The Power Of Holistic Therapy To Treat Substance Use Disorder

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated June 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Holistic therapy for substance use is a type of mental health treatment that focuses on creating balance in physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. This type of therapeutic practice has been around for hundreds of years and utilizes techniques that originated in ancient China. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and looking for a different approach to traditional treatment methods, holistic therapy might be a helpful option. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of holistic therapy for substance use disorder and how it can help those in need of addiction recovery.

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Learn how holistic therapy for substance use can help

What is holistic therapy?

Holistic therapy, also known as alternative, complementary, or integrative therapy, is a type of mental health treatment that focuses on treating the whole person, not just the symptoms of their illness. It takes into account the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of a person's well-being to create a personalized plan for treatment. This type of approach can be beneficial in the treatment of substance use behavior as it allows the therapist to comprehensively treat the downstream physical effects of addiction. 

Standard addiction treatment 

Addiction treatment typically involves counteracting the detrimental effects of substance use on the brain as well as behavior. Addiction treatment may depend on the particular drug addiction. For example, treatment centers for opioid addiction and alcohol dependence may use medication to address addiction and withdrawal in combination with behavioral counseling. Marijuana dependence may rely more on counseling or some form of treatment as a first line of treatment. However, the key to maintaining recovery is treating the whole person, not just the physical symptoms or manifestations of drug use.  

There are different types of behavioral therapies that may be used. Behavioral therapies can include twelve-step facilitation (TSF) to prepare for engagement with 12-step support groups, which can offer emotional support from peers; family counseling, which may primarily be used for younger people, can be useful in addressing the family dynamics and patterns within a family; and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help one find a healthy way to deal with stressors and triggers while learning holistic methods to restore balance and promote self-esteem. 

Examples of therapy techniques 

Holistic therapies may include various techniques such as yoga, tai chi, guided meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, spiritual therapy/services, nutritional therapy, mindfulness-based therapies, art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, breathing exercises, and life skills development. These techniques aim to promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and enhance overall well-being. Depending on your condition and symptoms, your holistic therapist may employ one or several of these techniques to help you improve your overall quality of life.

How treatment can benefit those with addiction

Holistic treatment programs feature personalized, non-medical methods of treatment for substance use disorder and addiction. Each method is designed to help with certain areas in which one may struggle, such as emotional disturbances, obsessive thoughts, nutritional deficiencies, spiritual development, and physical decline due to over use of drugs or alcohol. Many of these methods are often utilized with medical services that treat the physical and emotional symptoms of addiction.

Lack of sleep, poor diet, and emotional stress can all be potential obstacles holistic treatment might help someone in early recovery overcome. Holistic therapy plans are flexible, gentle, and generally utilize these five elements in their provision of care:

  • Physical: Fitness, nutrition, sleep, and healthy behaviors
  • Emotional: Emotional balance, healthy coping ability, processing feelings safely
  • Social: Reduce isolation, build safe relationships, create sober networks
  • Spiritual: Find purpose/meaning, appreciation, connect with self
  • Intellectual: Establish boundaries, plan development, skill-building

How a holistic treatment can help 

A holistic approach can be a powerful tool in substance use disorder treatment because it addresses the root causes of addiction and provides a comprehensive approach to healing. It can help individuals develop coping mechanisms to manage stress, anxiety, and depression without relying on drugs, alcohol, or other substances. This, in turn, can help prevent relapse and lead to long-term recovery.

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Holistic treatment approaches

Approaches to holistic treatment for addiction are intended to support holistic recovery. This involves promoting a healthy lifestyle that includes physical exercise and a nutritious diet. As well as promoting physical health, holistic addiction treatment seeks to integrate mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects through the use of alternative modalities. These may include reiki, biofeedback or neurofeedback, mindfulness meditation, massages, and acupressure and acupuncture to relieve aches and pains, and different types of yoga. 

Is this treatment evidence-based?

Many studies have shown that holistic therapies can be effective in treating addiction. For example, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), a yogic breathing program, has been shown to significantly increase the quality of life of male opioid users over a 6-month period. Similarly, a study conducted on women who received a twice-weekly program of Vinyasa yoga for smoking cessation showed a higher rate of sustaining smoking-free behavior than their counterparts who did not practice Vinyasa yoga.

Some evidence shows that holistic practices, such as mindfulness meditation and motivational enhancement, can help decrease addiction relapse and substance-related injuries. For example, one study conducted on mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) showed that participants who attended mindfulness meditation sessions found it to be a powerful means to abstain from alcohol over long periods of time.

While further research needs to be explored, there is growing evidence to suggest that holistic therapy can help sustain results and reduce relapses in individuals struggling with addiction. In many cases, holistic treatment is used alongside traditional treatment methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or holistic psychotherapy to help patients achieve maximal results from their sessions. In some cases, patients experiencing withdrawal symptoms may be recommended to complement holistic therapy with mental health counseling centered on a holistic approach to addiction recovery.

Online holistic treatment

In today's digital age, online holistic treatment has become an increasingly hard-to-attain option. Online therapy can provide individuals with a connection to holistic techniques, save travel time, and allow sessions to be completed from the comfort of their own homes. 

One benefit of online therapy is that it can provide a connection to specialized holistic therapy services that may not be available in an individual's local area. For example, someone living in a rural area may not have outlets for an art therapist or animal-assisted therapy. However, through online therapy, they can get these specialized services from the comfort of their own home. 

How online counseling can support addiction recovery

Online therapy can also offer a range of holistic activities that may not be possible in an in-person setting, such as virtual yoga classes, guided meditation sessions, and other mindfulness-based therapies. This can provide individuals with a wider range of holistic therapy services, helping to promote overall well-being and healing. If this sounds like something that could be beneficial to you, consider connecting with a therapist through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform. Here, you can chat with a therapist who can come up with a personalized treatment plan for your specific needs.

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Learn how holistic therapy for substance use can help

Research supporting the efficacy of online counseling

Several studies have shown similar results between online therapy and face-to-face therapy. In fact, when comparing video-delivered psychotherapy and in-person psychotherapy, one study found that there was no difference in the improvement between patients with anxiety, depression, or PTSD when treated with in-person versus virtual therapy. 

Similar results were found when looking at patients who were seeking therapy for substance-use-related mental health symptoms.

When performing a review of several evidence-based studies, researchers found that online interventions and mental health therapy show clear impacts on improving participants' overall well-being, reducing substance use-related behaviors, and sustaining abstinence over time.


Holistic therapy can be a powerful tool in the treatment of substance use disorder. By addressing the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of a person's well-being, holistic therapy can provide a comprehensive approach to healing and prevent relapse. If you are interested in how online therapy can help you attain substance use disorder treatment, consider getting started with an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp. You can get connected with a licensed mental health professional who can help you begin holistic therapies designed to help you meet your goals and find balance within your daily life.

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