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Can Massage Therapy Play a Role in Combating the Drug Addiction Crisis?

31 Jul 2017

There is no question that drug addiction is one of the fastest-growing health problems in the U.S. today, with usage of both street drugs and abuse of prescription medications reaching almost epidemic proportions. Everyone agrees that we need solutions, but can therapeutic massage play a part in treating addiction?

At first glance that might seem like an odd question. You might wonder what a massage can do to address drug addiction. It turns out that massage therapy may be helpful in treating addictions of several sorts – not only drugs but also alcohol and nicotine.

Addiction may have physical components, but at its core any type of addiction is a brain condition or disease. The addict is preoccupied with obtaining and using a substance, even at the risk of jeopardizing relationships, jobs, and financial obligations. But behavioral therapy in conjunction with medication to combat withdrawal symptoms has been demonstrated as a successful treatment for addiction.

So you might be wondering where massage therapy comes in.  

Indulging in the addictive substance brings about release of dopamine in the body. Dopamine is a “feel good” neurotransmitter, and this should give you a basic understanding of how addiction works. The body gets used to that good feeling, and the addict craves it more and more. It’s also helpful to understand that most addicts develop a problem because their lives have been impacted somehow by a stressor, a painful occurrence, anxiety, or similar. So in addition to the craving for the dopamine release, there’s an elevated level of cortisol.

You might be getting the picture by now of how massage therapy might be a helpful component in an addiction treatment protocol due to its ability to stimulate the body’s production of dopamine and seratonin (another ‘feel good’ hormone) as well as reducing the production of cortisol. (Research has demonstrated these effects.)

Massage therapy, in addition, tends to help the recipient feel better about themselves. Research studies also show it can be helpful for treating depression, PTSD, and other emotional and psychological conditions. And since withdrawal from an addictive substance can create physical discomfort, relaxing therapeutic massage has yet another avenue in which to support addiction treatment.

As with any client who has a health issue, it’s always wise for a massage therapist working with a client recovering from addiction to coordinate with their primary care provider so that efforts are supportive rather than at cross purposes. One thing to keep in mind is that addicts often have problems with boundaries and respect for others, so that’s something to be aware of. But it is encouraging to know that bodywork may have something to contribute to combat addiction.  





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