Benefits of Yoga in Addiction Treatment and Recovery
Addiction is a Chronic Disease. Can Yoga Treatment Help in the Recovery Process?
The initial decision to take illicit drugs or to drink is usually voluntary. However, repeated use may alter the brain in ways that can cause substance dependence. Dependence can then lead to an addictive substance use disorder that is difficult to treat. Given that the relapse rate is 40-60%, complete recovery is even more challenging.  Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., confirmed in 2016 that addiction is a chronic disease - not a condition that can easily be controlled if only the individual had more willpower or greater motivation. Rehab centers recognize that addiction is a chronic disease. Since yoga and meditation are often used to treat chronic mental illness, rehab centers are increasingly using yoga in addiction treatment. It’s viewed as a complementary therapy to more traditional approaches like pharmacological intervention and 12-step programs.
What kind of evidence can we find for the success of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapy? Can we reliably use these alternative approaches to prevent addiction, treat it, and aid in recovery?
How Yoga Can Mitigate Stress By Changing the Brain
Stress can play a key role in the development of addiction and relapse. The interrelation of stressful events and inadequate coping skills are primary factors contributing to the disease. Yoga has long been used to manage stress, but how and why does it work?
Yoga practice can regulate the stress hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol. When there’s an imbalance in these hormones, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse can result. But when these hormones begin to even out, individuals are better able to cope. One study that sought to find a direct relationship between decreasing cortisol levels and depression found that after a month of yoga practice, both cortisol levels and incidence of depression had dropped.
Another study concluded that yoga might be able to change brain chemistry. After a yoga session, the levels of the GABA neurotransmitter had increased. Low GABA levels can often be seen in patients who have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Further research has found that mindfulness and meditation can impact how neurotransmitters regulate psychological disorders and that mental practices like yoga and mediation can aid in the growth of new neurons and make connections with existing ones. The researchers determined that meditation can effectively treat anxiety and may also be able to prevent it. 
Do We Have Proof that Yoga and Mindfulness Can Be Useful Therapies for Addiction?
Limited studies are available, but some have shown that yoga and mindfulness can be effective complementary therapies for addiction recovery and relapse.
Alcohol Use Disorders and Yoga
- Patients with alcohol use disorder reported a significant reduction in depression and lower levels of cortisol and prolactin after two weeks of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga.
- A study that sought to determine the effect of yoga intervention on substance abuse among women with PTSD found that yoga therapy reduced the risk of drug and alcohol use.
Opioid Use Disorders and Yoga
- Heroin-addicted women in China reported significantly greater improvement in their quality of life and mood after a six-month yoga intervention and routine hospital care versus the control group that didn’t receive the yoga intervention.
- Opioid-dependent men who received an intervention of three days of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga and standard medical treatment reported better quality of life than subjects who received medical treatment only.
Yoga and Mindfulness for Relapse Prevention
- Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is an intervention that experts use to help patients tolerate cravings and difficult emotions like anger and fear. The MBRP model emphasizes mindfulness while patients perform light stretching movements. Two months following the program, adults with substance use disorders who received the MBRP intervention showed significantly lower relapse rates than those assigned to the control group.
The success of mindfulness interventions - which include yoga and meditation - is persuading rehab centers to include these types of therapies in addition to more traditional ones. They are not substitutes for other successful approaches but can likely build on the efficacy of treatment options already in place.
Spring Gardens Recovery Offers Yoga in Addiction Treatment
Are you struggling with a substance use disorder and seeking help for the first time? Maybe you’re suffering a relapse after having completed addiction treatment at another rehab facility. Wherever you are on your path to sobriety, Spring Gardens Recovery can provide the help you need. We can create a program to best suit your needs, so if you’re not comfortable with the 12-Step approach, we can recommend holistic therapies like yoga or meditation. Every one of our clients enters our facility with a unique story and challenge, and our mission is to find the treatment that has the best chance of success for each of them.
To learn more about our treatment programs, contact Spring Gardens Recovery. Our knowledgeable and compassionate staff members can provide the care and support you need to break the addiction cycle finally.
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Samantha Nettleton, CCTP, CMHIMP is the Chief Operating Officer and Clinical Director for Spring Gardens Recovery. After completing and receiving her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Human Services (Concentrations in Mental Health & Addiction Counseling), she became licensed for the State of Florida as a Mental Health Counselor. She has also been a recovery coach since 2012. Samantha specializes in Trauma, Personality Disorders, Substance Abuse, Process Addictions, and Other Mental Health Disorders.