Recovery through Art Therapy

The Healing Power of Art Therapy for Addiction

If you are reading this, you must be thinking about addiction treatment. Art therapy for addiction is a holistic form of treatment. Combined with other alternative and traditional therapies, art therapy for substance abuse helps heal from addiction. 

Art therapy has been used for many years, but more so in the last few years. For instance, bookstores have a wide selection of intricate adult coloring books. Not only do they help pass the time, but they also lower stress levels. However, books don’t replace professional art therapy for addiction. 

What is Art Therapy?

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as therapeutic art-making in treatment.  Art therapy helps in healing those with illness, trauma, and life challenges. For example, drawing, painting, sculpting, or writing boosts personal development and recovery from addiction. 

The study in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association shows just 45 minutes of art therapy reduces stress levels. This is true even if you don’t have any artistic talent. It also works equally well for men and women. 

The various focuses of art therapy for substance abuse include:

  • Explore feelings
  • Reconcile emotional conflict
  • Build self-awareness
  • Manage addiction and other negative behaviors
  • Develop social skills
  • Improve reality orientation
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Prevent recurrence of use

Types of Art Therapy for Addiction

Art therapy for substance abuse uses many forms of artistic pursuits. The various forms of art therapy for addiction typically include:

  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Coloring
  • Sculpting
  • Scrapbooking
  • Collages
  • Photography
  • Digital Art

Art therapy can be abstract or have a specific assignment. If you have a specific project, you will typically be given a question to answer with your art. However, abstract art encourages you to express your thoughts and feelings. 

Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy for Addiction?

Anyone who is struggling with substance use and other mental health disorders can benefit from art therapy. Creating art improves the mental well-being of those struggling with:

  • ADD and ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Relationship issues
  • Trauma’Substance Use Disorder

Some people fear they will lack the skills for art therapy. But, what they don’t realize is it’s not about being an artist. Art therapy for substance abuse is about finding meaning and a connection. 

How Is Art Therapy for Addiction Used in Treatment?

Using art in therapy is completely different than art therapy itself. For instance, using art in therapy typically means using art to find an end. However, art therapy uses the creative process of art as a healing tool. 

Advantages of art therapy for substance abuse include:

  • Helping you cope with your feelings in a non-destructive way
  • Helps you and your therapist understand your feelings and repressed emotions
  • Makes you feel empowered in your recovery and solving problems without drugs and alcohol

Many people have a hard time communicating. Therefore art therapy helps them express their thoughts and feelings. Art therapy for substance abuse specifically helps those with sexual or physical abuse.

Certain drugs may also cause long-term issues that interfere with communication skills. Since the 1950s, art therapy for addiction has been providing self-expression, emotional releases, and help adjusting to recovery. 

Art therapy for substance abuse helps recovery by:

  • Decreases the denial of substance use disorder
  • Increases the motivation to change
  • Provides a safe emotional outlet
  • Lessens the shame of addiction

What are the Goals of Art Therapy for Addiction?

The goal of art therapy for substance abuse is similar to all treatments, to promote healthy functioning. It aids in resolving emotions, experiences, and issues that lead to and worsen your addiction. These feelings and experiences can be too painful to talk about. 

However, art therapy for substance abuse helps you express yourself through ink, clay, paint, and other means. There are many reasons for addiction, such as trauma, stress, and mental health disorders. But, art therapy gives you a sense of control that often lacks in addiction. 

7 Benefits of Art Therapy for Addiction

You can greatly benefit from art therapy for substance abuse. In art therapy, you work through some of the 12 Steps. To begin with, self-reflection is a big part of the 12-steps. Art therapy for substance abuse allows you to put your feelings of denial and trauma into something physical. 

#1 Visual Communication

Art therapy for substance abuse uses many forms of artistic pursuits.

Entering into addiction treatment can be challenging. Let’s face it, talking to professionals, who are strangers, is difficult. After detox, your body is free of drugs and alcohol, and you can become ashamed of things you’ve done while using. You will also face the issues that led to using drugs and alcohol. 

Just thinking about past trauma and behaviors can be overwhelming. Furthermore, having to talk about them to strangers stop people from seeking recovery. But, art therapy for substance abuse gives you another way to communicate.

