What is Recreational Therapy for Substance Abuse?
Recreational therapy combines leisure activities into your addiction treatment plan. Over the years, addiction specialists have witnessed the healing power of recreational activities for those recovering from addiction. In fact, many people now seek out inpatient treatment centers that offer a good selection of recreational therapy and addiction treatment plans.
Recreational therapy and addiction treatment consists of treatment using various activities like music, art, horseback riding, exercise, yoga, and much more. These activities are known to help improve client’s physical and emotional well-being. When these services are offered under the care and supervision of a certified therapist, recreational therapy and addiction treatment is an effective form of supplemental treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
How recreational therapy is used?
Individuals who have a mental illness and addiction can benefit from this form of care. However, it is most effective when combined with a comprehensive treatment program centered around evidence-based techniques. Recreational therapies are also used to help treat eating disorders, anger problems, grief, trauma, and behavioral issues. Ultimately, this type of treatment aims to bring underlying emotions to the surface, allowing people to heal while learning how to overcome challenges.
Recreational therapy and addiction treatment is not all fun and games. There is a purpose behind the activities that are specifically targeted to each patient. When individuals are suffering from a physical injury, substance abuse, or mental illness, they need help learning, not only how to live with their disability, but to enhance their quality of life by reducing the isolation that patients experience and helping them to participate in leisure activities .
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Benefits of recreational therapy and addiction treatment
Recreational therapy and addiction treatment has wide-ranging positive influences on your mental and physical health. This is especially the case when recreational therapy is designed around your individual interests and needs.
Let’s dive into some of the science-backed benefits of recreational therapy and addiction treatment.
Improves symptoms of depression
Many therapeutic recreation programs get individuals up and moving and stimulate their minds with engaging, creative tasks. Research shows that recreational therapy involving physical activity may decrease symptoms of depression.
Music therapy, art therapy, drama, and dance also all have positive effects on depression symptoms. Researchers believe the improvement may be linked to endorphins. These feel-good chemicals are released in the brain during physical movement when someone expresses themselves creatively and during social interactions.
Research shows that recreational therapy may help improve a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem.
In one small 2018 study, for example, therapists interviewed older adults in a long-term care facility, asking them to select leisure activities based on their interests.
After a structured program where the adults engaged in their chosen activities every week and did simple upper body exercises, they reported improved self-esteem compared with how they felt before starting the therapy program.
Study participants who hadn’t been offered the option of customized activities didn’t experience the same boost to their self-esteem.
Strengthens social connections
Disease, injury, and disability can limit your ability to interact with people. Recreational therapy and addiction treatment provides chances to engage with other people in positive ways, which can counteract feelings of isolation.
In one study, people with early dementia described feeling uplifted and accepted after participating in a recreational therapy and addiction treatment program together.
Stronger social bonds like these are associated with better health outcomes across the board.
Improves functional independence after an injury
In many cases, a serious injury can affect a person’s ability to do routine tasks. Taking care of their home, exercising, playing with their children or grandchildren — these activities may be difficult or impossible after an injury.
Recreational therapy can make a difference in the level of functional independence after a serious injury.
In one study, for example, researchers found that people who engaged in greater amounts of therapeutic recreation after a spinal cord injury recovered functional independence at a slightly higher rate than those who didn’t have the same therapy.
Recreational therapy for people with injuries is also associated with more social activity, greater involvement with sports or aquatic activities, and fewer pressure ulcers.
Increases strength and physical fitness
Recreational therapy often includes exercise, games, dance, yoga, tai chi, and other kinds of movement. A study found that this kind of recreational movement may help improve your balance, physical strength, and flexibility, There’s also some evidence that exercise therapy may be a helpful tool in substance use programs.
Boosts cognitive abilities
Research shows that physical exercise, social engagement, and games that stimulate your brain (such as bridge, chess, and memory challenges) all improve the healthy functioning of your mind.
It’s important to bear in mind that recreational therapy can’t fully restore areas of the brain that have been permanently damaged. But research suggests that physical activity, social relationships, and activities that challenge your thinking may all help maintain the healthy functioning of your brain.
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Types of Recreational Therapy and Addiction Treatment
The following therapeutic recreations can be found at many substance use addiction facilities:
The practice of yoga also incorporates meditation and deep relaxation. Yoga has been well-documented to help reduce stress, anxiety, and the severity of withdrawal symptoms—all very helpful benefits during recovery from substance use. The breathing exercises done in yoga practices, together with self-affirming mantras and mindfulness meditation, help to fight impulses and control cravings. Tai Chi and other gentle movement practices are also useful in recovery.
