Beat addiction with natural therapies


Natural therapies such as manual lymphatic drainage and remedial massage are used to reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation, to detoxify tissues and lymphatic systems and improve circulation, elimination, skin conditions and muscle condition. Other natural therapies, such as aromatherapy, also deal with the myriad emotional, self-esteem and spiritual issues associated with addictions.

Addiction has been recognised as a primary, progressive and sometimes fatal illness that responds to medical treatment. The basic medical treatment is immediate or progressive withdrawal from the dependency substance or compulsion followed by total abstinence. Although this sounds simple, it’s an extremely complex procedure involving behaviour changes, lifestyle changes, changes in perception and challenges to long-held beliefs in order for the recovering person to understand the psychological pressures that led to the dependency or compulsion in the first place.

Addictions are often a symptom of other, deeper emotional, social and psychological problems. These problems can surface when the addictive substance is withdrawn, which is why support is crucial at this time. Support of a person withdrawing from an addiction is often a challenging task as withdrawal symptoms can include physiological damage such as liver dysfunction, digestion impairment, brain damage and/or mental health issues such as drug-induced psychosis, anxiety, depression and paranoia.

The requirement for a successful recovery from an addiction is a holistic and comprehensive healthcare program because the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of both the dependency and the rehabilitation are inextricably entwined and, during all aspects of the rehabilitation process, need to be treated simultaneously. This is where natural therapies like massage therapy and aromatherapy are invaluable.

Negative effects

Alcohol and other drugs and food are readily absorbed and assimilated into the body and, when used addictively, cause a multitude of physical and emotional problems. Heavy drinking causes liver damage (cirrhosis), heart disease and brain damage. Chemical substances such as alcohol, prescription tranquillisers and anti-anxiety drugs, heroin and methadone also have the following harmful effects: they irritate the digestive system, can cause dehydration which in turn leads to headaches and muscles aches and pains; many are depressants that slow down cell functioning and interfere with glucose production, which in turn destabilises blood sugar levels.


Drug abuse also has an enormous emotional and spiritual cost. The chemical substances interfere with the brain centres that control thought and feeling. The chemical substances in alcohol, drugs and some foods can change the way people think and behave. Thoughts and behaviour can become increasingly negative and self-centred and are manifested as feelings of, for example, failure and inadequacy.

Spirituality can then be threatened under these circumstances because chemically dependent people often behave in a manner that’s inconsistent with their core values. The person becomes less and less able to see outside of themselves and their need for the substance they are using.



Neither massage nor aromatherapy natural therapies are new treatments, but both natural therapies are receiving renewed interest. Although essential oils can be used simply for their aroma, in a clinical setting their physiological natural therapy properties are the main emphasis and most of the research into essential oils concentrates on their medicinal qualities. In countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Britain, essential oils are now being used for natural therapies in many hospitals, from labour rooms in maternity wards to intensive care units.

Massage and natural therapies with essential oils helps to relax the mind and body. Physically, this natural therapy seeks to improve each of the nine "systems" of the body — circulation, muscles, skeleton, respiration, digestion, skin, and immune, lymphatic and nervous systems.

On a psychological level, natural therapies massage and aromatherapy make a person feel nurtured and supported because they provide human contact. Positive touch natural therapy has been shown to enhance immune stimulation, one of the most important of all the benefits of massage and aromatherapy treatments. Natural therapy through touching communicates caring and respect and can trigger metabolic and chemical changes in the body that help with healing.

Scientific research has confirmed that touching as natural therapy has beneficial effects on the body’s internal workings. Doctors at the University Of Maryland Medical School, USA, discovered heart rate changes when people are touched and that holding the hands of people who are paralysed or in a coma produces cardiovascular reactions (Davis, 2001 p.66).

The natural therapy of  touch associated with gentle massage for relaxation and healing can also help the chemically dependent person relate to another in a physically non-threatening manner. Many chemically dependent people, both male and female, have been either physically or sexually abused as children or adults and touching is often associated with injury, pain or unwanted sex (Hood, conference paper, Women & Alcohol, 1994).

The first requirement of any natural therapy recovery program is for the client to be withdrawn from the substances they have been using. It’s here that the usefulness of specific natural therapy techniques and essential oils used in natural therapies massage and aromatherapy becomes apparent in healing the body and mind. For example, the natural therapy of effleurage (or stroking) can help stress-related problems such as insomnia and anxiety and tension.

Done lightly and slowly, the natural therapy of effleurage is relaxing and soothing; with increased pressure it releases the tension from tight muscles, while a faster stroke can be stimulating and invigorating. With the natural therapy of effleurage the nerve endings in the skin are stimulated and breathing becomes more relaxed. Effleurage as a natural therapy also encourages the removal of dead cells from the skin and helps to speed up the elimination of waste products, thereby improving skin tone, circulation and lymph flow.


