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Adventure Therapy for Alcoholism: Definition, Benefits, and Effectiveness

Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 05/17/2023

Adventure therapy is a form of experiential therapy that uses outdoor activities and adventures to facilitate personal growth and therapeutic change. It has been utilized in the treatment of a variety of mental health conditions, including alcoholism. It’s considered a holistic treatment modality for alcoholism because there isn’t a ton of research about it. That said, it’s an innovative type of treatment that helps thousands of people recover from alcoholism every year. Learn more about adventure therapy below.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is a therapeutic approach that combines physical activity, outdoor environments, and challenging experiences to promote personal growth and change. This type of therapy involves activities such as rock climbing, hiking, camping, ropes courses, and wilderness expeditions, which are facilitated by trained professionals. The purpose of adventure therapy is to bring people together and to overcome alcoholism by developing new hobbies.

What Type of Alcohol Rehab is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is usually a type of inpatient alcohol rehab. This means that recovering alcoholics must remain at an alcohol rehab facility for the duration of treatment. Still, there are some outpatient adventure therapy options. Typically, outpatient adventure therapy is part of a support group or support network.

How Does Adventure Therapy Help with Alcoholism?

Adventure therapy can be a powerful tool for empowerment in the journey of recovery from alcoholism. As individuals face and overcome challenges in their therapeutic adventures, they often start to realize their own strength and resilience. Successfully navigating through physical and mental challenges can boost self-confidence and self-efficacy. This newfound empowerment and control over their actions can translate into the recovery process, giving individuals the confidence to face their addiction and the motivation to make positive changes.

Below we list the ways that adventure therapy helps with alcoholism.

  1. Skill Development in Adventure Therapy
  2. Group Support in Adventure Therapy
  3. Healthy Coping Mechanisms and Adventure Therapy

1. Skill Development in Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy not only provides immediate therapeutic benefits but also contributes to the development of valuable life skills. These may include problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, leadership abilities, and self-regulation. Participants learn to adapt to new situations, manage risks, and overcome obstacles, skills that are equally important in overcoming addiction. Additionally, adventure therapy can also foster skills specific to recovery, such as coping with cravings, managing emotions, and developing resilience against relapse.

2. Group Support in Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy often involves teamwork, which can create a supportive environment conducive to recovery. The group setting provides opportunities for peer interaction, allowing individuals to share their experiences, learn from each other, and give and receive feedback. This mutual support can foster a sense of belonging and understanding, reducing feelings of isolation often associated with addiction. The group dynamic can also promote accountability, encouraging individuals to stay committed to their recovery journey.

3. Healthy Coping Mechanisms and Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy can also help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms, which is crucial for long-term recovery. The activities involved in adventure therapy can serve as healthy outlets for stress and negative emotions, reducing the need for alcohol as a coping tool. For example, physical exertion can help alleviate stress, while the focus required in some activities can provide a distraction from cravings. Furthermore, the natural settings where adventure therapy typically takes place can have calming effects, promoting relaxation and emotional regulation.

By enhancing empowerment, developing important skills, fostering group support, and promoting healthy coping mechanisms, adventure therapy can be an effective component of a comprehensive treatment plan for alcoholism.

What Are the Types of Adventure Therapy?

In an adventure therapy session, participants take part in various outdoor activities under the guidance of trained professionals. The specific activities will vary depending on the program and the individuals involved but may include things like rock climbing, hiking, camping, or navigating a ropes course. The therapist or facilitator will use these activities as a basis for discussion and reflection, helping participants to identify and address patterns of behavior and thought.

We list the common types of adventure therapy below.

  • Hiking
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Surfing
  • Camping
  • Climbing
  • Kayaking
  • Skiing/Snowboarding Therapy

Hiking Therapy

Hiking therapy involves therapeutic hiking sessions, often in natural, serene environments. Walking and hiking trails provide both physical and mental health benefits. It can help improve physical fitness and manage stress, while exposure to nature can have calming effects. Additionally, overcoming the challenges encountered during hiking can boost self-confidence and resilience, contributing to a sense of empowerment in the recovery journey.

Drawing Therapy

Drawing therapy utilizes the act of drawing as a means of self-expression and self-exploration. It can help individuals express emotions they may find difficult to put into words and explore their thoughts and feelings about their addiction and recovery journey. The focus required in drawing can also provide a healthy distraction from cravings and negative thoughts.

Painting Therapy

Similar to drawing therapy, painting therapy allows individuals to express their emotions and experiences through art. Painting can be a meditative process, helping to reduce stress and promote relaxation. The creative process can also boost self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment, both valuable in the recovery process.

Surfing Therapy

Surfing therapy involves therapeutic surfing activities. Learning to surf and ride the waves can be empowering and can boost self-confidence. The physical exertion involved in surfing can provide stress relief, while the focus and concentration required can help distract from cravings and negative emotions.

Camping Therapy

Camping therapy involves therapeutic camping trips, often in group settings. Living in nature, away from everyday stressors, can provide a unique environment for reflection and self-discovery. The group setting can provide valuable opportunities for peer support, while the tasks involved in camping can promote responsibility, problem-solving skills, and self-efficacy.

