Nature offers a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of daily lives, even among those who don’t struggle with drugs or alcohol. For those who are battling addiction, outdoor-based activities may provide an inspiring environment in which to heal.

Outdoor-based activities may aid in teaching patients emotional regulation techniques, along with nature-based survival skills. Team-building activities are reframed as survival tasks, and patients may learn to solve problems and build trust among peers.

At Vertava Health, our focus is on evidence-based treatment modalities, but we do offer services like outdoor-based activities that enhance the recovery journey.


What is Wilderness Therapy?

Outdoor-based activities may aid some in the recovery process by creating positive experiences in nature. This alternative activity may help introduce patients to healthy relationship skills, boundaries, and conflict resolution by learning survival skills and spending extended time outdoors.

People who are newly sober may be suffering from feelings of anxiety and stress while in treatment. Substances are often used as a way to cope with everyday emotions, and patients may feel overwhelmed facing life without drugs. Outdoor-based activities may provide a supportive atmosphere for some patients to work through their emotions outside the walls of an addiction treatment center.

Additionally, being outside in an unfamiliar environment can help to instill a sense of humility and willingness among patients who may be resistant to treatment.

In 0utdoor-based activity groups, some patients may develop skills that include:

  • fire building
  • trap setting
  • water purification
  • primitive living principles
  • plant and animal identification
  • shelter construction
  • food gathering and meal preparation

Without substances, patients must rely on their survival skills to navigate any conflicts that arise. Focusing on these newfound skills may also help patients to distance themselves from negative thoughts, by bringing the attention back to the present moment (and task) at hand.

Mental health professionals who are trained to lead these groups will also engage in debriefing. Debriefing involves a discussion about any emotions or situations that occurred during the activity. This can be a beneficial skill, especially for those who have spent years numbing their emotions with drugs or alcohol.

Potential Benefits Of Outdoor Wilderness Therapy Programs in Addiction Treatment and Mental Health

When a person enters treatment, it’s likely they will encounter some intense feelings. They may feel physically depleted from withdrawal symptoms, or anxious about their current situation. Outdoor-based activities may have a way of freshening a person’s thought routine, by combining recovery with a change of scenery.

Outdoor-based activities may also instill a deep sense of respect for nature. People who suffer from addiction may be hyper self-focused, and in need of a shift in their perspective. For some people, nature evokes a sense of awe and wonder, feelings that can be deeply healing to the human spirit.

Some people suggest that time spent in nature may change the way the brain responds to stress. Outdoor-based activities may be a soothing balm, especially for those who suffer from fear, anxiety and worry.

When combined with evidence-based practices, additional benefits of outdoor-based programs for some people may include:

Improved Self-Esteem

When a person is in active addiction, it’s difficult for them to feel good about the choices they are making. The pressure of addiction can cause people to do things that are against their values, such as stealing or committing a crime. However, by immersing patients in nature, wilderness activities may lead some people toward a more positive view of themselves.

When we learn a new skill, our brains release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These are responsible for feelings of accomplishment and pleasure. As patients progress in their newfound skills, these chemical messengers help to improve a person’s self-esteem and self-image. This can also have a positive effect on interpersonal relationships.

Increased Attention

By spending time away from screens and the hustle of daily life, people are able to drop into a more mindful state. This increased attention, combined with the manual labor of building fires and setting traps, may help to improve a person’s focus over time.

When we are focused on the here and now, it builds a sense of safety and mental calm. Patients who are attuned to the task at hand can’t stress about the past or worry about the future. The mental concentration that survival skills require helps to bring some people back to the present moment.

Positive Thought Patterns

Being surrounded by scenic overlooks and the rhythms of nature can have a significant impact on a person’s mood. Wilderness activities may increase positive thoughts for some people.

When we are outside with an intentional, positive focus, it becomes harder for intrusive thoughts to surface. If negative thoughts do come up, patients are provided an opportunity to share their feelings in a group session. This allows patients to own their feelings, and receive encouragement from both staff and peers.

Wilderness and Nature Based Therapy Activities for Co-Occurring Disorders

More than 7 million Americans currently suffer from a dual diagnosis. This happens when a person has a substance use disorder and a mental health condition at the same time, known as a co-occurring disorder.

When a person has a mental health condition like anxiety, they suffer from feelings of excessive worry and panic. Outdoor-based activities can be an excellent addition to the traditional treatment of co-occurring disorders, as nature is known to create feelings of peace.

Outside of a clinical setting, people with dual diagnosis are provided opportunities to practice new skills in a serene environment. These wilderness activities may also inspire patients toward a more balanced state of well-being.

How Vertava Health Incorporates Outdoor Wilderness and Adventure Therapy Programs

At Vertava Health, our focus in on evidence-based treatment modalities, but we do incorporate alternative activities and services into our programs to enhance the recovery experience.

To learn more about outdoor-based activities for addiction treatment, or to find a rehab program near you, reach out to an Vertava Health specialist today.