Physical activity—such as outdoor hiking, playing sports like tennis or basketball, and doing exercise routines to music—all help to restore the body and the mind. Exercise releases natural endorphins, which improve mood and reduce negative feelings. These natural chemicals allow the body to relearn physical strength and regulate brain chemistry in a safe way.
Arts and Crafts
Creating art stimulates the mind and improves mood. When a work of art is made, the artists are rewarded with a great sense of satisfaction. Even making holiday crafts improves the sense of self and creativity.
Most people enjoy music, either listening to it or creating it. Music therapy for addiction treatment is a powerful tool in the healing process. It can heighten mood, relieve anxiety, and improve concentration and cognitive skills. Songs and music that are highly associated with memories of drug use should be avoided during music therapy. A person’s newly found sobriety can be securely established and related to new, positive songs to replace old memories.
Poetry, journaling, and expressive writings based on topics meaningful to the individual can lead to a decrease in cravings. It can also lead to improvements in self-confidence, self-esteem, social skills, and the ability to cope and trust.
Dance and Movement Therapy
Similar to exercise, dance enhances mood—but it also allows participants to express themselves more openly. For those who find it difficult to talk about their feelings or describe their experiences, dance, a universal language, helps them relax and open up. Movement therapy can be done with or without music. Various movements can be performed, such as freestyle or more choreographed dances like salsa, ballroom dancing, or ballet. Dance gives a voice to feelings and thoughts, helps resolve unsettled trauma, and helps release fears and anxieties.
Applying Recreational Therapy and Addiction Treatment
Therapy is a vital part of addiction treatment. Individuals who struggle with addiction and substance abuse problems have a chronic disease that changes their brain’s reward system pathways. Working with a trained mental health professional or counselor to understand behaviors as a reaction to mental states or emotional experiences can help to create new pathways for healthier behaviors .
Some of the most effective forms of therapy used in rehabilitation programs include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Contingency Management
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy and its component Motivational Interviewing Therapy
- Peer support, 12-Step facilitation or other forms of group therapy
- Family therapy
- Complementary and alternative treatments
While no one form of addiction treatment will work for every person, a general path through detox and a rehabilitation program work best for most people. The specific types of therapy included in the rehabilitation program, however, can change . As each person’s unique needs are better addressed through more programs, recreational therapy is coming to the forefront as a resource for addiction treatment.
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How is recreational therapy and addiction treatment used?
Recreational therapy and addiction treatment uses a variety of different activities to address the emotions and symptoms that may limit a person’s recovery. For example, many individuals who suffer from alcohol or drug addiction also experience anxiety, depression, or trauma. If left untreated, all of these conditions can make long-term sobriety difficult. However, recreational therapy treats addiction by addressing these issues and providing an array of benefits, including:
- Challenging patients to push themselves and overcome difficulties, therefore, building a sense of accomplishment surrounding mental and physical challenges.
- Learning to trust others by participating in team-building and trust-building activities.
- Developing leadership, team-building skills, and support systems.
- Building confidence, resilience, and self-esteem.
- Encouraging patients to face their fears, heal emotionally, and walk through challenges without using substances.
- Helping patients build self-awareness and problem-solving skills.
- Motivating patients to live healthier, more independent, and fulfilling lives.
- Reducing a person’s sense of isolation, anxiety, depression, and stress.
- Introducing patients to new, sober hobbies and activities that they can use to fill their spare time and/or cope with future challenges.
- Encouraging patients to take care of their physical and mental health.
- Improving motor functioning and cognitive abilities.
- Preventing relapse by developing skills to cope with challenges in recovery.
- Providing patients with a break from behavioral therapy and an outlet to cope with stress and/or have fun.
When used to treat alcohol and drug addiction, recreational therapy exposes clients to new activities and gives a break from the intensive work done in behavioral therapy. In many cases, people don’t even realize that they are getting therapy. Instead, it just feels like fun activities .
In reality, people in recovery are used to spending their time using alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. That’s why it’s so important to find new activities in recovery. By taking advantage of recreational therapies in rehab, the clients have access to whole-body healing.
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Find the Right Recreational Therapy and Addiction Treatment at We Level Up NJ
Here at We Level Up NJ, we pride ourselves on providing research-based, comprehensive substance abuse treatment, along with a variety of recreational therapy and addiction treatment. You’re never forced to engage in these activities, but we do encourage you to try some, as we believe you may just awaken some creativity and passion within you as you do.
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 NIH – https://clinicalcenter.nih.gov/rmd/rt/index.html
 NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies/cognitive-behavioral-therapy
 NIDA – https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/nchav/resources/docs/interventions/contingency-management/NIDA-principles-of-drug-addiction-treatment-a-research-based-guide-third-edition-508.pdf
 NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7600323/