The Somatic Nervous System and Its Role in Recovery from Addiction

How aware are you of your fingertips right now? If you tuned in, could you bring your attention to how the pads of your toes are feeling? Would it be possible to notice the way your triceps feel or the skin on the back of your knee at any given moment? Mindfulness brings you awareness to your attention and helps you notice how your body is feeling at any given moment. The connection between the mind and the body’s inherent, but not necessarily strong. Many experiences in life can sever the intimate relationship between mind and body. Trauma, for example, can create a barrier in the communication channel between mind and body. Addiction and alcoholism can also sever the close ties between the mind and the body. During the treatment process, many different therapies and healing modalities seek to restore the connection, building somatic awareness. Somatic awareness is an awakening of the somatic system, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. Nerves in the somatic system connect the skin, organs, and muscles to the central nervous system. Acting as a communication channel, the somatic system sends both motor and sensory information to the central nervous system and receives information in return.

All voluntary muscle requires communication between the muscles and the central nervous system. The somatic system is responsible for almost all of that voluntary movement of muscle. Additionally, the somatic system is what helps the central nervous system and the brain make sense of external stimuli so that the body can respond. For example, when a hand feels a hot flame, it pulls back. When a hand gets burned by a hot flame it immediately feels pain which is the somatic system working with the central nervous system, which communicates with functions in the brain like activating the production of opioid neurotransmitters.

Addiction is in many ways a somatic response. The body effortlessly responds by reaching for a drink or a drug. Often it feels as though the body is acting on its own accord and is not in connection with the mind. As a result, individuals lose their sense of connection with themselves. They are not able to connect to how they feel or what they need for their body. Addiction complicates this wiring further. Becoming chemically dependent on drugs and alcohol, an individual has a physical reaction to drugs and alcohol which becomes their physical reaction to different events in life.

Somatic healing and therapies that build somatic awareness help individuals connect to the true needs of their body by being able to drop into their bodies more often. Somatic awareness is a form of self-awareness that helps the brain tune into the body to identify needs, build a relationship, and heal trauma from the past.


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