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Art Therapy: An Effective Alternative Addiction Treatment for People in Recovery

Addiction therapies are not just limited to 12-step rehabilitation programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). There are many other alternatives to traditional treatment plans for people in recovery. However, if you are already working on a 12-step, or non 12-step rehabilitation treatment program you may also want to try some holistic alternative addiction therapies.

How Art Therapy Works for People in Recovery

Addiction treatment programs often follow a 12-step model. This type of treatment plan is well-known to be highly effective for people with a substance abuse disorder (SUD) but there are other alternative addiction therapies that can also help. One of the most effective holistic therapies for people in recovery is known as art therapy. In this type of therapy, art plays a key role in the person’s addiction treatment. Using arts like drawing, painting, collaging, graphic journals, coloring, and scrapbooking, art therapy can occur under the supervision of one trained therapist, or in a group setting to help the person in recovery find ways to express themselves.

In doing this, the recovery process may become easier as it could relieve the need to hide from, or mask emotions – a common catalyst for substance abuse. Further, art therapy sessions both in conjunction with a 12-step rehab or alone may help to provide a new sober hobby for the person in recovery that they are able to enjoy even after they leave inpatient rehab.

Researchers have confirmed that art therapy is an effective way to supply an outlet for communication during addiction treatment. Able to help motivate patients to change by moving them from a reflective state into a mental state of action, art therapy is highly recommended for SUD patients.1

A Popular Art Therapy Technique

One of the most enjoyed forms of art therapy is known as mandala drawing. This type of sacred artwork has been used for thousands of years and the circular forms in the art, known as mandalas actually translate in the ancient language of Sanskrit to mean, “sacred circle.” The well-known philosopher Carl Jung is credited with introducing mandala drawing to Western therapies. Jung noted that mandala images are associated with the movement towards a new self-knowledge and so they may be helpful in the recovery process from addiction.

In this type of art therapy, the therapist may ask the participant to consider how mandalas are a representation of everything in the cosmos. And as such, drawing mandalas may help to reveal your own “wholeness” in the universe. If you want to try mandala drawing at home as a form of art therapy, you can take 30-40 minutes to find some pre-made mandala designs online to color, or pick up a book of mandalas at an art store. Then, you may also want to take the mandala book to the next 12-step group meeting you attend to talk about it.

3 Other Alternative Addiction Therapies to Try

If you have already taken on the path to recovery, you may have completed a 12-step rehab program, or other type of rehab. However, you still must take sobriety one day at a time. In order to get the most out of any rehab program, you may also want to try these 3 clinically proven alternative addiction therapies for people in recovery:

  1. Group Support. For most people, entering the “real world,” after completing a 12-step rehab program can be difficult. However, if you are a recovering addict it is very important to make new sober friends and take on hobbies that are not like the ones you used to have when you were drinking, or using drugs. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy! Studies have shown that group support is one of the most effective ways to achieve long-term sobriety.2
  2. Acupuncture. This is a holistic treatment commonly used by people as an alternative addiction therapy during recovery. Used for centuries to relieve all types of ailments in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is a calming treatment in which teeny-tiny needles are inserted into key points in the body known as acupoints. This may help to melt away the extra stress and tension associated with recovery. Getting sober is never easy, but it can feel less painful when you try acupuncture!

Studies have confirmed that the ancient holistic therapy of acupuncture is an effective way to promote sobriety even in those with serious SUD’s like that of an addiction to morphine, and other opioids.3

  1. Aromatherapy. This is an ancient therapy that uses plant “essences,” as a way of healing the body from common ailments. Using the olfactory nerve in the nose, aromatherapy can be performed by a professional aromatherapist, or at home by using essential oils – oils that contain the volatile healing compounds of medicinal plants, also known as plant essences.

One of the best essential oils for stress relief is known as lavender oil. Derived from the slightly sweet and Earthy lavender flower, this oil is also known to help improve sleep quality. Try adding just a few drops of this fragrant oil to olive oil and use it for massage by rubbing it into tired shoulders, or aching feet to stimulate the aromatherapy process.

Studies have shown that lavender oil is not only relaxing but it may also help to boost your good mood, calm the nervous system and even offer sedative effects to soothe anxious tension.4

Continuing With Art Therapy After Rehab

Art therapy is an ideal addition to traditional 12-step rehab programs. However, it can also be used at-home in conjunction with any addiction therapy program. So, talk to your healthcare provider, or 12-step program sponsor about adding art therapy to your addiction treatment plan. And also, try these 3 holistic alternative therapies for people in recovery!



  1. Lydia Aletraris, PhD, Maria Paino, PhD. The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. J Addict Nurs. 2014 Oct; 25(4): 190–196.
  2. Kathlene Tracy, Samantha P Wallace. Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Subst Abuse 3. Rehabil. 2016; 7: 143–154.

Jaung-Geng Lin, Yuan-Yu Chan. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Opiate Addiction. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 739045.

  1. Peir Hossein Koulivand, Maryam Khaleghi Ghadiri. Lavender and the Nervous System. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 681304.


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