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Alternative Treatments for Substance Abuse & Depression

by Marisa Serafini
  • Overview

    Substance abuse and depression are two very serious problems, often occurring simultaneously. These conditions can be treated in a myriad of ways, from a traditional twelve-step program to acupuncture or herbal treatments. Before beginning any treatment, it is important to make sure that there is reliable evidence of its success rate, and you should also be familiar with the underlying principles and ideas behind the treatment.
  • Herbal

    Herbal treatments are used to calm cravings, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and remove toxins from the body. Herbs like chamomile, peppermint, catnip, skullcap, and St. John's wort can be used to induce a state of relaxation and calmness to replace feelings of anxiety or depression. Kudzu root, used as a tea, is thought to have the potential to reduce cravings in alcoholics. Milk thistle helps to prevent the damaging effects of drugs on the liver.
  • Nutritional

    The goal of nutritional treatment is to eliminate the free radicals and toxins that can build up over periods of drug use and to correct the malnutrition that is so often associated with heavy drug use. These nutritional changes can also have a positive effect on mood, relieving feelings of depression. Zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E are all commonly used supplements that can help restore nutrient levels in the body. Including more complex carbohydrates and eliminating refined sugars and fat from one's diet can also have a positive effect on the body's health.
  • Guided Imagery/Visualization

    Drug use is often a symptom of another problem, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. Guided imagery treatments aim to relieve these mental and emotional problems by using relaxation and visualization techniques. For instance, a therapist may ask a patient to close his or her eyes and imagine himself or herself in a drug-free state and to imagine the benefits of being in this condition. These exercises help to increase desire for the health benefits of quitting drug use while making salient the damaging effects drugs can have on one's life.
  • Acupuncture

    The goal of acupuncture, when used for substance abuse and depression, is to correct an imbalance in the "life energy" of the body, or "qi." The physician will insert very small needles into the body at certain places, helping to relieve withdrawals and cravings, while freeing the patient's mind to contemplate the true reason for the drug abuse in the first place. If there is an underlying problem, such as depression, the use of acupuncture can help direct the focus to this problem, since the cravings of drug addiction should have been calmed.
  • Other

    Other alternative treatments for substance abuse include chiropractic therapy, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, meditation, and biofeedback training, in which visualization and relaxation treatments are combined to relieve cravings and withdrawals. As with any other treatment, it is important to review the ideologies and success rates of any new treatment program before embarking upon it.

    References & Resources