Author: Randi Ragan/Tuesday, June 1, 2010/Categories: Health & Wellbeing
My previous articles for this column have focused on using various
methods of enlightened self care as important tools in a holistic
approach to recovery. By considering using these gentle, yet
time-honored techniques, your program will be providing patients with
unique and valuable support for recovery during treatment and beyond.
The goal of a holistic approach for any way of life is to make deep
and long-lasting connections between all systems in the human experience
— mental, physical, emotional and spiritual — for more health, wellness
and vitality. The eco-conscious approach to holistic wellness further
emphasizes these connections as they relate to the natural world and how
each affects the person. We are healthier and more vital as humans when
we are connected to the physical world around us; the physical world
has the power to heal us in profound ways on an everyday basis. As one
of many techniques for assisting in addiction recovery, it offers a
patient something to use each day for helping to make healthier choices.
As a simple, effective and extremely easy tool for self-care,
aromatherapy can’t be beat. It is inexpensive, can be carried in the
palm of a hand or pocket and can be used anytime, anywhere.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a therapeutic technique that uses essential oils and
other aromatic plant compounds aimed at improving a person’s health or
mood. It is believed that the inhalation of essential oils stimulates
the part of the brain connected to smell — the olfactory system. A
signal is sent to the limbic system of the brain that controls emotions
and retrieves learned memories. This causes chemicals to be released,
which make the person feel relaxed, calm or even stimulated.
Essential oils are said to have a direct pharmacological effect.
Aromatherapists work from the theory that there is a synergy between the
body and aromatic oils. Scientific evidence of aromatherapy’s
effectiveness is growing, as preliminary clinical studies have revealed
Essential oils, phytoncides and other natural volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) work differently. When targeting our sense of smell,
they activate the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain. When
applied topically (onto the skin), they activate thermal receptors and
destroy microbes and fungi. Internal application may stimulate the
immune system (generally in prescribed form).
In France and much of Western Europe, aromatherapy is incorporated
into mainstream medicine as an antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal and
antibacterial, much more so than in the U.K., USA or Canada. In fact,
there are some essential oils that are regulated as prescription drugs
in France, and can only be administered (or prescribed) by a doctor.
Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, believed the use
of herbs was essential to health. Many of his prescriptions include
essential oils and fragrant crushed herbs. By the 10th century, books
were being written in Arabia dedicated to the use and benefits of
The term aromatherapy is attributed to a French cosmetic chemist
names Rene Maurice Gattefosse. As he worked in his lab in the early
1920s, he severely burned himself. In order to cool the pain, he plunged
his arm into the only cold substance around, a vat of lavender
essential oil. The burns healed rapidly, with little scarring, and a new
science was born. Gattefosse dedicated the remainder of his life to the
study of aromatherapy, or the healing power of scented, healing oils.
Modern research has indicated that certain essential oils and herbs
do indeed have therapeutic and healing properties. Lavender is still
used for burn victims, and the scent is used widely to treat depression
and anxiety. Tea Tree Oil is a time-honored aromatherapy remedy for
ringworm, athlete’s foot and other fungal infections. Rosemary can be
used to treat arthritis and muscle pain and is a stimulant that when
used in the morning bath, helps revive energy. Many aromatherapy
essential oils are used for the benefits of their smell alone.
Eucalyptus is an example of this; the scent of this plant can help
relieve chest congestion.
How Can Aromatherapy Be Used in Recovery?
Basic aromatherapy can be used for anxiety, insomnia, muscular aches,
body aches, headaches, circulation problems, digestive problems and any
other physical manifestations of stress that arise during the course of
initial detox and into any recovery program for any length of time. One
study found that women with depression have their sense of smell
affected. When these women receive aromatherapy, their symptoms are
improved by the treatment. Ideally, the uses and applications of
aromatherapy will continue long after the official recovery process is
Because aromatherapy is a literal communion with the essence, or
“soul”, of a plant, it puts its user in immediate communion with the
natural world — it is “nature in a bottle”, so to speak. Even in the
most urban, concrete and steel environment, the smells evoke plant life,
which represents something altogether — and almost shockingly —
different than those in addiction recovery are concerned with.
Sitting still with a bottle of essential oils is an elemental
exercise in meditative being-ness, and can help teach mind-quieting
skills. Demonstrated uses of aromatherapy to alleviate common ailments
such as headaches, anxiety, depression and other side effects of
addiction recovery, can be one of many ways the addict learns new coping
skills. Because the patient can use aromatherapy himself, there is a
degree of empowerment in the choice to use it, as the person in recovery
learns the value and benefits of fundamental and nurturing self-care.
The following list of essential oils are my picks for great tools in addiction recovery aromatherapy:
Basil: This can be used to sharpen concentration and
alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. It is also good to help
relieve headaches and migraines (but should be avoided during
Bergamot: Useful for the digestive tract and for treating upset stomach from stress; also good for working with sadness.
Frankincense: Aids meditation; fortifies and quiets
the mind. Good for mitigating grief and nervous tension. Its comforting
action is helpful for anxious and obsessive states linked to the past.
Ylang Ylang: Antidepressant, good for panic attacks; its exotic, floral scent acts as a mild sedative.
Eucalyptus: Stimulating and cleansing, commonly
combined with peppermint and used when feeling sluggish and low of
energy. Helps with headaches and fevers that burn as a result of fatigue
Clary Sage: Deeply relaxing and euphoric. Eases
feelings of depression and helps when feeling run down emotionally and
physically; helps with mental fatigue (avoid during pregnancy).
Lavender: It helps relieve headache and migraine
symptoms, as well as insomnia; excellent for bringing about a state of
calm and relaxation.
Cypress: Helps to build emotional and mental resolve. It has a calming and soothing effect on irritability and anger.
Lemon: Used to give a mood lift and bring about clarity; restores vitality and works as an overall tonic to uplift and energize.
Thyme: A stimulating and protecting oil that has a
strengthening effect on the nerves; ideal for the treatment of physical
and mental exhaustion, and beneficial to the immune system.
The two easiest methods for aromatherapy use are:
Direct inhalation: The person breathes the
evaporating oils straight in from a small ¼-ounce vial of the essential
oil. The oils can also be dropped onto a tissue or handkerchief, which
is then held under the nose.
Dropped into a warm water bath: 10-15 drops are
added to the bath for soaking. The added benefits of the warm water and
time spent quietly soaking are present with this application.
Aromatherapy does sometimes have side effects. However, they tend to
be very mild and do not last long. These could include nausea, headaches
and some allergic reactions. It should be noted that fragrance oils,
perfumes and other artificially made substitutes for pure essential oils
cannot produce the same results. Organic essential oils are also
preferred over conventionally grown, for the same reason organic foods
are preferred: There are no pesticide or herbicide residues for you to
ingest, as well as interfere with the results.
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