard and empirically validated therapies, if not as stand-alone treatments.

What the current research is showing is that these alternative methods are beneficial for overall psychological health and well-being and can improve certain factors that likely contribute to success with both treatment programs and relapse prevention. For example, a 2011 review revealed that mindfulness training can help increase self-regulation and decrease emotional reactivity.

Finding a Program That Incorporates Non-Traditional Treatment

Ideally, you want to look for a non-traditional treatment program that focuses on:

  • Assessing your unique needs and characteristics.
  • Developing a comprehensive personal approach that is tailored to you as an individual.

Your motivation and success for recovery will be significantly enhanced by finding a place that feels like a right fit for you. As such, you may want to talk to staff members over the phone about their programs and even go over to visit to get a good feel for the environment. Think about what approaches feel most accessible to you, and perhaps even what peaks your interest or might motivate you. There are enough options out there that you can find a program you feel you can invest in.

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your health insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of a non-traditional rehab program and associated therapies.

Help Finding Alternative Addiction Treatment Centers

Rehab facilities are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. You can use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Services Locator to search for alternative addiction treatment centers. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’ Once your state website is located, substance use resources shouldn’t be hard to find, and they should provide further phone contacts for your assistance.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. For help finding an addiction treatment center that will provide therapies which interest you, please call us free at .

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