Rethinking Recovery

Holistic Approaches to Healing Addictions

Through 15 years of alcohol and prescription drug addiction, one prominent Virginia business owner tried it all to get clean: three inpatient rehab centers; talk therapy; Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), spending roughly $200,000 in the process.

“I would follow through for about a year, and then start to feel like I was on top of things and get complacent,” says the 52-year-old, who asked that her name not be used. She’d treat herself to “just one drink” and soon find herself in a familiar downward spiral. She last relapsed in October 2012. Three months later, she was on the interstate in the morning, a half-empty four-pack of mini wine bottles on her front seat, when she swerved and slammed head-on into a semi-trailer truck. She escaped her flattened car with minor head trauma, gratitude that her children didn’t have to “bury their drunk mother,” and a renewed will to sober up and rediscover happiness.

Today, she’s done just that, thanks to a comprehensive, holistic approach that included hiring a life coach that specializes in addiction, overhauling her diet, making time for daily physical and spiritual exercises and reframing her addiction, not as a disease she is cursed with, but as a predisposition she has the power to keep at bay.

“Yes. I was passed a gene by my alcoholic father. Yet that only becomes a threat to me when I make a choice to ingest something that cuts the beast loose,” she says. “I work hard every day, using a whole bunch of different tools to keep that from happening again.”

She is one of a growing  number of alcoholics and addicts reaching beyond the standard trifecta of 28-day rehabs, 12-step programs and psychotherapy toward an approach that addresses mind, body and spirit. More than 40 million Americans over the age of 12 (16 percent of the population) are addicted to alcohol or drugs, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at New York City’s Columbia University. Yet the standard treatments yield less-than-stellar success rates.

Sixty percent of addicts return to drug use within a year after  rehab, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and only 5 percent of AA attendees continue with meetings after 12 months, according to AA research. David Essel, a Fort Myers, Florida, life coach who specializes in working with substance abusers, says that when examining all the data, only about one in 10 addicts or alcoholics that use conventional means alone are still clean after one year. Fortunately, because people vary widely in emotional needs and physiologies, other complementary options are also catching on.

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