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Aromatherapy in Recovery

Our sense of smell can evoke pleasant memories or cause instant revulsion. Just as certain smells can trigger nausea in pregnant women, the smell of certain drugs can contribute to relapse for an addict in recovery. Scents can also be used to promote health and well being in recovery by helping recovering addicts balance their emotions.
One of the best things people in recovery can do to promote relaxation and reduce stress is to practice aromatherapy, which is the practice of using plant based materials to create essential oils. These are then in turn used to naturally alter a person’s mood, sense of well being, or to improve a number of different health issues. Essential oils have healing properties that, when used correctly, can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety that addicts often experience in recovery.

Science of Smelling

The olfactory senses are part of the body’s limbic system, which is responsible for memory, emotions, and behavior. When a scent is inhaled, messages are sent to parts of the brain that are a part of the limbic system and chemicals that have direct effects on mood are released such as serotonin. The limbic system is also responsible for feeling pleasure, and the “reward path” in the brain is also a part of the limbic system. It is this same system that is responsible for the “high” that people feel when abusing drugs. Individuals in recovery can use aromatherapy as a natural way to activate the same parts of their brains that were activated by drug use in order to relieve some of the unpleasant emotional feelings experienced in recovery.

Breathe Deeply

Some of the easiest ways to use essential oils and get the maximum benefit from their scents is through direct inhalation or diffusion. Essential oils can be diffused into the air in a variety of ways.

  • the oils can be absorbed on a tissue and placed in a pillowcase to aid in restful sleep p
  • placed in an oil burner and gently warmed by a tea light candle to release the scent into the air
  • when combined with a carrier oil, can even be worn on or massaged into the body

Some of the most common essential oils that are used to relieve anxiety and depression include chamomile, rose, sandalwood, lavender, bergamot, clary sage, neroli, peppermint, basil, geranium, juniper, lemongrass, ylang ylang, and any kind of oil derived from citrus fruit. Many people also find that the use of these oils can enhance other aspects of recovery, including meditation practices, and purifying the body and living spaces.

As with all kinds of treatments, the use of essential oils must be done with caution. Certain oils can cause skin irritation or even lead to a pronounced sensitivity and allergic reactions. Before using any kind of essential oils, it is important to research how to use them safely and to note the cautions associated with each kind of oil.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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