Taking on addiction with tai chi

Jun 03 2019

Taking on addiction with tai chi

“Tai Chi was shown to be an effective intervention in hospitalized alcohol-dependent patients.”

Ever wonder what those elderly folks are doing in the park: sort of looks like slow motion martial arts? That’s Tai Chi. With age comes wisdom, and with Tai Chi comes relaxation and improved circulation through an easy set of exercises. Tai Chi’s not just for the elderly: in fact, Tai Chi is taking off in rehab/recovery centers as part of a whole person health plan. But what IS Tai Chi and why are more people doing it to help with anxiety and addiction?

Tai Chi involves careful movements designed to improve balance, blood flow, focus and coordination. The movements can be done while standing or sitting and can be done pretty much anywhere. Check out this link for a great primer for beginners interested in trying Tai Chi.

Recent research suggests that Tai Chi is not just a good way to unwind; it may also have a positive impact on people recovering from addiction. A 2016 study “demonstrates that Tai Chi is a promising exercise that improves quality of life for individuals with stimulant dependence.”

In a 2016 study, 38 patients that had been hospitalized for alcohol dependence participated in a test. In addition to the prescribed interventions at the hospital, 19 patients participated in regular Tai Chi activities three times a week for two months and the remaining 19 patients did not. The objective of this study was “to investigate the effects of Tai Chi on blood serotonin levels, nicotine dependence, depression, and anger in hospitalized alcohol-dependent patients.”

The group who participated in Tai Chi showed “significantly increased blood serotonin level and significantly reduced nicotine dependence, depression, and anger” than the group who did not participate in Tai Chi. What does this prove? It looks like the happy chemicals in our body like Tai Chi.

Why investigate the serotonin levels of people in addiction recovery? What’s serotonin, anyway? Basically, serotonin is the stuff in our bodies in charge of sending a message to our brain that says to be or not to be happy: “Serotonin is an important chemical in the human body believed to help regulate mood and social behavior.”

The health benefits of Tai Chi aren’t just for people in recovery from addiction: Tai Chi is catching on across boarders and generations; it’s integrated within schools and hospitals worldwide. A 2017 study found that “considerable scientific evidence supports the health benefits of practicing Tai Chi in various populations with differing characteristics such as age, gender, and occupation…Mind-body interventions or exercises may improve body function and health since nervous system affects endocrine system and immune system while performing these mind-body (MB) exercises.” Taking it slow with Tai Chi may well be worth it, on the road to recovery.


Oh, C. U., & Kim, N. C. (2016). Effects of T’ai Chi on Serotonin, Nicotine Dependency, Depression, and Anger in Hospitalized Alcohol-Dependent Patients. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 22(12), 957-963.

Wang, Y. T., Huang, G., Duke, G., & Yang, Y. (2017). Tai Chi, yoga, and qigong as mind-body exercises. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017.

Zhu, D., Xu, D., Dai, G., Wang, F., Xu, X., & Zhou, D. (2016). Beneficial effects of Tai Chi for amphetamine-type stimulant dependence: a pilot study. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse, 42(4), 469-478.