Holistic Drug Rehab Vs. Traditional Rehab

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Holistic Drug Rehab Vs. Traditional Rehab

In this post we will explore how a holistic drug rehab compares to the traditional disease-model rehab program. 


You’ll learn about the most important differences between them, and the most common misunderstandings people have about holistic programs. 


And you’ll know what to look for – and what questions to ask – when you’re interviewing to find the best holistic program for you.

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How does a holistic drug rehab differ from a disease-model one?

A holistic drug rehab program considers the whole person: body, mind and spirit.


Disease-model programs focus on trying to manage behavior. (Cut out drug use, problem solved.)


Disease-model programs assume that addiction is a disease, like cancer. Their primary focus is to get rid of the disease, to stop the behavior of abusing drugs or alcohol. Abstinence is the number one priority.


By stopping the “disease”, you will become healthy again.


Sometimes. For a while.


But as anyone who has encountered chronic or recurring disease will tell you, sometimes the cancer comes back.


The holistic approach recognizes there are often other issues contributing to the problem. Why does someone abuse substances in the first place? Is there an ongoing physical pain, an unmet emotional need, a psychological issue?


It can be challenging to attempt to control a behavior without considering all the different aspects of yourself that need attention. 

When does a disease-model rehab fall short?

Disease-model rehabs offer a momentary pause, a time to detox. But if we don’t address the root causes, if we don’t learn skills to change our habits for a lifetime, then of course we’ll fall back. The symptom — the drug abuse – will flare up again. You haven’t gotten to the root of the problem.


Consider this analogy: 


You can take a two-week vacation from work, and feel great, but after two weeks back in the same old work routines, your stress level is once again topping the charts. You haven’t addressed the root causes. You’ve only taken a brief break from them. You haven’t changed your impossible workload, or your colleagues, or your useless boss. You haven’t changed your insecurities, or your overwhelm, or your people-pleasing, or your anger issues.


Same with using. You can take a break, detox, clear your head. But then you return to the same world, with the same mental habits and emotional issues and physical triggers. Until you address those, it’s often only a matter of time…

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Why do relapses happen?

When our habits have become too deeply ingrained, simply focusing on behavior is often not enough to change those habits. It’s hard to stop falling in the hole when the hole is so big. It’s hard to keep our tires out of the rut when the rut is so deep.


When the roots of our addiction are buried in the past, sometimes we have to bring our attention to that past. Willpower’s not enough. A brief detox doesn’t clear away trauma. Logic alone can’t resolve the issues. 


We have all been conditioned by repetitive behaviors. These habits get “stuck” in our body. When we get triggered, those habits lead directly to action. This becomes an automatic muscle memory. Anxious? Reach for the pills. Bored? Light up a joint. It happens without conscious decision.


Synapses in the brain get stronger through repetition, and loop in predictable ways. One thought leads to another, and soon we’re spinning out. We talk ourselves into panic, or despair. And then we want to soothe with substances.


Most people think that we can use logic alone to solve our problem, but the issues continue to persist. So many people report,


I don’t understand! I have been in therapy for years and I still can’t stop using.




I’ve been in rehab three times, and I always relapse.


What’s missing can be found by exploring the relationship between mind, body and spirit.

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How do the services differ at a holistic program vs. a traditional one?

Different holistic drug rehab programs address these elements in various ways. But any great program addresses all three, in depth.


We focus on “mind” to build healthy thinking. You might learn to meditate, or journal. You might be taught how to catch negative thoughts before they spin you out. Or to inquire, deeply, with a therapist, about family judgments and expectations that you still carry.


We focus on “body” to promote a strong and healthy body. This might include regular, nutritious meals; yoga, exercise, massage; proper medical support; deep, restful sleep in peaceful, safe surroundings. You might learn how repetitive behaviors build their own momentum, and how to gently break those habits. In a great holistic rehab program, you might learn about your trauma triggers and how to work with your neurobiology.


We focus on “spirit” to deepen your own self-connection and recover your essential nature. Remembering passions that got lost along the way. Singing, music, dancing, play. Making art, playing games, feeling free. Who were you before your addiction took over? Maybe you’ll remember when riding a horse or walking in nature.


What holistic programs offer is new pathways to health and connection. When we’re happy and connected, when we’re balanced mind/body/spirit, when we have tools for dealing with trouble, many addictions can be resolved. We’ve found better ways to get what we’re really after.

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Is a holistic drug rehab religiously-based?

