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Ayurvedic treatment for addiction

October 7, 2022
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

When it comes to drug addiction treatment, one would think of treatment methods like medically assisted detoxification, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 12-step programs and so on. Very rarely do we hear about ayurvedic treatment for addiction problems. Maybe it is because we assume addiction to be a western disease and hence western treatments. However, drugs and alcohol were available even in ancient India. In fact, the Rig Veda (1700 BC) mentions intoxicants like soma and prahamana. So, it is safe to assume that there were at least a few people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol, even in ancient times. Since modern medicine was not even invented, it was Ayurveda that came to the rescue. Before we understand how Ayurveda treats addiction, let us first learn, ‘what is Ayurveda?’

Ayurveda is an ancient medicine system that is said to have originated in the Indian subcontinent about 5000 years back. The word Ayurveda is a conjugation of two Sanskrit words, ‘ayus’, meaning ‘life’ and ‘veda’, meaning ‘science’. Thus, Ayurveda literally means the ‘science of life.

How does ayurvedic philosophy view addiction?

Ayurvedic philosophy views addiction & alcoholism as a displacement of one’s innate harmonious state. According to Ayurveda, addiction to substances is tied to all three ayurvedic causes of diseases, i.e. prajna-aparadha, kala-parinama, and asatmyendriyartha samyoga.

·   Prajna-aparadha can be interpreted as a “mistake of the intellect.” Repeating behaviour patterns without awareness can lead to illness.

·   Kala-parinama denotes changes produced over time by these behaviours.

·   Asatmyendriyartha samyoga refers to the disproportionate contact of sensory organs with sensory objects. This means there is a disconnect between what the senses perceive and what the body can handle. In layman’s terms, getting high, hallucinations, temporary loss of senses or motor function, etc.

As per ayurvedic beliefs, Prana is life-force energy. When this energy is low or depleted in our bodies, various diseases, mental disorders, addiction issues, and other bodily imbalances can take place. Various factors like food and diet, changes in the seasons, age, stress, and mental and emotional problems can all lead to the depletion of our prana.

How can Ayurveda treat addiction?

Ayurveda aims at balance, which helps in improving an individual’s self-healing abilities. It believes that a patient needs to take responsibility for their actions and then needs to be empowered to get better. It is radically opposite to the current healthcare system, where treatment is heavily reliant on medicines and various therapies. Moreover, ayurvedic treatments tend to be more personalized as it treats according to one’s doshas which can be different from one patient to the other. The benefits of Ayurveda are many, and one can find solutions for addiction issues through different ayurvedic treatments.

Healing through diet: People with addiction issues often have a poor diet. Either they have no desire to eat, or they have spent all their money on drugs rather than food. The ayurvedic de-addiction diet consists of milk, almonds, pine nuts, sesame seeds and ghee (clarified butter). These foods have a calming effect on the aggravated Vata dosha caused by addiction. Ghee in particular, helps heal the damaged nervous system, lubricate internal organs, and restore the immune system

There are various herbs and spices that are used in the ayurvedic treatment of addiction:

  • The gotu kola herb helps cleanse hallucinogenic drugs from the liver and brain.
  • Ashwagandha herb assists in rebuilding the nervous system.
  • Shatavari, a species of asparagus common in India, aids in restoring emotional sensitivity and balance to an addict.
  • Spices like turmeric, barberry, and dry ginger help reduce dependency and cravings for drugs.

Healing through Massage therapy:  Ayurvedic massages improve blood circulation, which enhances the body’s ability to remove toxic substances more efficiently. There are two types of ayurvedic massages that can be particularly helpful in coping with addiction issues.

Abhyang (Massage) – This massage is carried out with warm, herb-infused oil and lasts about 15-30 minutes for a whole body massage. It helps pacify Vata dosha, releasing stress, anxiety and feeling of being overwhelmed and spaced out.

Shiro Abhyanga (Head Massage) – The application of medicated oil to the head is called Shiro Abhyanga. The head is one of the most important vital organs and the seat of all our sensory organs. This massage calms the mind and helps one get better sleep.

Shirodhara – Pouring of fluids like decoction, medicated oil, medicated milk, medicated butter milk and water overhead continuously for a specific period is called Shirodhara. It is an effective treatment for insomnia.  

Healing through Yoga and meditation: The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to yoke,” or “to unite.” It aims to create a union between the body, mind, and spirit, as well as between the individual self and the universal consciousness. Yoga includes physical exercises called asanas, Pranayama, which is controlled breathwork and lastly, meditation. The combination of these 3 arms of yoga helps with concentration and willpower. It helps neutralize negative thoughts and creates a sense of well-being. All these qualities help keep addiction at bay.

Drug de-addiction through Ayurveda treatment may seem like an unusual choice in current times. However, it can be suitable for those who are looking for a more holistic approach towards addiction. It is ideal for those who do not want to just detoxify their bodies but want to open their minds and heal their spirits. Through a healing diet, massage, yoga, pranayama, and meditation, one can find themselves not just on the path of sobriety for life but also find a higher purpose in life.

It is important to understand that detoxification and deaddiction through ayurvedic treatment are just one of the many ways to heal your body. Medical detoxification, Cognitive behavioural therapy, 12-step programs, counselling, etc., are all great tools for recovery, and it is for the person with addiction to decide which option is best suited for them.

You can see our curated list to explore rehab centres that provide ayurvedic treatment here


(2012, May) Alternative Treatment Methods (Part 3): Ayurveda

(2020, April) Definition – What does Yoga mean?

Ayurveda – Basics — Vikaspedia 

Porte.S., Malviya.A. (2015) Drug addiction and ayurvedic method of de-addiction.

Singh. M. (2017, Oct) A short history of India’s drinking culture.

Talcherkar. A. (2018, March) Practical Application of Ayurveda in Addiction Treatment.