Many rehab centers now use massage therapy in treatment because it offers a range of health benefits, both for the body and the mind. It’s a perfect form of therapy for recovering addicts who may not yet have learned to articulate their feelings, because it doesn’t require any conversation. People in the grip of active addiction spend a lot of time hiding from their emotions and the physical sensations they cause, but massage therapy can help recovering addicts reconnect with their bodies — and face their emotions.
Massage Therapy Heals the Brain
Massage combats stress on a physiological level. It has been found to decrease levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body. At the same time, it increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for feelings of pleasure, and which play a role in addiction because using substances causes the brain to produce these chemicals.
After a while, the brains of addicts can no longer produce these neurotransmitters in response to normal stimuli. The result is post-acute-withdrawal-syndrome, which causes symptoms such as depression, insomnia and chronic pain for up to a year after the addict stops using. By stimulating the release of these neurotransmitters, massage helps the brain heal from the effects of long-term substance abuse and can relieve post-acute-withdrawal symptoms.
Massage Therapy Promotes Relaxation
While it may seem like a no-brainer to say massage promotes relaxation, these benefits are profound and last long after the massage ends. People who receive regular massages sleep and feel better physically for days after each massage. That’s because massage stimulates the vagus nerve, decreasing stress hormone levels, as discussed above, but also lowering blood pressure and heart rate. In studies, massage has been found to be more relaxing than breathing exercises.
Massage Promotes Mindfulness
Many recovering addicts originally turned to substances as a way of coping with difficult feelings by escaping from them. Through massage, recovering addicts are forced to pay attention to the sensations in their bodies — and the emotions that may be directly contributing to the way their bodies feel. Many recovering addicts find massage therapy opens them up to re-experience long-buried emotions. The therapy teaches recovering addicts to remain present with their feelings, recognize them and honor them — best of all, it’s perfect for addicts at all stages of recovery because it doesn’t require them to articulate their inner experiences to the therapist.
Massage Forges a Sense of Connectedness
Recovering addicts often do not feel a mind-body connection. This is because they have typically spent a long time trying to hide from their feelings, and feelings occur in the body. Some recovering addicts have a history of physical abuse and trauma, which only deepens the disconnect between mind and body. By bringing awareness into the body, massage therapy re-establishes that connection.
Massage therapy can also help recovering addicts reconnect with others, by helping them connect with the massage therapist. For some, massage may be the first experience they have had with positive touch and it’s a therapy that lends itself to building trust. Through learning to trust a massage therapist, a recovering addict can begin learning to trust others.
Recovering addicts can benefit greatly from massage therapy, which relieves stress and promotes feelings of well-being. This therapy also helps addicts cope with their feelings, become more aware of their bodies and learn to forge deeper connections with others.