Footprints to Recovery

Close this search box.
Get Help Now!
Close this search box.

Adventure Therapy as Addiction Treatment

5 minute read

Adventure is defined by the dictionary as “an unusual, exciting, or dangerous experience, journey, or series of events.” Adventure therapy is a mental health discipline that uses the natural environment to help you cope with and overcome behavioral, cognitive, social, and affective disorders. You could say recovering from addiction is an adventure—full of unknowns that can be both scary and exciting.

Most adventure therapy activities are outdoors, but some may also be indoors. Regardless of location, adventure therapy activities have one thing in common: an element of perceived or actual risk. To confront and overcome risk, you need to rely on trust in yourself, cooperation with others, and stepping out of your comfort zone. When you engage in adventure therapy for drug addiction treatment, you’ll be supported by a mental health professional, who will lead you through activities that promote communication, challenge your mind, and get you out of your everyday routine.

How Does Adventure Therapy Work?

At its core, adventure therapy is a type of experiential therapy. That means it facilitates talk therapy through hands-on activity. Art, drama, and music are other forms of experiential therapy. Adventure therapy has the added benefit of the natural healing properties of the outdoors.

When you take part in adventure therapy, you might:

  • Hike
  • Go rock climbing
  • Kayak
  • Go zip lining
  • And participate in other activities

While they may seem exciting or even overwhelming, adventure activities do another important thing: They can help put you in a more relaxed state. While exercising and enjoying time in nature, people find it easier to open up to their therapists or each other. Adventure therapy therefore facilitates talk therapy by helping you feel comfortable and at ease, which can be a difficult place to get to in substance abuse treatment. Many people find that even if they were unwilling or hesitant to engage in treatment before, they feel motivated after completing adventure therapy.

Adventure therapy has other therapeutic benefits as well:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Development of healthy, pro-social hobbies
  • Increased ability to cooperate with others and build social skills
  • Opportunity to practice mindfulness skills like meditation and deep breathing
  • Development of problem-solving skills
  • Promotion of physical health

More Treatment Options Defined

adventure therapy addiction treatment

Who Benefits from Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy has been shown to be effective for a variety of people in a variety of age groups. While research on this topic has so far been mainly focused on youth (especially adolescents with behavior problems), this doesn’t mean adults don’t benefit from adventure therapy. It just means youth treatment programs are studied more.

There’s also evidence that adventure therapy is helpful in treating substance abuse disorders among all age groups. Adventure therapy for addiction treatment is designed to challenge people who have struggled with substance abuse to overcome their perceived limitations, guilt, and other overwhelming emotions and develop an enhanced sense of self.

Therefore, adventure therapy is a good fit for:

  • Youth with behavior problems
  • Any age group with alcohol or drug addiction
  • Clients with chronically low self-esteem
  • Trauma survivors
  • People who have been resistant to other forms of therapy
  • People who find it difficult opening up to others

Who Isn’t a Good Fit for Adventure Therapy?

Addiction treatment must be individualized because every person’s experience with drugs or alcohol is different. Just as it might take time to discover the right addiction therapy for you, you may find adventure therapy isn’t the best fit. It should be noted that a physical disability doesn’t have to keep you from participating in adventure therapy. The primary benefit of this approach lies in its exposure to nature and some element of risk. These activities can be adapted to suit all abilities and skill levels.

Even so, the potential risks of adventure therapy should be weighed against the benefits. Not all those recovering from addiction enjoy being outside and in nature. Some may have anxiety related to the outdoors. Others may have health problems that don’t necessarily keep them from participating in outdoor activities but may keep them from enjoying outdoor activities.

Examples of those for whom adventure therapy may not work well include:

  • Those who wish to avoid strenuous activity
  • People with cardiovascular problems
  • People with breathing problems
  • Young children
  • Seniors who are frail and/or at increased risk for falls

In short, adventure therapy can only be effective if you’re able to find the outdoors invigorating and enjoyable.

How Does Adventure Therapy Compare to Other Addiction Therapies?

As with all experiential therapies, adventure therapy is more about doing than saying, at least at first. Its benefits come from the sense of wonder, accomplishment, and pride it can bring you. Other therapies have these same benefits but achieve them through much different means.

For example, cognitive behavioral therapy is a traditional talk therapy in which the therapist has a conversation with the client. This conversation doesn’t have to happen sitting across from one other in an office, but it often does. Dialectical behavior therapy, which is typically held as a group with participants sitting in a circle, is also talk-oriented. These approaches rely on cognitive change—changes in the way you think that then impact your moods and behaviors. They teach behavioral skills you can apply to different situations and take into the future.

Traditional addiction therapies, like talk therapy, have proved to make lasting impacts. Are the changes that come from adventure therapy sustainable? Studies suggest they are. By definition, adventure therapy is time-limited. Its positive effects may best be sustained by continuing to practice mindful adventure as relapse prevention.

Adventure Therapy: Just One of Many Options at Footprints to Recovery

Here at Footprints to Recovery, we are proud to offer adventure therapy among our list of holistic and evidence-based treatments. Whether you are new to adventuring or seeking to return to it, this form of therapy could become an integral part of your treatment plan.

Being strong and proactive in addiction recovery doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. Like a climbing a mountain, the path to recovery involved inclines and dips, corners and traps. Addiction recovery is a continual process of renewal. This journey is an adventure—scary and arduous at times, but in the end, well worth the climb.


Are you covered for addiction treatment? Find your insurance
We're Here 24/7
Call right now to chat about:

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.