Adventure Therapy and Its Role in Recovery

Often, people who habitually abuse drugs and alcohol are really searching for an escape. They need a reprieve from the everyday or the pains of life. Getting high may not be their first choice to achieve this, but drugs can act as an emotional qick-fix. Adventure therapy can help someone recover from addiction by stimulating similar pathways in the brain in a constructive, functional, & emotionally-healthy way. 

What is Adventure-based Therapy? 

Adventure-based Therapy – or simply Adventure Therapy (AT) – has its origins in various camps established in the mid-1900’s. These centers sought to serve as an antidote to the perceived physical and moral decline of youth as a result of the changing industrial society. Many former military men & experienced outdoorsmen started programs designed to teach young boys (& later girls) fitness, initiative, practical skills, self-discipline, & compassion. Since then, adventure-based therapy has expanded as a research-backed & time-proven treatment type for many mental and emotional problems. It contributes to the growth & healing for individuals from all walks of life.

Adventure therapy helps people build communication skills and confidence in an environment removed from the mundane tasks of everyday life.

In recent years, addiction rehabs & recovery centers have become some of adventure therapy’s leading practitioners. Professionals use this form of psychotherapy to lead clients through activities that help them build communication skills & confidence in an environment removed from the mundane tasks of everyday life. The life skills learned and relationships formed in these types of programs can be the key to sustaining sobriety.   

Who Does This Therapy Type Help? 

With the wide range of practices & experiences within the AT umbrella, there are very few people it won’t benefit. However, it can be a pivotal practice for those suffering from mental health problems and addiction. It helps people to form healthy habits & mindsets for life-long success. 

While not always the case, it’s very common for mental health struggles to precede substance abuse. Regardless, harmful psychological repercussions are one of the most common long-term side effects of any addictive behavior. Thankfully, these effects are not necessarily permanent. 

Adventure therapy includes various exciting activities: ziplining, ropes courses, group hiking, obstacle courses, white water rafting, high-intensity group workouts, rock climbing, kickball, basketball, paddle boarding, backpacking, and surfing.

Carl Lejuez is a professor of clinical psychology & director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Addictions, Personality, and Emotion Research who often works with troubled, high-risk-taking youths. In an interview for a study on brain activity in the addiction-like behaviors of thrill-seekers (or  “adrenaline junkies”), he gives hope for someone wondering whether change at the cognitive level is really possible:

“Absolutely…It turns out that our brains are pretty plastic, regardless of the hard-wiring. If we tend to be reckless, for example, we can learn to keep impulsiveness in check. If we’re anxious, we can slow our breathing in times of fear, and even arrest the shakes of adrenaline… As we become more skilled and experienced, our comfort zone expands.”

AT provides opportunities to build skills & experience that lead to a sense of accomplishment. The great outdoors can be a fruitful environment to help victims of mental illness “rewire” their brain. It works by transferring the lessons of each activity into changed behavior.  

What Role Does Adventure-Based Therapy Play at Rehab Facilities? 

Drug treatment centers use AT to help those recovering from chemical substance abuse to stimulate the brain on a chemical level & the whole person at the practical level. Since substance abuse synthetically triggers the release of dopamine, the body has to be re-trained to do this naturally. Physical challenges affect dopamine levels by increasing blood circulation to influence the presence of different hormones within the brain. Examples of these blood-pumping activities include: 

  • Ziplining
  • Ropes courses
  • Group hiking
  • Obstacle courses
  • White water rafting
  • High-intensity group workouts
  • Yoga
  • Fly-fishing
  • Rock climbing
  • Solo camping experiences
  • Kickball
  • Basketball 
  • Paddle Boarding
  • Backpacking
  • Horseback riding
  • Gardening
  • Surfing 
  • Scuba diving

Most adventure therapy activities are also designed to be done in community. This develops teamwork and a sense of camaraderie amongst peers. Following an activity, the facilitator will often lead a discussion to process how participants felt during the activity. It’s also a time to celebrate victories and reflect upon how those experiences translate into everyday life. 

The great outdoors can be a fruitful environment to help victims of mental ilness "rewire" the brain.

Adventure-based therapy has been shown to be effective at decreasing the likelihood of substance abuse before it begins. In a recovery context, it is most effective when combined with other therapy types, such as pharmacological and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Addiction Treatment in Colorado 

Living in Colorado provides ample opportunities for all kinds of memorable outdoor adventures. The natural terrain offers a wide variety of mountain, water, and nature-based activities certain to thrill, challenge, & grow any adventure-seeker. Mountain View Recovery is one of the premier Colorado recovery centers in the Springs area. Give us a call today to learn more about adventure-based therapy and our other services that support our clients’ entire recovery process.

MountainView Recovery

5475 Mark Dabling Blvd #102
Colorado Springs, Co 80918

Contact Us Today!

MountainView Resources!

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