“I haven’t felt this good since I stopped taking drugs 17 years ago” - feedback from one of our more famous clients who is well known for their history with substance abuse and long-standing sobriety.
For decades, saunas have been used in drug and substance rehabilitation programs across the globe. Although there are certainly those that stretch the truth regarding exactly how sauna impacts addiction (namely those that cite its ‘detoxifying’ effects), sauna can indeed have a significant impact on those either struggling with and/or recovering from addiction.
Perhaps saunas most well know association with addiction is via organisations such as Narconon and their extensive use of it in their treatment programs. The reasons cited by companies such as this for why sauna bathing is so beneficial are focused primarily upon the detoxifying properties of sweat and saunas ability to remove toxic substances (e.g. drugs) that remain trapped in the body’s fatty tissues by inducing excessive perspiration . As outlined more comprehensively on the page discussing detoxification, this is unfortunately not how the body works; sweat contains insignificant quantities of toxicants (enough to be detected, but not enough to make any difference to health or wellbeing), and humans perspire almost exclusively for thermoregulation, not detoxification . As such, the vast majority of medical professionals reject this treatment and its proposed effects regarding actual ‘detoxification’ – noting especially the unfoundedness and lack of reliability within most of the supporting research, including its frequent lack of peer-reviewing .
The actual effects of sauna are focused on improving the mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of those suffering from substance abuse and/or its consequences – thereby reducing chances of relapse. As mentioned in our pages on relaxation and stress reduction and mental health, sauna bathing can have a number of beneficial physiological and psychological effects; it causes the release of various ‘feel good’ endorphins and hormones (e.g. serotonin) and can create mood and wellbeing improvements in as few as one session . It can also induce subtle endocrine changes which aid in the reduction of physical pain caused by withdrawal . Still, most positively affected are perhaps the potentially longer-term symptoms of substance withdrawal such as mood and sleep disturbance and anxiety . Overall, saunas very real effects on these factors do cause significant positive results in patients – even if it is not the result of ‘detoxification’.
 Narconon (2019) New Life Detoxification [online]. Available at: https://www.narcononuk.org.uk/drug-rehab/new-life-detox.html
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 Enserink, M (2010) Elsevier to Editor: Change Controversial Journal or Resign [online]. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20100312091113/http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/03/elsevier-to-editor-change-contro.html
 Laukkanen, T; Laukkanen, J; Kunutsor, S (2018) ‘Cardiovascular and other health benefits of sauna bathing: a review of the evidence’ Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 93(8) pp. 1111-1121. Available at: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(18)30275-1/fulltext
 Lowdry, CA; Lightman, SL; Nutt, DJ (2009) ‘That warm fuzzy feeling: brain serotonergic neurons and the regulation of emotion’ Journal of Psychopharmacology 23(4) pp. 392-400. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881108099956
 Kukkonen-Harjula, K and Kauppinen, K (1988) ‘How the sauna affects the endocrine system’. Annals of Clinical Research 20(4) pp. 262-266. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218898
 Lennox, R.D and Cecchini-Sternquist, M (2018) ‘Safety and tolerability of sauna detoxification for the protracted withdrawal symptoms of substance abuse’ Journal of International Medical Research 46(11) pp. 4480-4499. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30209965
 Hussain, J and Cohen, M (2018) ‘Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review’ Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. 970 Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29849692