Massage and Substance Abuse Rehab

Massage ranks among some of the world’s oldest healing traditions. It has been practiced by the Greeks in the time of Plato and Aristotle, by the Egyptians who built the pyramids, and by the Indians and Chinese even before the Buddhist era. But while it has been in practice for thousands of years, the reasons why it is so healthy for the body only began to be discovered in the 1990s. Research carried out by many institutions, but most notably the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, have found that massage can have profound and lasting benefits for the body. It can be helpful in the treatment of many ailments, including substance addiction.

Theory of Addiction

One theory of addiction suggests that people become dependent on substances like alcohol or drugs because they come to associate them with good feelings. Scientists have also identified specific substances in the bloodstream, such as dopamine and serotonin, which appear to be related to these feelings.

This process of association occurs within everyone, all tend to be drawn toward things that make them feel good. When people sense or even think about something that has made them feel good in the past, such a lover or a favorite food, their body craves another dose of the dopamine that goes along with it. Therefore, people are drawn toward that stimulus.

Some people train themselves to associate these good feelings with things that are ultimately good for them, such as exercise. Others, however, can develop addictions to substances like alcohol which are bad for their health in the long term. They may come to associate alcohol with having fun with friends, forgetting about stress or relaxation. They may then become dependent on alcohol because it may be the only consistent way for them to achieve the release of dopamine and the feeling of well-being.

Studies show that people in the early stages of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs have significantly reduced levels of dopamine in their bloodstream. They simply don’t have anything else to turn to which can make them feel good. Until their bodies readjust and they begin to enjoy other activities and stimuli in place of the alcohol, they are susceptible to relapse and may return to substance abuse.

Massage and Alcohol Addiction

One reason massage can be particularly helpful in the treatment of alcohol addiction is that the body reacts to massage in a similar way to alcohol and drugs. Massage is pleasurable for most people, and triggers the release of so-called happiness hormones like dopamine and endorphins. Thus, massage can play a unique and important part in reawakening these reward and pleasure pathways in the nervous system and swaying them away from alcohol use. One of the key initial steps for recovering addicts is to find that there are other sources of pleasure available.

The benefits of massage for the body go much deeper than mere pleasure, however. The pleasure of massage is much different from the pleasure of eating a delicious dessert or watching a funny movie. Caring touch leads to other physiological changes that not only make people feel good but also substantially improve their health in many ways.

Massage makes people feel safe and relaxed, which leads to a decrease in the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine in the blood. This is important because stress is more than a temporary disturbance, and it effects more than just someone’s mental state. High levels of stress hormones can have a negative impact on health as they lead to higher heart rate and blood pressure, which puts stress on the circulatory system. Another result can be a weakened immune system, making the sufferer more susceptible to sickness. Digestion is also slowed down when stress levels are high, thus making it more difficult for the sufferer to get proper nutrition.

These ailments can all be even more threatening to people who are beginning their break from alcohol and whose bodies are already enduring great stress in readjustment. Massage can help to alleviate this stress, and many rehabilitation programs have added massage to their regimen of treatments. Some centers have also begun to use acupuncture, a Chinese treatment, in rehabilitation programs.

Massage and Mental State

The spike in levels of happiness hormones and the drop in stress hormones indicates that the body is in better condition after massage. But not only the blood tests show that they are feeling better. They actually report the same thing in suveys.

A study at the Royal Brisbane Hospital in Brisbane, Australia found that people in alcohol rehab who received massage had higher average scores on the Alcohol Withdrawal Scale, compared to people in rehab who did not receive massage. This indicated that they were farther along the path to giving up alcohol. They also tended to report a more positive attitude in general, as they were much more likely to report enjoying the meals and feeling safe during the program. In addition, their pulse rates generally decreased and their respiratory functions improved.

A series of studies by the Touch Research Institute has found that massage helps decrease anxiety, agitation, and cravings for substance-addicted infants. It also leads to improvements in their sleep and lessens feelings of depression.”

Giving Massage can be Better than Receiving

Surprisingly, studies have found that giving massage can be even more beneficial than receiving it. In one study at the Touch Research Institute one group of elderly people was taught to massage infants, which they then performed for a certain period every day. Another group of elderly people simply received massage for the same period of time. After the study, both groups were found to become more sociable, to sleep better, to have higher self-esteem, and to visit the doctor less often. However, those who gave massage showed even greater improvement.

Getting a massage leaves the recipient feeling safe and cared for, but giving a massage allows the person to give pleasure and care to someone else. This empowering feeling, it appears, can be even better for their health. Many alcohol addicts may feel that they have become useless because of their addiction, unable to contribute to their society or serve their friends and family. Giving massage can help to remind them that they have the ability to do something positive for those they care about.

Learning and giving massage can be a form of activity therapy. The point of this kind of therapy is to improve the client’s self-esteem by showing them that they can achieve things they didn’t think possible or that they can learn new skills and be productive. This would decrease their desire to turn to alcohol in order to cope with feelings of inadequacy or depression. By learning massage people with substance abuse problems can see that they are able to provide something pleasant and beneficial for others, and this realization enhances their feelings of self-worth.

When to Avoid Massage

Though massage is generally beneficial for health, there are some situations in which massage should be avoided.

Completely Avoid Massage Under Certain Circumstances

* Fever: Massage could make the infection worse or cause inflammation to spread. Gentle massage on the hands and face is okay.
* Temporary acute illness: Those with illnesses such as diarrhea, influenza, and indigestion should allow the illness to clear up before receiving massage.
* Communicable skin disease: These ailments could be spread to the massage therapist, so massage should be avoided.

Avoid Massage in Some Areas

* People should avoid massage in areas of the body near varicose veins, non-communicable skin infections or rashes (if they are communicable, massage should be completely avoided), tumors and unhealed wounds.
* Massage of the lower back should be light for people with kidney disease.
* People who are menstruating, pregnant or who have recently given birth should avoid massage in the abdominal and pelvic areas.

Other Considerations for Massage

* Diabetics should be sure to eat enough before the massage so that their blood sugar does not drop to a dangerous level during the treatment. This is especially important before treatments lasting longer than one hour.
* People who have recently had surgery or chemotherapy should consult their doctor before receiving massage.
* People who often get blood clots should consult their doctor before receiving massage. Blood clots could become dislodged and travel throughout the circulatory system, where they may end up blocking smaller vessels in the brain, lungs or heart.
* Time frame: While one massage surely gives benefits, regular massages are more helpful for lasting effects. Once per week or once every two weeks is recommended.

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