#2 Personal Breakthroughs

Art therapy for substance abuse can lead to important personal breakthroughs. Likewise, these advances are not typically possible in traditional treatments alone. Self-worth is generally the greatest breakthrough in art therapy for substance abuse. 

#3 Self-Reflection

Addiction causes a false sense of reality. The distorted reality is not only with the world around you but with yourself. However, art therapy for addiction can help you see the changes your making. For instance, drawing or sculpting yourself along the recovery journey can show how recovery enables you to see yourself differently. 

#4 Self-Confidence

A common cause of addiction is low self-esteem. For instance, if you view yourself as worthless, that’s how you will act. But, with art therapy for substance abuse, you build a sense of accomplishment and progression. 

#5 Emotional Healing

In art therapy for substance abuse, you explore and release your emotions without words. Some people struggle with expressing painful thoughts and experiences. But, art therapy for addiction allows for safe expression. It also helps improve emotional issues, such as depression and anxiety. 

#6 Self-Discovery

You can alter your life’s path with one positive experience. For example, if you lose a lot of weight, you may become a personal trainer or health advocate.

In the same way, art therapy can lead you to share your experiences by becoming an art therapist. Because art therapy for substance abuse aids in self-discovery, you can change your whole future in recovery. 

#7 Prevent Recurrence of Use

One main focus of art therapy for substance abuse is relapse prevention. In treatment, you will build the skills and tools to cope with daily triggers. 

Art therapy for substance abuse is a helpful long-term holistic therapy to cope with feelings and triggers. Above all, the therapy that gave you the power to overcome substance use can promote Recovery for Life. 

Group Art Therapy for Addiction

You may find you make more progress one-on-one with a therapist. However, some people find group art therapy works better for them. A key part of group art therapy for addiction is sharing the different artistic processes and results.

When you share your art pieces and your story behind it, others can relate and share their experiences. Giving and receiving support through art therapy allows others to see your recovery journey while inspiring others to maintain recovery. 

Dopamine Release from Art Therapy for Addiction

Whenever you experience pleasure, dopamine is released. This release makes you happier, which increasing recovery from depression and anxiety. In fact, more doctors are prescribing activities such as art therapy for overall well-being. 

Art Therapy During Addiction Recovery

You may believe drugs or alcohol make you more creative. However, it’s just the opposite. Drugs and alcohol stifle creativity. Because many people in recovery struggle with understanding how they feel, art therapy plays a crucial role in recovery. 

Art therapy for substance abuse helps you express:

  • Your challenging feelings
  • Your traumatic memories
  • Your self-loathing thoughts

Combining Art Therapy with Other Holistic and Traditional Therapies

Holistic treatment considers your entire wellbeing, specifically your mind, body, and spirit. Holistic therapies are often known as “alternative” forms of treatment. Using holistic therapies such as art therapy offers countless benefits. 

Holistic therapies include:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Equine therapy
  • Nutritional therapy

Traditional therapies for addiction have many benefits. Psychotherapy is a big part of traditional recovery. Individual therapy helps you recognize and work through past traumas and mental health issues. 

Traditional therapies include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Combining both holistic and traditional therapies is complimentary and straightforward. In fact, most doctors recommend a comprehensive treatment plan with traditional and holistic therapies. This treatment plan can help you feel more in control of your recovery. 

Art Therapy for Long-Term Addiction Recovery

Addiction and mental health disorders are chronic disorders. For this reason, these disorders require chronic lifetime treatment to maintain recovery. Completing a treatment program is not the end of treating your addiction. 

Continuing to use art therapy helps maintain your recovery. Daily life is full of stressors and triggers that can lead to the recurrence of use. When you struggle to understand your feelings or cope with cravings, art therapy for substance abuse can calm you and put things in perspective. 

Find Recovery through Art Therapy at Sana Lake Recovery

If you or someone you love is interested in art therapy for addiction or other holistic therapies, we have the program to help you. At Sana Lake Recovery, we provide a range of treatment options to help you reach Recovery for Life. Contact us today to find out more. 

References:

https://arttherapy.org/about/

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832?journalCode=uart20

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268880/

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.