Why a Holistic Approach Is Key to Overcoming Addiction

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on September 28th, 2023
This content was written in accordance with our Editorial Guidelines.

What Addiction and Recovery Are

Addiction isn’t an outside force coming in to “capture” your life, like an infection. You can’t get a medication to “conquer” or to defeat it.

Addiction arises due to an imbalance in your life. It is often the result of the absence of positive, fulfilling attachments. The response to an addiction in this case requires a reorientation of your life.

Having said this, we don’t mean that you have to create a whole new existence to defeat your addictive tendencies. You already have the basic elements for this reorientation: you have positive values, you have skills, and you even have the motivation — you just have to activate them! 

Shortcomings of Traditional Treatments

We have already discussed why you can’t take a pill or get an injection to cure an addiction. There are medications such as Methadone that may free a person from the addictive drug in real time (called medications for opioid use disorder, or MOUD). But you must still identify and organize your life to follow through on this new path. There is no shortcut. 

The same is true in regards to the 12 steps. In the first place, like MOUD, the steps identify addiction as an external power to be warded off.

No. Addiction is a failed vision of who you are and the life you could be pursuing. You instead need to implement a whole, positive new way of living.

Worst of all, both the MOUD and 12-step approaches insist that you adopt a lifelong identity as an addict. This is not only untrue. It is harmful.

Components of a Holistic Approach

Creating a life worth living is a separate activity from ceasing to do a negative habit, like addictive drug taking, eating, drinking — even exercising and shoppings, and certainly harmful relationships, including love and sex.

This holistic endeavor that is the antidote to addiction covers all aspects of your life. It includes your positive values, skills, and life elements.

  1. Health. Your addiction is hurting you. Thus everything healthy that you do is anti-addiction. This includes diet and nutrition, exercise, meditation and thinking clearly and positively.
  2. Emotions. Obviously, emotional health — including clear and positive thinking — is a central element in health. 
  3. Values. What do you consider positive ways of living and thinking to be? That is, what do you value. Is it Religion? Family? Helping others? A sense of community? Creativity? Work? Obviously, your values express your holistic, basic orientation towards life.
  4. Relationships. There is no escaping your need for positive connections to life. And these connections will involve the people you associate with and the relationships you carry forward — including family, intimate partners, and communities you participate in.
  5. Professional. You need to support yourself in this world, as in making a living. You may already have the skills — the very occupation and job — with which to do this. Or you may need to further develop your skills through training and education.
  6. Meaning. When we talk about values, relationships, and work we are talking about the fundamentals of life. They form your basic attachment to the world and  the meaning you get from life.
  7. Connection. We are all living on this planet. You will need to make peace with this reality and reflect on your place in the world. There is nothing more “holistic” than this connection.
  8. Identity and agency. All of these elements are really about how you see yourself in the world. And a key component of this vision is that you are not powerless. You are in charge of your own life. 


A Case in Point

Beth had been trying to lose weight her entire life, from childhood on. She had tried every kind of diet, along with any number of exercise programs in pursuit of beating her additcion.

Eventually, she realized that her solution to her weight problem was something more fundamental. She came to see that it engaged her from the moment she opened her eyes, then swung her feet from bed onto the ground.

She saw that she needed to approach life in a positive manner from the get go. This included anticipating her whole day in a positive way. She began looking forward to seeing people, doing positive work, enjoying her apartment, being outside and being in the world.

Armed with this more positive sense of who she was and the possibilities in her life, Beth found it easy to cut out the addictive snacks she used to rely on to boost her mood and to reward herself. Exercise — being in physical motion and simply moving her body — likewise became second nature to her. At some point, she realized that she was now a new, non-addictive Beth. 



When we began this blogpost, you might have thought, “oh no — another new buzzword — holistic.” Instead, hopefully you now see that holistic means your overall, basic approach to life. Holistic means how you see yourself and the world — your basic being. Nothing is more holistic than this life outlook and sense of who you are.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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