Manual lymphatic drainage

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) natural therapy massage techniques are a marvellous modality for people trying to change their lifestyle and break destructive habits because MLD is a specific natural therapy method used to encourage detoxification. MLD natural therapy massages gently pump toxins through the body’s network of lymph canals to be filtered and eliminated. MLD natural therapy massage benefits the nervous system, the immune system and the venous system.

This is because the venous capillaries are parallel to those of the lymphatic system, therefore the venous circulation is also stimulated to a degree. The nervous system receives an analgesic and anti-spastic effect from the long, slow, gentle, repetitive movements. The natural therapy massage re-establishes and stimulates the flow of lymph through the lymph nodes, which assist in the production of lymphocytes for immunity against infection and illness.


Massage and aromatherapy are healing natural therapies with many benefits. As well as reducing the toxicity of the body as described above, these natural therapies would be extremely beneficial to relieve the major withdrawal symptoms of constipation, anxiety, insomnia, nausea and poor resistance to infections. Australian research findings have produced some interesting results that confirm these benefits of natural therapies.


1. Infection control with natural therapies

Tracey Ryan, Heather Cavanagh and Jenny Wilkinson from Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, NSW, have researched the antimicrobial activity of natural therapy with the Australian essential oil lemon-scented myrtle (Backhousia Citriodora) against a range of micro-organisms including Staphylococcus aureus, Aspergillus, Candida albicans and Salmonella typhimurium. Their findings on natural therapies were: "The oil was found to prevent the growth of all organisms tested at high concentrations. B. Citriodora was found to be particularly effective against the fungus Aspergillus. The oil also showed disinfectant activity and may have potential as a surface disinfectant."


2. Reducing anxiety with natural therapies

The Aromatherapy Research Group (TARG) is currently researching the effect of essential oil natural therapies and therapeutic touch (massage) natural therapies on nursing home residents with dementia. Two of the oils used in the blend are lavender and patchouli. Preliminary findings are that "patients’ sedative drugs have been reduced since the introduction of the oils". The chemical properties of these natural therapy oils, which also have fungicidal or antiviral effects, act on the central nervous system to have a balancing or regulatory effect.


3. Natural therapies and immunity

Research by Zarno has shown the natural therapy of tea-tree oil to be anti-fungal, antiseptic and immune-stimulant.


Applications of natural therapies

Essential oils can be used in myriad ways in natural therapies. The two most common are in a burner or vaporiser and diluted in vegetable oil for topical application by massage. Other natural therapy methods include use in the shower or bath and there are several ways of doing this. The oils can be added to a shower gel or to a little carrier oil (a tablespoonful) or full cream milk and put into the bath water.

Another natural therapy method is to make a small quantity of a blend of essential oils and carrier oil and rub this on the skin before getting into the bath or shower. The hot water will do the rest, releasing the aroma while you bathe. If possible, allow a few minutes for the skin to absorb the essential oils before getting into the water. Steam inhalations are another way of absorbing essential oils into the system. You can add a few drops of your chosen oils to a bowl of hot water and, leaning over the bowl to inhale the steam, cover head and bowl with a "tent" made of a towel.

Essential oils can be used as natural therapy room sprays, hand and body lotions, skin cream, shampoos, conditioners and deodorants. For injuries such as skin tears, bedsores or sprains, add oils to hot or cold compresses, dressings and bandages. As was suggested for the essential oil lemon myrtle, oils can be used as surface disinfectants or placed on lightglobes, under pillows, on clothing or added to pot-pourri and paper or silk flowers … the possibilities are endless. Try using essential oils in the sauna, the spa bath, over the air-conditioning duct, on the radiator, in the car or as a personal perfume.

The natural therapy of self-massage is an alternative for chemically dependent people who, in the early stages of detoxifying, feel aggressive, anxious or agitated and don’t want to be touched. Self-massage natural therapy on the neck, lower back, arms, front of the legs, hands and feet is a great way to release tension. Hand and foot baths and massage are relaxing and again introduce people to the idea of therapeutic touch. Natural therapy massage is less threatening for a practitioner to start with a seated massage of hands and arms and gradually progress to neck, shoulders and back. The client is in control (seated, clothed, can see the practitioner and halt the proceedings at any time) and therefore less likely to react with fear or aggression.

Recovery from chemical substances and compulsive behaviours is all about detoxifying, first the body then the mind and spirit. If these symptoms can be managed with natural therapies, the body will re-establish its own balance and homeostasis, promoting a faster return to physical health. With the return of a feeling of physical wellness the client can then concentrate on the hard work needed to change thinking, attitudes, ideas and lifestyle in order to live free from their dependency.

Massage and aromatherapy treatments and natural therapies now have an established place in patient programs in maternity hospitals, nursing homes, aged care, oncology and palliative care. They can also have a place in addiction rehabilitation programs. Massage and natural therapies can greatly enhance the physical healing of the body and reduce the majority of withdrawal symptoms without the use of prescribed drugs, thus aiding the return to wellbeing.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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