yoga in addiction recovery

In 2014, an estimated 21.4 million people in the United States who were 12 years old or older battled a substance use disorder, which equates to about 1 in every 12 American adults, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSUDH) reported.

There are many methods and programs available to treat substance abuse and addiction, from traditional, to alternative, to complementary. More and more programs are focusing on a “whole person” or holistic approach that encompasses a variety of methods and tools to help achieve, maintain, and enhance recovery.

Yoga is increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment programs and throughout recovery to help prevent relapse, reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, and provide a healthy outlet to cope with potential triggers and daily life stressors.

Yoga is a complementary, or adjunct, health practice that is often considered a natural form of medicine. Adjunct means “in addition to,” and not “in place of.” Yoga is often beneficial when used in tandem with other traditional substance abuse treatment methods.

The Yoga Journal describes modern yoga as the use of physical postures to learn how to connect mind, body, and breath to gain self-awareness and focus attention inward. According to data published by US News & World Report, around 21 million Americans practice yoga, a number that has doubled in the past 10 years.

Yoga has many potential benefits, including:

  • Stress relief
  • Increased physical stamina and strength
  • Self-reflection and increased self-awareness
  • Healthier exercise and eating habits
  • Heightened self-confidence and improved self-image
  • Pain relief
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduction in fatigue
  • Emotional healing
  • Overall health and wellness improvement
Yoga’s Effects on the Brain

When someone abuses drugs or alcohol regularly, some of the pathways in the brain are altered, and the pathways related to feeling pleasure, regulating emotions, making sound decisions, and controlling impulses may be negatively affected. After a period of time without the influence of drugs or alcohol, brain chemistry and circuitry can heal and rebuild itself. Yoga may be able to help with this as well.

Yoga has long been used to help relieve stress, and scientific evidence has provided a link between practicing yoga and the reduction of stress by modulation of the stress response, Harvard Health reports. When a person feels stress, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature increase. Yoga may actually act on this system by regulating and balancing some of the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, the Yoga Journal publishes. Grey matter and regions of the brain active in controlling stress, like the hippocampus, may also be enlarged with the regular practice of yoga, as published in Scientific American.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also reported on a study that showed an increase in the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) with the practice of yoga techniques. GABA is a kind of natural tranquilizer produced by the brain to help manage anxiety and the stress response. Higher levels of GABA usually mean less anxiety and less stress. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common side effects of drug withdrawal, and the use of yoga in recovery may actually work to improve these symptoms.

A study published by Harvard Health on a group of women who reported themselves to be “emotionally distressed” practiced yoga for 1.5 hours twice a week. At the end of three months, half reported less depression, a third cited fewer anxiety symptoms, and 65 percent claimed an increase in overall wellbeing. Over 80 percent of the people practicing yoga in the United States, according to a National Health Interview Study (NHIS) in 2012 published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), reported a reduction in their stress levels as a result.


source: American Addiction Centers article

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