The Tara Treatment Center Blog

Replacing Negative Habits: Art Therapy Addiction Treatment

Treating substance abuse disorders with more positive HaBits

Mental health and substance abuse issues often go hand-in-hand with creativity and intelligence. Is it possible to treat underlying problems while encouraging productive habits? Art therapy addiction treatment and other experiential therapies attempt to do just this.  


All the paintings in this article were created by amateur painters in recovery who wish to remain anonymous.

art therapy addiction

Art therapy is an integrative mental health field which enriches the lives of families and individuals through ‘active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship’, according to the American Art Therapy Association.


Art therapy has been shown to foster self esteem and self awareness.  It is often used to encourage creative thinking and help a person ‘get outside of themselves’. 



Creative geniuses like Pablo Picasso and Van Gogh were well-known to have struggled with mental health issues.  When they were able to focus on creative works as a substitute for their other addictions, they reached a state of self-actualization.  

It is common to rediscover old talents and skills as we recover from addiction.  How exactly does this happen?  

art therapy addiction

Types of Art Therapy

In art therapy we use creativity and imagination to make art that expresses ourselves in ways that are healthy and productive.  Those in recovery often find their experiences difficult to put into simple spoken words.  This ineffability can be frustrating, and art therapy aims to arm individuals with alternative means of expressing themselves.  The kinds of art normally used in art therapy include painting, music, poetry, dance, acting, and many other forms of therapy focused on creating meaningful experiences.  

SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy guide explains that this therapy is especially helpful for people who have underlying mental health issues related to their addiction, such as a history of trauma.  The creative process is often a non-verbal one focusing simply on a prepared environment in which the client is encouraged to use the tools available to express themselves.  

The Specialist’s Take:

As Brittany Beccue explains, “In art therapy the best approach is laissez-faire; letting the client choose to express themselves in their own way.  This often means encouraging the client to create any form of art they wish.  When you force something onto someone–especially if they don’t believe themselves to be good at art–you often build a ‘wall’ preventing the best possible treatment.  Sometimes the art created is an introduction for a deeper conversation.”

Art therapy is useful because it provides us with tools to understand and cope with our addiction.  When done in a group setting, art therapy can even facilitate positive relationships.

Art therapy is a time-tested experiential practice which allows individuals to express themselves.  Check here to see other experiential practices offered at Tara.