5 Parts of Outdoor Therapy for Substance Abuse

There are many different treatments that can be helpful when one is working to overcome the dangerous disease of addiction. Oftentimes we associate recovery with counseling and psychotherapy, and while that represents an important part of most rehabilitative curricula, there are also a variety of alternative and supplemental treatments that utilize complementary strategies in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Outdoor therapy—a broad form of treatment that also encompasses wilderness therapy and adventure therapy—is one such supplemental treatment that might seem out of place in an addiction recovery program; however, forms of outdoor therapy have proven to offer numerous benefits to individuals in recovery from addiction, especially for those who have been resistant to recovery and more traditional forms of treatment.

As part of outdoor therapy, individuals will often participate in a variety of engaging activities that teach them a variety of important skills without feeling like they are in therapy for addiction. In particular, the following are five different components or activities in which individuals in recovery may participate while receiving outdoor substance abuse therapy.

Rock Climbing

Considered by many to be the pinnacle of outdoor recreation, rock climbing is beneficial to both the body and the mind, helping individuals to hone their focus and mental acuity while also being an extremely physical activity with the potential for a major rush of adrenaline. The process of climbing requires continuous problem-solving and laster focus as they proceed to make their way upward, always looking out for places where one can get stable footing or a firm grip. For individuals in recovery from addiction, rock climbing as part of outdoor therapy is beneficial for many reasons, including as a form of pseudo-meditation that allows individuals to clear the mind and focus on the task at hand. Rock climbing is also considered great for managing and reducing stress as well as great exercise. In fact, many medical centers have begun offering therapeutic rock climbing since the activity has so many mental and physical benefits.

Whitewater Rafting

A very different type of thrill, whitewater rafting is more extreme, intense, and faster-paced than rock climbing. Moreover, whitewater rafting is more of a team-building exercise since individuals must cooperate in order to navigate the treacherous rapids. However, rafting requires similar problem-solving skills as rock climbing since the team must navigate the waters in a certain way to prevent the boat from capsizing or the loss of a teammate. In terms of outdoors therapy, whitewater rafting has recently been used to help combat veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder as the thrill of rafting helps them create new adrenaline-filled memories that are fun and don’t involve combat. For outdoor substance abuse therapy, whitewater rafting is a valuable team-building exercise that helps build confidence.

Backpacking & Hiking

2 guys in wilderness therapy for addiction

While rock climbing and whitewater rafting are somewhat briefer activities, backpacking and hiking are experiential, taking place for several hours up to days or weeks at a time while an individual navigates the natural terrain and takes in the spoils of unspoiled nature. However, the physical aspects shouldn’t be discounted. If backpacking for an extended period of time, one might end up toting a backpack that could weigh as much as an adult human, which requires a great deal of endurance. Therapeutic backpacking and hiking are great activities that involve removing oneself from potentially harmful environments and people, focusing instead on subsisting and taking in the serene scenery. As such, backpacking and hiking are often staple activities of much outdoor therapy.


Although somewhat similar to backpacking, camping is less about traversing the wilderness and, instead, is more about finding a secluded spot out in the wild nethers and setting up camp for a period. When camping, skills like pitching a tent, creating a fire, making food on said fire, and foraging as many resources from the land as possible are important skills. Again, camping is less about a short burst of intensive activity and is more about the overall experience. It may not be for everyone, but there are many avid campers who can attest to how relaxing camping can be.

Gardening & Horticulture

Unlike many of the others on this list, gardening doesn’t actually require an individual to relegate him or herself to the middle of nowhere and can be done in just about any patch of land that one has available. Many larger cities have even begun offering community gardening projects in which individuals can claim their own small plots of land to garden and cultivate as they please. Horticulture—also its own form of treatment called horticulture therapy—is a viable form of outdoor therapy with a number of benefits, including being a way for individuals to learn how to set and achieve small goals, improving one’s cognitive functioning, reducing stress levels, and it’s even been found to offer individuals an improvement in their immune systems. For addiction recovery, horticulture is a great way for individuals to establish a nurturing connection with another living thing and allows them to practice maintenance as plants require ongoing care in order to thrive. As such, these are principles that can be directly applied to recovery.

Find Freedom from Chemical & Behavioral Dependency with Recovery Hub

There are many tools that can be instrumental in achieving lasting sobriety. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction and would benefit from learning more about recovery, call Recovery Hub at 1-888-220-4352. With a free consultation and assessment, you can be on your way to living a life of sobriety, health, and fulfillment once again.

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