Outdoor adventure therapy: treating mental health issues that lead to addiction

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A program that encompasses all of these disciplines gives the patient more tools to reflect on themselves and develop an education to improve their life beyond just giving them medication.

Society can sometimes take a binary view of how we view addiction. A person begins to use drugs and alcohol recreationally, which leads to excessive drug or alcohol use, which leads to an addiction that requires treatment. However, as we continue to better understand mental health issues and the role these issues play in addiction, we need to understand that some people’s relationship with mental health and addiction is much more complicated.

The past two years, from the start of the pandemic until today, have contributed to a noticeable deterioration in the mental health of some people, which may lead to an increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse. People struggling with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder while coping with substance abuse are increasingly common. Our treatment program, Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery, increasingly sees this complicated situation. If pathways to addiction become more multifaceted, treatments must adapt and become more multifaceted. Qualified treatment programs should move from focusing only on patients already plagued by addiction, to being more proactive in considering accepting patients with mental health issues that correlate with a higher risk of addiction, but who are not there yet. This means potentially accepting patients who have mental health issues but are in the early stages of addiction or who may not be drug or alcohol dependent.

Many patients with underlying mental health issues can benefit from long-term treatment programs even if you don’t label them as drug or alcohol addicts. Being proactive and taking preventative action can lead to better mental health outcomes and help patients stay ahead of negative behaviors that can lead to addiction. Ideally, you want to intervene in less serious circumstances.

Treatment programs can benefit people with underlying mental health issues, as they give them access to many of the same resources available to those seeking to treat their addiction. A patient struggling with a mental health disorder may benefit from access to a primary therapist and an individualized treatment plan that takes into account their initial diagnosis and problematic behaviors. An inpatient treatment program can also give these patients the opportunity to attend multiple groups per day to build camaraderie with other program participants and practice coping skills. They would also have the opportunity to participate in process groups and feedback groups. These socialization therapies help people struggling with mental health issues in the same way that they help people struggling with addiction. People with debilitating mental disorders tend to isolate themselves, and rebuilding these social connections can help address depression and anxiety.

Outdoor Adventure Therapy programs offer those struggling to maintain good mental health a holistic treatment program that combines physical activity, diet, community, and mental health treatment. A program that encompasses all of these disciplines gives the patient more tools to reflect on themselves and develop an education to improve their life beyond just giving them medication.

Outdoor adventure therapy is a benefit for people struggling with mental health issues because being outdoors is a benefit for mental health. Studies show that exposure to natural environments may be associated with mental health benefits and that proximity to green spaces is associated with lower stress levels and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. .

The outdoors puts patients in a setting that allows them to build resilience by taking them on challenging outdoor excursions that show them they can succeed in tough things.

Treatment programs such as outdoor adventure therapy should take a more proactive approach in how they treat patients, and we should be open to seeing the benefits these programs can have on patients who are not perhaps not traditionally struggling with addiction. Patients with mental health issues and early addictive behaviors or no addictive behavior at all may find benefit in these treatment programs. Treat these issues early before they manifest into serious drug and alcohol addiction. NBF

By Laini Roberts

Laini Roberts is a Clinical Therapist at Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery. She has worked within the social work profession for five years in a variety of settings. She has experience working with individuals, groups, families and parent coaching. She is trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, in addition to being a Certified Clinical Adventure Therapist. Laini received her bachelor’s degree in social work and psychology from Bethany College and her master’s degree in social work with a focus on mental health and addiction from Ohio State University.

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