The efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) in addiction treatment

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a simple, non-invasive and painless treatment which most people find comfortable and relaxing. But how is HBOT related to addiction treatment? Is it effective? Find out more here.

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Severe and long-term alcohol or drug use often leads to loss of brain function relating to cell death. Research indicates that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) can help accelerate brain recovery and assist addicts whose brains have been damaged from years of substance abuse.

But how does HBOT help addiction recovery? What are the advantages of using oxygen therapy in the treatment of addiction? We provide the answers in the following text. Then, we welcome you to post your questions on the efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for addiction in the section at the bottom of the page.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a simple, non-invasive and painless treatment.

HBOT is the medical use of oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure. Patients go into a pressurised chamber for an hour and breathe pure oxygen through a mask. The result is a big increase in oxygen in the bloodstream, the generation of new stem cells and the natural repair of damaged organs and tissues.

Q: Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy work to treat addiction?

A: Yes, oxygen therapy can be used as an adjunct treatment for addiction.

Oxygen is the natural antibiotic of the body. It helps the damaged bodies of drug and alcohol addicts to recover by speeding up the healing process. When the absorption of oxygen is increased, it can reduce the time toxic substances remain in the brain. For instance, alcohol and drug abuse can result in the buildup of aldehydes and acids in the brain. HBOT can help clear the body of these toxins, and is a useful component of drug and alcohol detoxification.

How effective is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for addiction?

Hyperbaric Oxygen is an effective tool a recovering brain needs to heal itself.

Long-term substance abuse and prolonged prescription medication use can damage cells in the brain, especially in the frontal lobe where strategic thinking and decision making takes place. Clinicians have reported that HBOT shows promising results in helping patients with traumatic brain injuries, since it is a therapy that can deliver oxygen to the brain in places not reachable when breathing at sea level.

A simple brain-imaging scan can show the areas of the brain that have been damaged from addiction. Those are the areas that haven’t been getting enough blood flow, thus not enough oxygen. The damaged cells are also unable to detoxify properly, which slows down the brain’s healing process.

However, this can be changed after 20-40 oxygen therapy treatments, when the blood flow in the patients brain increases. The improved blood flow in this areas supplies the cells with the needed nutrients they need to heal themselves. After only 10 treatments many patients report better memory, higher energy levels and an overall sense of well-being.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy like?

During Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) you are placed in a hyperbaric chamber. On entering the chamber, you sit in a chair or on the floor. Then, the pressure surrounding you is gradually increased. The release of 100% oxygen stimulates a very significant increase in the amount of oxygen dissolved in your bloodstream. Members of your health care team will monitor you and the therapy unit throughout your treatment.

Keep in mind that during Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, the air pressure in the room is about 2-3 times higher than normal air pressure. The increased air pressure will create a temporary feeling of fullness in your ears, similar to what you might feel in an airplane or at a high elevation. You can relieve that feeling by yawning or swallowing. For most conditions, therapy lasts approximately two hours.

Treatment for chronic addiction may be repeated over days or weeks. Note here that depending on your medical condition, you’ll need more than one session to feel real benefits from HBOT. In comparison, a treatment session for more acute conditions such as decompression sickness may last longer, but may not need to be repeated.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy typically is performed as an outpatient procedure and doesn’t require hospitalization. It is recommended that you wear comfortable clothing and leave any jewellery or watches outside. No smoking materials, matches or lighters are allowed in the chamber. Depending on the type of medical institution you go to and the reason for treatment, you may receive Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in one of two settings:

1. A unit designed for 1 person. In an individual (monoplace) unit, you lie down on a table that slides into a clear plastic tube.
2. A room designed to accommodate several people. In a multiperson hyperbaric oxygen room – which usually looks like a large hospital room – you may sit or lie down. You may receive oxygen through a mask over your face or a lightweight, clear hood placed over your head.

What are the benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Most illnesses and injuries caused by addiction occur and last at cellular or tissue level. So, the healing process of the body cannot take place without appropriate oxygen levels in tissues. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy provides that extra oxygen naturally and with minimal side effects. It improves the quality of life of people in recovery in many ways in which standard medicine is not working.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy helps to:

  • decrease swellings and inflammation
  • help damaged liver, pancreas and brain heal
  • help the detoxification process in body cells
  • help the detoxification process in brain cells
  • improve circulation in damaged tissues
  • improve sleep patterns
  • normalyze enzyme systems in the organism
  • reduce cravings
  • regenerate tissues
  • stimulate the appetite

…and, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy also helps increase stem cell production by 800%.

Moreover, if used in conjunction with cognitive and behavioral therapies, HBOT has shown remarkable benefits in treating the brain and body damages from years of substance abuse.

What is the outcome of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Under normal circumstances, oxygen is transported throughout the body only by red blood cells. During oxygen therapy, oxygen is dissolved into all of the body’s fluids, the plasma, the central nervous system fluids, the lymph, and the bone and can be carried to areas where circulation is diminished or blocked. In this way, extra oxygen can reach all of the damaged tissues and the body can support its own healing process. The increased oxygen greatly enhances the ability of white blood cells to:

1. kill bacteria
2. reduce swelling
3. allows new blood vessels to grow more rapidly into the affected areas

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and the treatment of addiction

Addiction and physical dependence lead to withdrawal symptoms when you quit taking your substance of choice. The most frequently experienced addiction withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • body aches and pains
  • changes in heart rate
  • constipation
  • craving
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • vomiting
  • weight gain or weight loss, etc.

When detox begins, the discomfort, severity and durtion of withdrawal symptoms can quickly lead to relapse. However, when the course of withdrawal is altered, as with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, it is possible to improve chances of success and reduce of the risk of relapse.

HBOT helps with the detoxification processes in body by opening up the circulation into damaged tissues and normalizing various enzyme systems. Then, a healed and metabolically healthy cell will be able to participate in the required chemical steps to detox the brain and help reduce cravings.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in addiction treatment questions

Do you have any questions about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy? Maybe you or a loved one have already gone through HBOT and want to share your personal insights? Please leave your questions, comments and concerns below. We will address them promptly and personally.

Reference Sources: ORCCA: Addiction and Hyperbaric Oxygen
Castle Craig: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy fact sheet
NIH: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Mayo clinic: What you can expect
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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