Massage Therapy in Recovery from Alcohol Addiction
In recognition of April as Alcohol Awareness Month, we offer information on the benefits of massage therapy for treatment during recovery from addiction.
In the early stages of recovery from addiction, patients often experience an uncomfortable conflict between their body and mind – with the mind knowing treatment is necessary, while the body still craves the addictive substance, such as alcohol or drugs. Therapeutic massage helps bridge that gap, as a powerful component in an integrated treatment plan.
Integrating massage into a substance abuse program is advantageous in all stages of recovery: withdrawal, detoxification and abstinence. Medical management of alcohol and drug withdrawal during detox often is not enough to prevent relapse.
Massage treatment reduces the tendency to relapse. General Pharmacology reports that massage therapy increases beta-endorphins in the blood by 16 percent. Alcohol decreases production of endorphins. While the neurochemistry regains normal balance, this is the recovering addict’s most likely time to relapse.
Research at The Touch Research Institute/Univ. of Miami, has documented the physiological effects of massage, including: massage’s ability to reduce cortisol levels; and the ability of massage to decrease anxiety, depression, agitation and cravings.
In 1998, the Touch Research Institute published findings that a regular massage regimen increases dopamine levels. The fact that massage therapy stimulates dopamine production and decreases cortisol levels makes it highly effective in a standard detox program.
On a psycho-emotional level, part of recovery is learning to identify and manage situations and feelings that trigger alcohol/drug use. Regular massage sessions can aid the client’s awareness of the stressors that trigger alcohol consumption. Being conscious of these patterns is a step toward recognizing and healthfully addressing emotions associated with cravings. Emotional release can commonly occur with massage, providing a safe, non-threatening way to manage stress and emotions without the aid of drugs or alcohol.
On a spiritual level, the deep relaxation from massage can provide a still inner place for patients to become aware of their spiritual needs. Recovering addicts have reported a new appreciation of life when they can simultaneously be present, feel good and be substance-free.
Massage has the unique ability to affect all levels of our being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. As a valuable component when integrated into treatment, massage helps recovering alcoholics succeed in their recovery.
Sources: Integrative Healthcare Institute: 2005; Miller, N.S.: Treatment of the Addictions: Applications of Outcome Research for Clinical Management. New York: Haworth, 1995. Touch Research Institute, Miami, Florida: 2003. Counselor-The Magazine for Addiction Professionals: Oct. 2003.