In Treatment

Adventure is defined as: Engaging in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory. The verb is defined as: An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. Sounds like a synonym to addiction recovery.


Adventure therapy, as a distinct and separate form of psychotherapy, became prominent in the 1960’s and has continued to grow since then. Influences from a variety of learning and psychological theories have contributed to the complex theoretical combination within adventure therapy. The underlying philosophy, however, refers to experiential education.

Adventure therapy for addiction treatment is just like it sounds. It’s a therapeutic process in which individuals who have struggled with drug or alcohol abuse participate in various “adventures” in a safe environment. Most adventure therapy activities are outdoors, however, some may also be indoors. Regardless of location adventure therapy has one common trend — an element of perceived and/or actual “risk”. The perceived or actual risk may be different than your initial thought; its often times relying on trust, working with others, or stepping out of your comfort zone. Essentially when conducting adventure therapy for addiction treatment, the professional leads patients through trust-building activities that promote communication, challenges their minds, stimulates brainpower, and gets the patient out of his/her day-to-day environment. The latter part of this statement about stimulation and escaping many times resonate with the individual who’s struggled with drug or alcohol addiction. This is familiar territory and can be used to counter-condition the mind and body.

Adventure therapy for addiction treatment is designed to challenge participants to overcome their perceived limitations, overcome guilt and emotional pain, and develop an enhanced sense of self. Addiction although carried long-term, does not need to bear devastating results and its negative effects can be short-lived if one chooses to “live and let live”. Adventure therapy can help you stay on track by utilizing healthy adventurous outlets versus the counterfeit maladaptive outlets of using drugs or alcohol.

Adventure, is education and should impart knowledge. Adventure therapy creates the experience(s) needed to change beliefs, attitudes – and most importantly – behavior. What are the deep motivators of human behavior? Research suggests that feeling connected to someone or something motivates protective and self-sacrificing behavior, which is in direct contrast to reckless, apathetic, and/or selfish behavior sometimes seen in those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Furthermore, adventure therapy studies demonstrate that connectedness to nature is an important predictor of environmentally responsible behavior. Connection is an integral component to addiction recovery and cannot be emphasized enough. Adventure therapy for addiction treatment is a reflective and striking way to connect with nature, others, a higher power, and most importantly your inner you.

Adventure therapy for addiction treatment has been shown to be effective. Contrary to common opinion about brief, intense treatments, the therapeutic and behavioral gains of outdoor behavioral treatment, also known as adventure therapy, in a recent study were sustained over 12 months. An outcome questionnaire conducted by Legacy Outdoor Adventures, with a sample size of 858, looked at 7 different teen and adult outdoor adventure therapy programs for a whole calendar year and found 81 percent rated outdoor behavioral treatment as “effective”; 10 percent “partially effective” and 9 percent was split between “not effective” and “not sure”.

adventure therapy addiction treatment

An example of the adventure therapy paying off and giving the needed charge and renewal is when someone starts out not wanting to hike the mountain in front of them and they feel like they cannot make it to the top of that mountain. However, with a little encouragement and a gentle push they gradually climb up the mountain, ever so slowly at first, even sluggishly, still not believing they can conquer the mountain. Then step by step, switchback by switchback they slowly but surely conquer the mountain and realize, it was worth the climb all along. Things that stay the same don’t change. The person who never risks, never gains. We don’t choose the mountain that lays before us we only choose whether to trek forward or backward in addiction recovery. Standing still in stagnation is not an option, we must ‘trust the process’ and in doing so, we choose long-term recovery.

Adventure therapy, ‘works if you work it’ and it can help improve self-confidence, self-esteem, expand comfort zones, enhance leadership skills, improve trust and teamwork, overcome fears, and it fosters personal development. Whether it’s being belayed on a ropes course or falling backward blindfolded, it’s trusting the processing and by doing so gaining the speed and momentum to never give up and to maintain sobriety regardless of the mountain, or path of addiction recovery that lays before us. Adventure Therapists will engage you in meaningful activities that bring purpose and focus into your life. Activities may include hiking, walking, biking, tennis, team sports, kayaking, and other inspiring, outdoor adventures.

Being strong and proactive in addiction recovery does not mean that the individual is suddenly flawless, or that they don’t make mistakes. Addiction recovery is a continual process of renewal, where those recovering from drug or alcohol abuse are frequently working on ‘self’. This journey is an adventure; unknown and arduous at times but in the end well worth the climb.


Author: Chad Metz, LMSW – Footprints to Recovery – Intake Specialist

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