What Do Mindfulness and Meditation Have to Do With Addiction and Substance Abuse?
Mindfulness and meditation practices have become increasingly popular in recent years. For some people, the ideas of such practices may still seem a little “out there.” But for others, especially professionals who work in addiction recovery and substance abuse, meditation and mindfulness are extremely important.
What is the Difference Between Meditation and Mindfulness?
Before looking at how meditation and mindfulness can help those in the recovery process, it’s important to understand how we define these two terms. According to a recent article on the Positive Psychology network, “mindfulness is a quality,” whereas “meditation is a practice.”
Mindfulness is simply a process of learning how to be present, and staying “in the moment.” Paying attention to the day-to-day and observing without judgment does not happen instantly—it is a cultivated sense of awareness.
Meditation, on the other hand, is both a practice and a technique. It usually includes focused attention, clearing the mind, and should result in a sense of calm or stability. But remember, there are many different types of meditation. One of these is “mindfulness meditation,” which is used in many recovery centers today and will be the focus of the rest of this summary.
How Mindfulness Meditation Works
There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation. But the primary goal is to practice being here and now, not judging what you see or feel, and slowing down enough to notice.
One popular and helpful way is to do a “body scan” on yourself. A body scan is a way of helping your brain to check in with different parts of your body in the present moment. If you have chronic pain or suffer from anxiety or other conditions, it will be important to work with a professional to help you navigate these difficulties.
Studies have shown that mindfulness mediation can also help you understand the physical and emotional feelings that led you to substance abuse and addiction cycles, as well as reduce the risk of relapse. Learning about and observing difficult moments can be an important aspect to healing while in recovery.
What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?
- Regulates Emotions: Mindfulness meditation can help to teach you how to regulate your emotions, which is a skill essential to long-term recovery. By being present, identifying the emotions, and practicing non-judgment, a person can reach emotional stability and health.
- Restores Balance: The intense emotions and mood swings that often accompany early recovery can be difficult to manage. But by quieting the mind and paying attention to the present moment, such as the rhythm of your own breath, it can gradually help build a sense of restored balance.
- Reduces Anxiety: Many types of mindfulness meditation can help minimize the connection between the medial prefrontal cortex and the part of the brain that regulates fear bodily sensation. Minimizing this connection means that when you begin to feel anxiety, this feeling does not translate into a total identification with the anxiety. Instead, the person can observe feelings of anxiety without being consumed by them.
How Can Mindfulness Meditation Help Someone in Addiction Recovery?
- Cultivates Empowerment in Your Choices: Mindfulness meditation helps you observe your thoughts without judgment. So, once you can see the thoughts clearly, you can determine with a clear mind how you react to those thoughts. These thoughts can include cravings or happen in triggering moments, which need to be slowed down and not reacted to instinctively. Mindfulness can also overflow into other aspects of your life, such as the quality of food or relationships you engage in. By practicing being present, you can achieve greater mental clarity that will help your recovery instead of sabotage it.
- Helps Prevent Relapse: Relapse can be triggered by many things. But when you’ve practiced paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and situations, you can avoid unconscious patterns that may lead you to relapse. Knowing who you are and what you need will help you make more informed decisions about the situations that may be too much. Mindfulness mediation as a part of your daily practice should result in stronger abilities to recognize the early warning signs and red flags of relapse.
- Helps Relieves Stress: As one of the biggest triggers for those in recovery, stress is an important factor to keep an eye on. Mindfulness meditation helps to train the mind to focus, stay present, and can help you to relax in the inevitably stressful moments. As a stress-relieving tool, a mindfulness practice is an excellent companion throughout your recovery. Stress will always come, but an ongoing practice will help you manage these tough moments of everyday life with more ease.
Mindfulness Meditation as a Part of Addiction Treatment
Mindfulness and meditation have been helping and healing people for centuries. Their teachings can be found in yoga therapy and many other practices, too. Mindfulness meditation is becoming a very popular form of therapeutic intervention that can work for addiction. Some other treatments include:
- Mindfulness-based intervention (MBI)
- Yoga practices such as Hatha yoga
- Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP)
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Mindfulness to meaning therapy (MMT)
Practicing mindfulness meditation for addiction should begin with a licensed professional or instructor. Many residential treatment centers offer mindfulness and meditation practices today. In such programs, you are guided through the processes and exercises that can help you to come to your full self when in a moment of craving or temptation. Understanding who you are and what you’re experiencing provides you the opportunity to be truly free and to have true agency. Once you understand and have experience with mindfulness practices, you can continue practicing a version of it in your daily life without an instructor or medical professional.
As an addiction treatment approach, it certainly works to improve how you conceptualize each and every moment. Paying attention to these moments and what you experience in them is the foundation of mindfulness meditation. And for the person in addiction recovery, one moment can mean everything.