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When the 12 Step program was introduced through Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s, it revolutionized the approach to addiction treatment. Prior to that, the focus of treatment was on getting people to use willpower to stay off drugs or alcohol. Today, the 12 Step program is still an integral part of many rehab treatments. However, it has been complemented by the introduction of other forms of therapy in a holistic approach to treatment of substance addiction.

A holistic approach to treatment recognizes that addiction is a complex illness brought about by many factors, including genetics.1 The illness must be addressed on different levels. It is not sufficient to just help people get through withdrawal using medications to offset the most severe symptoms. Most people suffering from addiction will continue to experience cravings even when they are sober. Successful treatment must incorporate methods, tools and techniques by which people with addictions are able to withstand cravings.


Addictive substances interfere with normal brain function. They modify perception and cloud people’s ability to think clearly and make sound judgments. Over time, faulty thought processes become ingrained, and these thought processes need to be identified. Additionally, people in therapy learn better behavioral responses to triggers that motivate them to take addictive substances.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is widely used in rehab treatment to address these issues. Working with skilled counselors and addiction specialists, people with addiction come to understand what makes them turn to drugs or alcohol. They also learn better coping strategies.

Many other forms of therapy may be used to create a healthier mental attitude. These may include art, music, yoga, meditation, biofeedback, working with animals and aromatherapy.

Addiction to alcohol or drugs may be categorized as a mental illness, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.2 NIDA also estimates that about half of all people with addiction have a coexistent mental disorder. Mental health must be addressed if treatment for addiction is to be successful.


Spirituality is the foundation stone upon which the 12 Step program is built. The underlying philosophy of the 12-step program is that people suffering from addiction must surrender themselves to a higher being. Initially, the reference to a higher being was aimed at Christianity, but many rehab facilities have modified it to include other world views.

The spiritual aspect of recovery treatment centers around restoring meaning and purpose in life for people with addiction. This provides motivation to get and stay sober. People suffering from addiction are also encouraged to make amends to those they have hurt as a result of their illness.


A holistic approach to treatment encourages people to modify their lifestyle to a healthier one. Physical exercise benefits people by improving their fitness level. Healthy physical exercise makes people feel better, as it stimulates the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that makes us feel pleasure.

Physical exercise does not have to be strenuous or physically demanding. Even gentle exercise like swimming, walking or cycling on a level surface is beneficial. Physical exercise accompanied by a healthy diet reduces stress and relieves boredom, two factors that are often associated with substance abuse.

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  1. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/genes/
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-disorders
A Holistic Approach to Treatment: Mind, Spirit and Body
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