Anna Gordon: Outdoor Adventure Therapy on Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Many people know it is a scientifically proven fact that by being outside and being active, anyone’s mood is instantly uplifted. But what about people who suffer from alcohol or substance abuse? Although outdoor adventure therapy focuses on many areas of improvements that range from helping cancer survivors to at-risk kids, it has a certain area of expertise for a wide range of people, not just adolescents, who suffer from alcohol and substance abuse. When people think of outdoor adventure therapy, some might think of a camp with a lake. Others might imagine a ropes course and other outdoor activities. Maybe people even think of rock climbing. When I think of what outdoor adventure therapy means, another term also known as outdoor behavioral healthcare, I think of activities that when you finish them, you feel amazing after because you were using your hard work. But do other people know that outdoor adventure therapy can be used as actual therapy for others in need? 

Now, some people might be thinking, how is being outside and working through ropes courses and other activities actually going to help people with substance abuse and make them want to change? By working through these tough challenges outdoors, in the fresh air, and reflecting on the purpose of life, substance and alcohol abuse can be diminished. I am not saying that people will be automatically cured from needing or wanting alcohol or other substances, it can just make whoever is dealing with substance abuse want to change for the better and change for themselves and everyone else around them. When finishing hard, strenuous activities, there is a spark people get that makes them feel on top of the world. But, in order to keep feeling that spark, it is a given that sobriety is the best choice. In order to become sober, there are many people available to assist when help is needed.

The process of helping others who struggle with alcohol and substance abuse can be exhausting and maybe even frustrating but every outdoor adventure therapy program’s ultimate goal is to help people who are struggling and some who are even hurting. Many wilderness therapy programs have licensed therapists and other staff members who have gone through background checks and hours of training to ensure their participants and patients receive the care they need in a safe and healthy environment. Throughout each of these therapy programs, there are always some kind of outdoor activities involved that even I want to participate in. Many of the activities include hiking, a ropes course, rock climbing and much, much more. There is an even activity where people can reflect on themselves as a person to see how much they’ve grown, or how much they want to grow. This activity of reflection maybe be very much beneficial to people struggling with substance abuse. All of the activities help one way or another, whether if it is to help people change or to help people realize they need to make a change themselves.

During the years 1991-1997, the percentage of adolescents who used tobacco and drugs rose, while the percentage of adolescents who engaged in healthy physical activity declined. 13% of eighth graders report heavy episodic drinking and 6.4 % of adolescents aged 13-18 years were diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence. While many were struggling with substance abuse, some did not receive treatment due to a possible lack of knowledge or other resources since outdoor adventure therapy is a growing program that many do not know about yet. In 2002, 1.4 millions youths ages between 12 to 17 met the criteria for alcohol abuse but only 227,000 of those youths received treatment for the disorders. With outdoor adventure therapy’s healing methods of treatment, the amount of people who live day to day, struggling with substance abuse will decrease.

Outdoor adventure therapy is a safe haven to some, and a battlefield to others. In order to be relieved from the struggle, one must work for it. It is a second chance to others so that they can be the best they can be. I believe that outdoor adventure therapy is a good way for others to get help because of the many success stories I have read about. There have been numerous studies conducted that have shown that most of their participants have stopped using alcohol and other substances. In a 2005 study, at a 24-month follow-up with a sample of wilderness therapy participants, 80 % of parents and 95% of adolescents responded to the follow-up explaining that wilderness therapy was effective. After the studies were conducted, many mended close connections with their families and their community that was once broken. The participants who struggles with substance abuse also are given a second chance at life. Outdoor adventure therapy is there for people at times when people do not have anyone else there for them.