Substance abuse is a serious problem that costs the U.S. an estimated 500 billion dollars annually in increased crime, lost work, treatment and social welfare programs. While there is no standard cause or cure for addiction, there are psychological, physical and emotional components that must be addressed in order to encourage a successful recovery. Massage therapy has shown promise in helping recovering addicts to address and manage these issues, while promoting a healthy method of self-care.
Stress, whether internal or external in origin, is a major obstacle to the recovery process. Stress can cause feelings of anxiety and lead to a sense of being overwhelmed. This compels the individual to seek an escape, which often results in the downward spiral of addiction. Many studies have been undertaken to prove the efficacy that massage has on stress reduction. The Touch Research Institute in Miami has conducted many groundbreaking studies, and analysis of the data concludes that massage has a definitive impact on the amelioration of cravings, depression, agitation, stress and pain.
Stress hormones, such as cortisol, and neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, play a powerful role in addiction. An individual’s reaction to emotional stress can cause them to start abusing substances, which activates the release of dopamine or keeps it from being reabsorbed. Prolonged drug abuse further weakens the individual’s ability to negotiate stressful situations, and the release of cortisol can cause the addict to experience troubling emotions. In the detoxification process, dopamine levels are very low, which can drive the addict toward relapse.
The importance of neurochemical balance during the recovery process is incontrovertible. A 1998 Touch Research Institute study revealed that a consistent regimen of massage generated a lasting increase in dopamine levels. This is an important finding, as addicts are accustomed to using substances in order to experience pleasure. After prolonged periods of drug use, the body ceases to produce its own endorphins. During the detoxification process, there is a period of time that elapses before the body begins to produce endorphins again. This can be a period of vulnerability for the recovering addict, sometimes resulting in a relapse.
A Norwegian study published in 1989 showed that massage therapy caused a 16 percent increase in the beta-endorphin levels measured in the blood. The ability of massage to increase the release of endorphins empowers the recovering addict to feel pleasure without using drugs.Massage also has physical benefits that aid in addiction recovery. Increased circulation and improved lymph drainage help to re-nourish tissues and expel toxins, which aids in the detoxification process as a whole.
It is important for addicts to recognize and control the triggers that lead them to want to seek an escape. Massage improves body awareness and helps to identify where tension is being held. It also helps the patient to negotiate feelings of anxiety and cravings by bringing to light one’s emotions and patterns of resistance. The improved sense of self-awareness that massage provides helps recovering addicts to have a foothold in the present while experiencing feelings of well-being, and at the same time an awareness that pleasure can be experienced while they are drug-free.
Over the course of addiction treatment and recovery, it is not unusual for the patient to feel a division between mind and body. Massage can help to reunite the mind, body and spirit, helping those recovering from addiction to feel whole again.
Increase of Plasma Beta-Endorphins in Connective Tissue Massage, Kaada B, Torsteinbo O.; General Pharmacology. 20(4):487-9, 1989