There has been a boom of the holistic trend in addiction recovery. Integrating the mind, body, and spirit is something that Eastern Medicine has been centered on for thousands of years and more recently, Western Medicine has been catching on that there’s something to all this noise… err – rather, quiet.
Holistic modalities of wellness are becoming part of our culture. With all of the busyness that can consume our lives, people have taken stock in carving out some time to get grounded and connect with themselves. A yoga class, acupuncture appointment, reiki alignment with aromatherapy… add a message and it sounds like a perfect spa package! Although it’s nice to treat yourself, literature is suggesting that incorporating these practices into daily life may be just what the doctor ordered for health & wellness.
For those in recovery, holistic remedies can be an effective adjunct to treatment. There’s evidence to support the therapeutic benefits of many of these services and treatment programs have been embracing these additions to the healing process. If you’re interested in checking-out or continuing with holistic recovery, aromatherapy is an easy add-in to your personal recovery plan.
“Aromatherapy uses plant materials and aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, and other aroma compounds for improving psychological and physical well-being,” Wikipedia sites. These essential oils go through a distillation process and can be used in a variety of ways to adjunct any recovery regime. There’s a variety of uses of Essential Oils for stopping drinking alcohol and using drugs. Herein, we offer some insights into a few of the practical uses that aromatherapy and essential oils have for addiction recovery.
A quick note on usage – not all Essential Oils are created equally and they can be used in a variety of ways (some methods are more effective for certain oils, for certain effects – you’ll see as you read along). A word of caution: when ingesting Essential Oils for drug cravings (or for any purpose really) be mindful that you want to be sure you are only using therapeutic grade oils as non-therapeutic grade oils may have additives that can be harmful if swallowed. As always, consult a physician to check if any of these oils may interfere with any specific medical conditions. Specifically speaking, for those mothers-to-be out there, pause on Essential Oils until your baby is born.
One of the ongoing battles many have during the early recovery process is the struggles to calm down those cravings to drink or use. Cravings, known to go hand-in-hand with addiction, can have both psychological and physical roots. Regardless of their origin, they are still bothersome and can be a major distraction in your daily hustle. Thankfully, some aromatherapy can pre-emptively put these urges at bay.
Of the various oils studied to soothe cravings, Grapefruit, Black Pepper, Basil, and Cinnamon Essential Oils come up most frequently.
Grapefruit: Diffuse Grapefruit Essential Oil throughout the day. You can add 5-6 drops into a vapor diffuser or diffuse the oil by placing the oil into a small jar (an empty and cleaned out nail polish is perfect) and buy reeds to absorb and diffuse the oil into the air.
Black Pepper: Dip a wooden toothpick into the oil and chew several times daily. If you regularly chew gum, you may want to add 1 drop to your next piece.
Basil: Apply 1-2 drops topically under your nose or diffuse 2-3 drops aromatically in a vapor diffuser.
Cinnamon: Add 1-2 drops of the oil to hot water or herbal tea. You can also take 2-3 drops and topically apply to your neck/throat.
Gain Mental Clarity
According to the folks over at alcoholrehab.com, the first year of recovery can be underscored by a fuzzy brain. If it’s any consolation, not only is this common but an expected symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Taking time and adding supplements to help gain some mental clarity can be such a relief. Add some Rosemary, Sage & Ginger into your routine to clear out that mental fog.
Rosemary:Add 1-2 drops onto hands and cup over mouth & nose, inhaling from time to time throughout the day.
Sage: Apply 1-2 drops topically under your nose or diffuse 2-3 drops aromatically in a vapor diffuser.
Ginger: Add 1-2 drops to hot water or herbal tea or apply 1-2 drops to your heart center.
One of the principle tenets of holistic care and mindfulness is creating space to be in the present. Think about it… how much of your day is spent doing just that – thinking? We are so wrapped up in our heads thinking about the past or what’s to come in the future that we miss out on everything that we have right here, right now. Some of the best healing can be done by being in the moment, practicing meditation, and staying present.