This depends on the particular program. There are some faith-based holistic drug rehab centers. Other more secular programs focus on the body/mind connection, but avoid any mention of “spirit” or soul that might make an atheist or agnostic uncomfortable. 


Most holistic programs tend to be spiritual, but not religious. This means that they don’t favor a particular religion or belief system. They do recognize that we all have a spirit or essence, and gaining back our connection to spirit is important to lasting recovery. 


Imagine the pure joy expressed by a laughing baby, free from all conditioning; imagine the pure love that wells up in you for that baby. This is what we point to with the term “spiritual”. No religion owns it. It’s our natural essence and birthright.

Can I still take my prescription medication in a holistic drug rehab?

A strong holistic drug rehab program works from every angle to help you reach a healthy balance. You should receive professional medical support as well as professional support from dieticians, psychologists and bodyworkers.


If your doctor prescribes medication for detox or a medical condition, a good holistic rehab will include that in your recovery plan. They might also help you explore deeper root causes and possible solutions.


Holistic health comes from collaborating with the mind, body and spirit. How does a good gut biome make for a healthy brain? How might negative thoughts be impacting your depression? Are there exercises you can do that might lessen your physical pain? How will connecting with your higher purpose affect recovery? 


Holistic rehab looks for long-term, lifetime solutions more than just immediate fixes. They won’t be dogmatic about it, or insist you leave all your meds at home. But they will show you a world of healthy alternatives, and new ways to nurture your health every day.

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How can a holistic drug rehab keep me from relapsing better than a traditional program?

You will find a wide range of mind/body/spirit practitioners in a good holistic drug rehab program. These professionals will help you succeed in your detox and recovery.


And in a great holistic program, you’ll also learn specific life skills to take home with you.


Most achievements require specific expertise – and lots of practice. Learning to swim, read, play a musical instrument: these don’t just suddenly happen. Becoming a doctor, attorney, plumber or entrepreneur: these successes are built on learning specific skills and then applying them to become proficient.


The same is true for creating mental health and changing destructive habits.


A great holistic program will teach you the specific life skills you need to take back your power and resolve your substance abuse. 


There are many new habits you will learn that support your sobriety. 


Here are three powerful holistic tools that address body, emotions, and mind:

  • Conscious breathing techniques help you master your nervous system, and rewire the fear-based programming that triggers you into fight/flight/freeze.
  • Learning the tools of emotional intelligence can transform your feelings from enemies into allies and friends.
  • Mindful inquiry skills bring you freedom from the tyranny of “stinking thinking”. When your thoughts start spiraling in a negative direction, you can easily turn them around.


Our world would be very different if these were taught in every school!

Will a holistic drug rehab be too “woo-woo” for me?

Many people assume that “holistic” means a new-age woo-woo approach that bypasses science and intellect. This is a major misunderstanding. 


The brain and body possess multiple forms of intelligence. The science here is rapidly evolving, and many traditional models of addiction treatment simply haven’t caught up with the research. Polyvagal theory and trauma recovery, for example, are rarely considered in disease-model programs.


From another angle, Western medicine is relatively new on the scene, compared to ancient traditions with millennia-long track records. Modern science is just beginning to recognize the healing power of meditation, yoga and acupuncture.


A holistic approach can help a strong analytical thinker use their intelligence to a much higher level, by incorporating information from a much broader perspective than the disease model. If the gut influences addiction, why not consider its intelligence? The network of neurons between the gut and the brain is one of the strongest connections in our body. If the parasympathetic nervous system controls feel-good biochemicals that most drugs only mimic poorly, why not tap into that?


Our society emphasizes the mental power of logic, so we think we can think our way out of any problem. Drug abuse blows that theory into pieces. If the mind truly controlled the body, willpower would work with every addiction. 


Holistic models address the intelligence of both mind and body. Without communicating with our innate body intelligences, nothing will change. Addiction issues exist at many levels: biochemical, neurological, psychological, emotional, social, relational. Learning how these forces interact isn’t woo-woo. It’s supremely intelligent.

body's nervous system

Now find your perfect program!

I hope this gives you a more complete picture of what’s involved in holistic drug rehab. As you were reading, did certain insights stuck out for you? Did certain modalities sound intriguing? Then look for a rehab center that includes them. When you’re calling around, ask about how they approach those elements in their daily program. 


Let them know about you, as a person. A good holistic rehab center will listen to your concerns, and get to know you as a person, not just as an “addict”. Pay attention to how you feel during your conversation. Do you trust them on an emotional level? Are they clearly answering your questions?


If a holistic program is good, they’ll be addressing ALL of you – body, mind and spirit. You can feel the difference.