Climbing Therapy

Climbing therapy can include activities like rock climbing or wall climbing. Overcoming the physical and mental challenges involved in climbing can boost self-confidence and resilience. The problem-solving skills required in climbing can also translate into the recovery process. Additionally, climbing often involves teamwork, providing opportunities for peer support and feedback.

Kayaking Therapy

Kayaking therapy involves therapeutic kayaking activities. Paddling can be a meditative activity, helping to manage stress and promote relaxation. Navigating through the water can boost self-confidence and self-efficacy, while physical exertion can provide a healthy outlet for negative emotions.

Skiing/Snowboarding Therapy

Skiing and snowboarding therapy involves therapeutic activities on the snow-covered slopes. Learning to ski or snowboard can be a challenging yet rewarding process, providing a sense of accomplishment and boosting self-confidence. Overcoming fears and managing risks on the slopes can build resilience, a valuable trait in the recovery journey.

The physical exertion involved in skiing or snowboarding can help manage stress and provide a healthy outlet for negative emotions. The focus and concentration required in these sports can also serve as a healthy distraction from cravings and negative thoughts. Additionally, skiing and snowboarding are often social activities, providing opportunities for peer interaction and support. The shared experiences on the slopes can foster a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding, reducing feelings of isolation often associated with addiction.

Each of these forms of adventure therapy can provide unique benefits and can be valuable components of a comprehensive treatment plan for alcoholism. The type of adventure therapy also varies based on location. For example, some alcohol rehabs located in colder climates may incorporate skiing or snowboarding. Also, equine therapy may also be considered adventure therapy in some cases.

How Effective is Adventure Therapy for Alcoholism?

Research has indicated that adventure therapy can be a valuable tool in the treatment of alcoholism. A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that adventure therapy can help to improve treatment engagement and outcomes in individuals with substance use disorders. However, as with any therapeutic approach, it’s important to note that its effectiveness can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the specific nature of the individual’s alcoholism and the quality of the therapy.

What Are the Statistics About Adventure Therapy for Alcoholism?

Adventure therapy, as part of a comprehensive treatment program, has been found to be effective in helping individuals recover from various types of addiction, including alcoholism. Here are some statistics and findings that highlight the effectiveness of adventure therapy:

  • A meta-analysis conducted by Bowen and Neill in 2013 found that adventure therapy programs demonstrated a medium to large effect size in improving psychological, emotional, and social health. This means that individuals who participated in adventure therapy showed significant improvements in these areas compared to those who did not participate.
  • A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in 2014 found that participants in an adventure therapy program for substance abuse were significantly less likely to relapse compared to those in a traditional residential treatment program.
  • Research has also found that adventure therapy can improve self-esteem and self-efficacy, which are important for maintaining sobriety. A study published in the Journal of Experiential Education in 2016 found that participants in an adventure therapy program showed significant improvements in self-esteem and self-efficacy compared to a control group.
  • A 2012 study published in the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs found that adolescents who participated in an adventure therapy program for substance abuse showed significant improvements in family functioning and peer relationships, which are crucial for long-term recovery.

While these statistics and findings are encouraging, it’s important to remember that adventure therapy is most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program, including traditional therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication, if necessary.

How Much Does Adventure Therapy for Alcoholism Cost?

Adventure therapy for alcoholism may cost between $5,000 and $10,000 because it’s usually part of an inpatient alcohol rehab program. That said, the cost of adventure therapy can vary widely depending on factors such as the duration and frequency of sessions, the qualifications of the therapist, and the nature of the activities involved. Some insurance plans may cover adventure therapy, but many do not, so it’s important to check with your insurance provider.

Who Is the Best Fit for Adventure Therapy?

The best fit for adventure therapy is someone who likes adventure and has failed to recover from alcohol addiction with traditional treatment modalities. Overall, everyone can benefit from adventure therapy, especially people who are staying at inpatient rehab facilities for alcoholism. The only thing to consider is the cost. For some, the cost may be too high for the results it provides.

What Other Treatments Are Available for Alcoholism?

Several treatment modalities are available for alcoholism. Below we list the most common alcoholism treatment options.

All treatment options are viable depending on your needs. Speak to an alcoholism professional to determine the best course of treatment for you.


  • Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
  • American Psychological Association
  • Wilderness Therapy Studies
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Association for Experiential Education.
  • Bowen, D.J., & Neill, J.T. (2013). A meta-analysis of adventure therapy outcomes and moderators. The Open Psychology Journal.
  • Russell, K.C. (2014). Adventure therapy and substance use disorder. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
  • Harper, N.J., Russell, K.C., Cooley, R., & Cupples, J. (2016). Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions: An exploratory case study of adolescent wilderness therapy, family functioning, and the maintenance of change. Journal of Experiential Education.
  • Tucker, A.R., Javorski, S., Tracy, J., & Beale, B. (2012). The use of adventure therapy in community-based mental health: Decreases in problem severity among youth clients. Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.