A hundred years ago there were not many options for people who were dealing with an addiction. At that time the medical establishment had few answers for the problem, and tended to view it as a moral choice. Things have certainly changed and now the problem is that there are so many options that it can leave people confused. Alongside a growing number of evidence based treatments for addiction recovery there are also countless alternative treatments. The good news in all this is that a growing number of options mean that there is almost certainly going to be something to suit everyone.
Alternative treatments fall under the category of alternative medicine, and this means that it lacks or has limited experimental or clinical evidence. The boundary between alternative treatments and conventional medicine is not always clear cut because it is possible for alternative treatments to become considered conventional medicine once there is enough evidence to support it. An example of this would be Aspirin which is based on a traditional herbal cure made from the bark of the willow tree. These alternative treatments can also be referred to as complimentary medicine.
Up until the twentieth century it was common to view addiction as a moral failing rather than as any type of medical problem. During the last few decades there has been a shift in position, and this has led to the creation of addiction medicine. This absorption of addiction into medicine has increased since MRI imaging has shown that addiction can lead to physical changes in the brain. Now instead of viewing this behavior as a moral choice it is more common for physicians to see it as a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Addiction medicine is still in its infancy but it aims to provide treatments that are evidence based and proven to work.
Evidence based treatments are those that are backed by reliable and quality research. Such treatments include:
* Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for addiction has been extensively studied, and its efficacy is well supported. This uses a psycho-therapeutic approach to the problem.
* There is good evidence that the 12 Step approach does work for many people. The research also indicates that it is not an approach that works for everyone.
* The Community Enforcement Approach is gaining support within the literature. This involves supporting the individual in the community, and it is often combined with a voucher scheme.
* There is reliable evidence to support motivational enhancement therapy as a means to help the individual gain the motivation to quit.
* A number of pharmaceutical agents have been discovered that are of benefit to those looking to escape addiction. These drugs can make the withdrawal period easier or eliminate cravings.
There are a number of reasons for why people choose alternative treatment options including:
* One of the most common reasons for why people choose alternative treatment options is they need feel that the available medical treatments are not meeting their needs. If the proven treatments fail to work then people will be tempted to look elsewhere for answers.
* There can be cultural reasons for why people choose these alternative options. In some parts of the world they will have their own traditional medicine – for example, traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurveda medicine from India.
* People can follow a spiritual path where there is a belief in healing energies that have not yet been discovered by science. Those individuals who believe in healing energies will want to benefit from them.
* There is a common perception in the public that alternative treatments are more natural, and that natural means they are better and safer.
* Those individuals who have had success with alternative treatments can convince family and friends to consider these options. A common reason for why people first experiment with complimentary is due to a recommendation for a friend.
* Some physicians will recommend alternative medicine if they believe it will complement the current treatment or if they feel unable to find an appropriate treatment within western medicine.
* It is sometimes claimed that standard western only treats the disease but alternative medicine treats the whole person. It is suggested that a more holistic approach really gets to the root of problems – it does more than just treat the symptoms.
* There are believed to be fewer side effects associated with many alternative treatments. Some people claim that the side effects of the drugs they have been given by their doctor are almost as bad as the problem itself.
* Generally speaking it can be said that alternative therapists offer more personalized care. This may be because physicians are overworked – or in some cases they will treat patients like puzzles instead of people.
There are many alternative addiction treatments available including:
* Some individuals do seem to be able to recover from an addiction by purely relying on their own inner resources – this could be described as true natural recovery. This is not an option for everyone, and most people who seek treatment will already have tried and failed many times to quit by themselves.
* There are a number of herbal remedies that may be of value to those who are trying to escape addiction. An example of this would be passion flower which is said to help with the mental aspects of addiction withdrawal.
* There are many addicts who claim to have benefited from reiki, acupuncture, and other energy treatments. These techniques tend to enhance and not replace traditional treatments.
* There is growing evidence that practices such as mindfulness meditation and yoga can be of great value to people in recovery. These continue to be considered alternative treatments by many in the establishment, but this is likely to change in the future under the weight of evidence that supports them.
The 12 step fellowships are now considered mainstream by most in the medical community – although this remains a self-help approach. There is no doubt that this method for dealing with addiction can be beneficial but in the past there has been a tendency to zealotry in promoting this as the best approach. It is now obvious that groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are not a good option for all addicts – many object to the religious overtones in the program. This has led to the growth of a number of alternatives to this fellowship that offer a more secular approach to addiction recovery, but still can be classified as self help groups.
There is no need for people to choose between standard treatments and alternative treatments. These other approaches are referred to as complementary medicine because they idea is that they should be used alongside evidence based therapies. It is suggested that people do not go against medical advice when it comes to these therapies.
There are a number of problems associated with alternative addiction treatments including:
* If these treatments had sufficient evidence to support them they would not be considered alternatives. This of course does not mean that such evidence will not appear in the future – a common problem with complementary therapies is that they have not been adequately researched.
* There are undoubtedly people out there who are willing to scam those who looking for help for their addiction. Almost anyone can claim a new addiction wonder cure and try to sell this to other people – those who are cunning enough will be able to do this and remain within the law.
* Some alternative treatments could prove to be dangerous. This is particularly likely when untrained individuals begin offering medical advice – for example, they may tell their clients to stop taking medications prescribed by their physician.
* There can be unpleasant side effects associated with most of the herbal remedies. It is not recommended that people begin taking any of these natural medicines without first consulting their physician – this is particularly important for those who are already taking prescribed medications because there will be the risk of negative interactions.
* Meditation techniques can be highly effective for people in recovery, but it is also possible to overdo it. In rare instances people have developed meditation-related psychosis (also known as Kundalini syndrome) as a result of their practice.
* Some alternative therapists make claims for their methods that are exaggerated. This may be because they actually believe such claims or because they are out to make money and they have no scruples about this.
* Some addicts only have one more chance at recovery – they will feel unable to summon up the motivation to quit again. If they choose an ineffective alternative treatment it could squander this opportunity to get better.
People can avoid the dangers of alternative treatments by being skeptical and finding out as much information as they can about any option.