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Understanding More About Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies are non-mainstream treatment approaches that addiction treatment providers offer alongside more traditional treatments. They effectively support addiction recovery and long-term abstinence by focusing on full-body healing and reviving connections between the body, mind, and soul.

What Are Some Complementary Therapies?

Complementary therapies usually fall into two general categories – natural products and mind-body practices.

Natural products are vitamins, minerals, and other natural consumables that you eat or drink. They might include:

  • Herbs
  • Botanicals
  • Vitamin D
  • Citicoline
  • Theanine
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Mind-body practices are exercises or activities that help you maintain or improve specific functions, like stress relief or distress tolerance. They can target the underlying causes of addiction as well as relieve symptoms. Some mind-body practices include:

  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxation techniques, like guided imagery, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
  • Thai massage
  • Yoga
  • Creative arts
  • Music therapy

You can benefit from complementary therapies at any point during your recovery journey. They may help you to maintain a balanced mood or reduce cravings. Likewise, these therapies can give you the strength you need to overcome challenges and times of distress.

What Is the Difference Between Complementary Therapies and Alternative Therapies?

Some groups, including the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), use the terms complementary therapies and alternative therapies differently. 

Complementary therapies are non-mainstream treatments that you benefit from alongside traditional therapies like behavioral therapy and support groups. Alternative therapies are treatments that you participate in instead of these therapies.

Other institutions and groups, however, use the terms interchangeably. The term ‘‘complementary and alternative medicines (CAM)” may refer to either of the above concepts or both.

How Does Scientific Research Support Complementary Therapies?

There is a growing body of scientific research supporting the use of complementary therapies in addiction treatment. Studies show that therapies like yoga, meditation, and relaxation techniques can complement and strengthen an individual’s recovery journey.

Recovery With Yoga

Yoga is a practice where you move between a series of physical postures. It can help you to manage stress and pain. It also supports greater mental wellness.

Current scientific findings suggest that yoga is an effective complementary treatment for addiction recovery. As many people turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for negative thoughts, emotions, or underlying mental health issues, yoga can provide healthy ways to cope with these feelings.

Yoga affects our central nervous system and influences gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain. GABA is a chemical that our bodies release to slow down our nervous systems and make us feel calmer and more relaxed. Studies show that yoga can increase GABA levels, helping to relieve stress and decrease anxiety.

Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment and letting go of past and future concerns. Its roots lie in Buddhist philosophy that has been practiced for thousands of years.

You can use several exercises and techniques to help cultivate mindfulness, including deep breathing, body scans, and sensory awareness. These techniques help bring you into the present moment, relieving fear and anxiety.

Research suggests that mindfulness can support the recovery process. It may help you overcome addiction and maintain abstinence by:

  • Helping you to cope with negative feelings and thoughts in healthy ways
  • Increasing overall well-being and reducing feelings of shame
  • Reducing sensitivity to environmental triggers

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are activities and exercises that can help calm you down. They include deep breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).

A systematic review by BMC Psychiatry found that relaxation techniques may help reduce anxiety, one of the primary triggers of drug abuse. They may also help improve overall mood and decrease emotional distress, targeting some of the underlying causes of addiction.

A Field of Potential

Some complementary therapies are relatively new to the field of addiction recovery science. As a result, there has not yet been sufficient research to confirm their effectiveness through clinical studies. 

However, many addiction specialists and clients experience hugely positive effects from these treatments. As research into addiction and treatments continues, we hope to confirm the benefits of many more complementary therapies.

How Creativity Helps With Recovery

Have you ever heard the myth that substances stimulate creativity? Well, scientists have finally debunked that one once and for all. Addiction dulls your emotional, physical, and spiritual spark. It messes with our ability to experience joy and makes it harder for us to produce artistically. 

That doesn’t mean that once you’ve struggled with addiction your creativity is done for. In fact, the opposite is true: recovery is a brilliant time to explore or reconnect with your inner creative spark. Through recovery you’re learning and unlearning a plethora of different skills and abilities; you’re crafting a whole new life and mindset for yourself. It can be an enormously creative time, and creative practices can help with recovery in turn.

How Can Creativity Help With My Recovery?

Being creative has many benefits throughout recovery. This can be a challenging time, and having an outlet for your emotions and frustrations is an excellent way to cope and process your feelings in a healthy way.

Helping You to Process Trauma and Loss

Many people who struggle with addiction have gone through a traumatic experience or experienced some kind of loss in their lives. Substance abuse can then begin as a way to cope with those difficult feelings. Working through that trauma and loss is often an important part of early recovery for many of us.

Creative practices are an excellent way to support this process. While talking therapies are useful, sometimes it’s not possible to express such difficult matters in words. Making art can help you to express long-suppressed emotions and get them out into the world. 

Emotion Regulation

Engaging in substance abuse or gambling is also a maladaptive method of emotion control. Recovery is also about learning healthier ways of regulating your emotions. This is something you can work on through therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), but it’s also something that creative endeavors can support.

Creating art, such as painting, drawing, dancing, or writing doesn’t just help you get your emotions out there – it also helps you to regulate them. By being creative you are sitting with and engaging with your emotions, rather than trying to shut them down or run away from them. This can in turn help you to make peace with them and gain some control over your feelings. It doesn’t have to be advanced or complicated – even the act of listening to music can reduce stress and help you to process your emotions.

Finding Joy

Addiction blunts our ability to experience intense joy outside of substances or problematic behaviors. During recovery, you build on your ability to experience that joy again. 

Creative practices are a joyful act as old as the human species. Creating simply to create is a deeply human trait and can release all kinds of happy chemicals in the brain. Finding an artistic practice that brings you joy, however slight, can be a helpful step on the road towards finding joy again after addiction.

How Can I Explore My Creativity in Recovery?

There are many ways to explore your creativity in recovery. For example, you can:

  • Try journaling. Journaling is a great way to explore creativity if you like to write but you aren’t sure what form to put it into. You can slip between genres, such as prose, poetry, or simply lists of what you’ve done. Try adding a few cartoon drawings or sketches of the world around you to stretch yourself. 
  • Take a class. If you’re ready to get creative with other people, look around for art classes in your local community. There are usually plenty that are targeted towards non-professionals, and looking might get you excited. You never know, pottery might be your next great passion!
  • Get into cooking. We all need to eat to survive, so why don’t you try turning feeding yourself into a creative practice? Pick out a recipe book at your local library and get started!


You don’t have to be the next Mozart to reap the benefits of creative practice – and in recovery, a little creativity can go a long way. Whether you write, draw, sing, dance, or anything in between, engaging with your creativity can bring some joy back into your life and help you to process your emotions.

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    3651 Canton Road,
    Marietta, GA 30066

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