Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees. B. K. S. IYENGAR, LIGHT ON LIFE Substance abuse, including the abuse of alcohol, opiates, stimulants, and other drugs, is a widespread issue in the world today. According to WHO (2018), about 800 people die every day in Europe from alcohol related problems. Last year in the European Union, 24.7 million used cannabis, 3.9 million used cocaine, 2.6 million used ecstasy (EMCDDA, 2019). There are many programs available to treat substance abuse and addiction, such as individual and group psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, counseling, using medication etc. More and more programs focus on a holistic approach which includes the use of different methods and tools to help a person to recover from substance abuse and addiction.
Yoga has been used for thousands of years to support mental and physical health through a combination of breathing, physical postures, relaxation, and meditation. The word itself comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to unite. While the practice continues to be taught (for hundreds of generations now) and continues to evolve, the fundamental idea that yoga unites our body, mind, and being remains. Over 90 percent of all current research on yoga has found that yoga has a positive impact on health. People who practice yoga notice many benefits, varying from stress relief and physical fitness to better flexibility and strength. Also, yoga develops your ability to cope with mental and physical stress and gives you the flexibility and confidence to get through what you experience- no matter where you are. Yoga has been helpful for people who are recovering from alcohol dependence and opiate dependence and who wants to stop smoking. Yoga and meditation programs have been found to be more effective in reducing relapse rates compared to cognitive-behavioral treatment and twelve-step programs. More importantly, yoga is often beneficial when used together with other traditional substance abuse treatment programs. Why yoga is helpful for people who suffer from substance abuse? Yoga focuses on the main symptoms of substance abuse, including cravings, impulsivity, negativity, and increased reaction to stress. By reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, yoga can help ease emotional states that can increase relapses. Also, yoga is built on a foundation of a nonjudgmental attitude, which helps replace shame and stigma with hope and self-acceptance in addiction recovery. Yoga also helps to release pain and discomfort for people who are suffering from substance abuse. There is a relationship between pain and substance abuse. A lot of people use substances to moderate back and neck pain, headaches, joint pain etc. The constant use of pain medication not only increase the risk of developing opiate dependence, but also can cause pain. For instance,
excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the inflammation of the pancreas and dysfunction of peripheral nerves. Studies have shown that yoga poses appear to have beneficial results in relieving pain. Compared to other treatments, especially treatment that uses medicine, yoga has little risk of negative side effects. Yoga can also be taught in a group setting, which is not only cheaper, but also provides a group support. People who abuse substances often become isolated, because they need to get rid of their previous social contacts which were typically drug-related contacts. Group yoga helps people to find new social contacts who are more appropriate.
To conclude, yoga has been found to be beneficial in substance abuse treatment. It focuses on both psychological conditions (depression and anxiety) and physical conditions (pain and discomfort). It also helps to accept yourself which is very important in addiction recovery. Yoga is most beneficial when used with other traditional substance abuse treatment programs.
References European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (2019). European Drug Report 2019: Trends and Developments . Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg. Wei, M. & Groves, J.E. (2017). The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga: 8 weeks to Strength, Awareness and Flexibility . United States of America: Da capo press. World Health Organization. (2018). Fact sheet on alcohol consumption, alcohol-attributable harm and alcohol policy responses in European Union Member States, Norway and Switzerland. Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen.
Neringa Razbadauskaite is an intern at Willingness. She is from Lithuania, 3rd year psychology student. She has a keen interest in health psychology.