Hope springs

Today, spas are a luxury, a treat for stressed professionals. Historically, spas were renowned for their healing properties and "taking the waters" was a cure-all for anything from sciatica to gout.

As a drugs worker, Becky Wright had heard anecdotes on the use of spas and hot baths to treat alcohol and drug addictions.

"Detoxification for beauty is very acceptable but detoxification for substance abuse is not," Wright claims. With fifteen years' experience in the field, she applied for a grant from the Avon and Wiltshire mental health trust to research the issue further.

Wrightm who is director of the New Leaf therapy centre in Somerset, will be presenting her findings and discussing some of the history of local spas at the Unhooked Thinking conference in Bath on May 9. Opening the event, which aims to look at addictions from new perspectives, she will talk from the water of the Cross Bath spa, part of the Thermae Bath Spa which opened in 2006.

According to Wright, the Cross Bath is so named because it is where pilgrims used to stop when they had been travelling with crosses on their backs.

"They believed it was a place where they could cast off things that had happened to them. During the refurbishments they found pewter sheets with curses on them. It was a place to let go of things."

For her study, Wright contacted 18 experts on spa therapy and they were able to share stories of spa use for treating addictions, especially in the US to treat alcoholism.

"There has also been a lot of work in flotation tanks as a treatment for cocaine addiction," she says. "The same chemicals are released in the brain so it is used a replacement therapy."

Wright also has her own theory on why spas may be of particular benefit to drug addicts trying to clean up.

"Heroin is renowned to make you feel cocooned and held. Floating in hot water is a very similar feeling," she explains. She recalls how, as a drug worker, she has often heard of addicts having Radox baths to ease muscle cramps.

Although much of the evidence that Wright uncovered remains anecdotal, she is convinced that there is a lot more work could be done in this area.

She is optimistic that spas will one day be used as a therapy again. "I'd love nothing more than to be able to take a group of recovering addicts into a spa. They used to be called public baths for a reason."

· The Unhooked Thinking conference runs in Bath from May 9 to May 11.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.