Having trouble staying grounded? Try using Sandalwood, Cedarwood, or Eucalyptus Essential Oils set the mood for a meditative state.
Sandalwood or Cedarwood: Add 1-2 drops to your hands & rub together and inhale directly, apply 1-2 drops to your heart center, or diffuse aromatically.
Eucalyptus: Diffuse 5-6 drops aromatically when initiating a meditative practice.
Ease Physical Ailments
Physical ailments are another symptom of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) that many struggles within early recovery. Whether you’re experiencing joint pain, muscle tension, restless legs or any other malady, not feeling physically well can truly distract from the recovery mindset. Use of Essential Oils for massage and reflexology can serve as a buffer for some common aches and pains but do consult a medical practitioner to rule out any need for medical attention.
Peppermint, Clove, and Rosemary are among the several Essential Oils that have practical uses in easing physical pains.
Peppermint: For headaches & sinus pressure – apply 1-2 drops to fingertips and rub in circles on temples and over sinuses. For nausea – rub 1-2 drops onto stomach, or place 1-2drops onto the tongue. For muscle pain – add 5 drops to a carrier oil and self-massage the area with sore muscle.
Clove: For neck and shoulder tension – add 4 drops to a carrier oil and work into neck & shoulder muscles. For joint pain – work 3-4 drops of oil into your palms and rub into joints affected.
Rosemary: For stomach or digestive issues, rub 2 drops of oil onto the bottom of feet. For respiration, shortness of breath, and other breathing difficulties – rub 1 drop into hands and breathe directly into sinuses.
Regulate Emotions & Promote Relaxation
Let’s face it, emotions can be all over the place during the sobriety and because we are no longer regulating ourselves with external substances or behaviors, we need to hone in on developing an internal means of regulation. To have an expectation that this will come in early recovery is setting the bar way too high. It takes time to learn how to channel your inner peace and find a new normal when it comes to winding down and relaxing. Nonetheless, now is the perfect time to start practicing!
Aromatherapy is basically stereotyped for its soothing effects on emotions and touted for its ability to promote relaxation. If you use Essential Oils for nothing else, use them to help you chill.
Orange, Lemon & Lime: Apply topically on wrists and neck to experience the effects throughout the day or diffuse aromatically for 1 hour up to 3 times daily.
Ylang Ylang: Apply 1-2 drops onto wrists & neck, add 6 drops to a hot bath with 1 cup Epsom salt, or diffuse aromatically.
Lavender & Eucalyptus: Draw a how to bath and add 10 drops to water with 1 cup Epsom salt and ¼ cup baking soda, diffuse aromatically in the evening prior to falling asleep, or add 10 drops to a spray bottle with water and lightly spray pillows and bedding prior to sleep.
Chamomile: Add 1-2 drops to hot water or herbal tea, diffuse aromatically, or rub 2 drops onto the bottoms of feet prior to bedtime.
Bergamot: Diffuse aromatically, apply topically while showering and inhale deeply, or add to hot water
While aromatherapy is not the end-all answer for people seeking sobriety, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that adding this and other holistic elements to your daily grind can add value to your efforts and improve results for keeping you on track with your personal recovery plan. Do some research on the different brands, check-in with others who have used them, and consult a physician regarding any possible reasons to not use them.
If your overall goal is wellness, it’s worth your time and attention.
About the Author: Paul Lavella Jr. MA, LPC, LCADC, ACS
Wellness Based Counseling is a concept very dear to my heart. At the root of it, the counseling relationship is not solely focused on “the problem,” rather how you go about life’s journey in a way that leads you toward feeling and being well. Counseling is not about pathologizing; it’s about learning what’s not working and figuring out what will.
Paul is dually Licensed in the State of New Jersey as a Professional Counselor and a Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselor with thirteen years of professional experience working with adolescents, adults, and families. As an Approved Clinical Supervisor, I also provide supervision for those seeking licensure for counseling or addiction counseling.
Embarking on a journey towards wellness and recovery is perhaps the bravest and most inspiring thing a person can do. At Serenity at Summit we are here for you every step of the way.