Adventure Therapy for Addiction

hikers walking a trail for adventure therapy

What is Adventure Therapy?

The idea of utilizing nature and outdoor activity as a therapeutic aid has been around for a long time. The Outward Bound program for young people began in Wales in 1941. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that adventure therapy for addiction began to enter the mainstream of the treatment field. The concept is simple. Most people find comfort and peace in nature, it’s how we are wired biologically. Programs like Outward Bound also leverage the athletic aspects of outdoor activity. Specifically, they engage participants in challenging and strenuous activity designed to both build character and encourage teamwork among other virtues.

Outward Bound is not specifically targeted at addiction alone though. It also falls at the more extreme end of the spectrum in terms of intensity. This type of program is designed to break a person down and rebuild them in a sense. Participants are brought into the wilderness and taught survival skills. They may spend several nights alone in the wild with only basic tools. Other activities will incorporate teamwork, such as rock climbing or obstacle courses with climbing walls.

Benefits of Adventure Therapy for Addiction

Not all adventure therapy for addiction involves these extremes, however. In virtually every type of addiction treatment, people generally find a change of environment helpful. A change of surroundings alone is scarcely enough. But it does send a signal to the subconscious mind that adaptation is required. It can both remove a person from potential triggers and make them more malleable and receptive to new ideas. Studies have shown it takes between 1-2 months on average to form new habits and get them to stick. (1) Any positive change of environment we can introduce in concert with therapy and structure for a sustained period of time can show benefits.

The focus of adventure therapy is on maximizing the results during that time. Research has shown that simply spending more time outdoors, in nature, has positive effects on brain chemistry. (2) When this is combined with physical exercise and team-building activities, these effects can be leveraged. Addiction robs us of many things, self-confidence and esteem are among them. The sense of achievement one receives from simply completing a challenge is good medicine for this condition. The opportunity to overcome a fear provided powerful counteraction for a poor sense of self-worth. Objectives that require cooperation reinforce the ethic of teamwork.

All of these characteristics are vital to enduring recovery. Anyone who has put together significant sober time will tell you that. Adventure therapy can provide parallels to the struggles faced in overcoming addiction. Most people will find the most benefit from beginning rehab in a medical facility first and following the conventional course of treatment with Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient (IOP) care. Once a patient is medically stable and has some time and traditional therapy completed, exploring adventure therapy is a sound idea. We are living in an era of innovation in the science of addiction and recovery. Adventure therapy is one more tool we can use to craft a life of enduring recovery.


How Yoga Can Support Trauma Healing and Recovery

Yoga for Trauma Healing

Trauma is a key driver of substance abuse and addiction. In fact, people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) than the general public. Often people who’ve experienced severe trauma try to self-medicate to mask their uncomfortable symptoms. Unfortunately, SUD and addiction present their own challenges and do not solve the root of the issue. Mindfulness and yoga are now being suggested as complementary therapies for trauma healing and recovery.


Trauma and the Autonomic Nervous System

Much of the research on treating people for trauma focuses on regulating the Autonomic Nervous System. When a traumatic event occurs, the nervous system kicks into “Fight or Flight” mode, the Sympathetic Nervous System response. The body effectively kicks into high gear, with all of the body’s systems and energy focused on escaping or dealing with the threat. Typically, once the threat has subsided, the body can down-regulate from this heightened state back into the Parasympathetic (“Rest and Digest”) mode that we operate in normally. 

However, in the case of PTSD, this down regulation either doesn’t occur or the “Fight or Flight” response is easily triggered. This can occur from memories of the event or even everyday occurrences that wouldn’t normally be considered traumatic. The patient often experiences a near-constant state of anxiety, stress, and heightened nervous system response, also known as hypervigilance. 


Yoga, Mindfulness and Trauma Healing

Mindfulness is an important practice for anyone but is crucial for PTSD. A 2016 study in the Journal of Alternative Medicine states that eliminating the conditioned fear response of PTSD is crucial to resolving the mental health issue. It means that in order to manage the powerful emotions and impulsive responses associated with PTSD, survivors of trauma must learn to stay oriented in the present moment. 

Yoga centers on moving through poses and focusing on linking the breath to each movement. Therefore, mindfulness has always been a key aspect of this ancient practice. Some practitioners suggest that the bodywork aspect of yoga acts as a bridge to achieving mindfulness. This is likely due to yoga’s emphasis on body awareness, breath work, and mental strength. In yoga, the concept of “mind over matter” is practiced when in difficult poses or uncomfortable positions. Similarly, yoga is a moving meditation, which can benefit mental health in a myriad of ways.

Anecdotal data suggests that both yoga and mindfulness are effective as complementary therapies for PTSD, combined with traditional psychiatric and psychological treatments. 


Yoga in Addiction Treatment

At Harmony Recovery Group, we incorporate yoga into our treatment plans. From helping support our patients in trauma healing to teaching mindfulness skills that can benefit their recovery, yoga is a helpful tool that can be used long after treatment has ended. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Contact us today, see how we can help you live the life you’ve dreamed of, free of drugs and alcohol. 



THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE Volume 22, Number 3, 2016, pp. 189–196 ª Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2014.0407

5 Ways to Celebrate Cinco De Mayo While Sober

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo while in recovery

For those of us in recovery, a lot of holidays feel off-limits: St. Paddy’s, Mardi Gras, and this week’s big one, Cinco De Mayo. Most of these are big “drinking holidays” in the US, but they don’t have to be!

Today, we’re talking 5 ways to celebrate Cinco De Mayo while sober… Cinco De Sober, if you will. 

1. Celebrate with Food

Tacos! Nachos! Guacamole! Let’s be honest, the best part of any holiday is the food and Cinco De Mayo is no different. Whether you’re outside on the grill or ordering from your favorite local restaurant, celebrate the holiday with delicious Mexican cuisine. 

2. Celebrate with a Classic (Non-Alcoholic) Drink

Super refreshing and always alcohol-free, this list of Mexican drinks over on our fellow Harmony Recovery Group center, Harmony Oaks, site is sure to get you in the spirit! 

3. Celebrate with Music (and Dancing)

Nothing sets a festive mood like music! Get in the Cinco De Mayo spirit with some classic Mexican songs. This list by Billboard of “10 Songs You Need on your Cinco De Mayo Playlist” will get you started. Bonus points for dancing in your living room

4. Celebrate with Games

If you’re quarantining with your family, this is a great time to bust out some festive games. You can even make your own, like “Spill the Beans.” It’s great for all ages and all you need are dried beans and a jar. Fill the jar with dried Pinto beans (or any type of bean) and cut a bean-sized hole in the lid. Set a timer for 30 seconds and see how many beans you can shake loose. Pass it around and whoever managed the most beans, wins! 

5. Celebrate with Friends (on Zoom)

This is the perfect time to get your sober buddies together for a zoom call. Connection is so important in sobriety and even more so on holidays. Catch up and play a virtual game together. Old classics like Charades and Pictionary can easily be played on-screen or go digital with mobile apps like Head’s Up (several decks are free right now for quarantine). Get ready for some laughs.