Mindfulness In Addiction Recovery
Key Points in This Article
Here at Elevate’s Northern California facilities (Santa Cruz, CA. and Placerville, CA.) and our South Lake Tahoe facility we do not believe that addiction is the result of a weak character, but rather evidence of deeper physical, emotional and spiritual dilemmas. To address these underlying issues, we don’t just simply treat the symptoms of addiction. Instead, alongside evidence-based practices, we treat the whole person and teach each person how to create a meaningful life without substances.
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For many individuals who suffer from substance abuse, the use of drugs and/or alcohol is driven by a desire to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Overcoming this impulse to avoid the negative is one of the goals of mindfulness therapy. This alternative, holistic approach to addiction recovery is designed to support individuals in their recovery by teaching them a new way of cultivating mental awareness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, as defined by the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” In other words, mindfulness refers to the ability to recognize one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the moment, without reacting emotionally or judgmentally to those experiences.
As a state of mental awareness, and as an aspect of cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness can support evidence-based practices by equipping individuals with a tool to address the feelings that often lead to the impulsive use of drugs and/or alcohol.
Achieving this state of mental awareness typically involves a level of self-discipline and focus that requires training and practice to achieve consistently. Mindfulness is used to alleviate a wide range of mental and emotional issues, including the following:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Lack of focus
How is mindfulness used in addiction recovery?
When it comes to addiction, the alleviation of stress, anxiety, and depression in and of itself can support recovery by ameliorating some of the common drivers of addiction. However, mindfulness is also frequently used in rehab to help individuals suffering from substance abuse learn how to manage their cravings in a way that acknowledges those cravings, rather than trying to ignore or suppress them.
When used in this way, mindfulness teaches individuals to recognize the onset of a craving and to sit with that craving in the moment. The practice of mindfulness enables the individuals to experience that craving, and sense its gradual passing, without impulsively giving in to the desire to use drugs or alcohol. By practicing mindfulness, therefore, the individual attempts to remove the craving’s power from their life.
Similarly, individuals often learn mindfulness as a way to manage the negative thoughts and feelings they previously tried to escape through the use of drugs or alcohol. Just as mindfulness can be used to teach individuals how to accept and experience their cravings without giving in, so mindfulness is often utilized to teach individuals how to experience their feelings in the moment, without suppressing or avoiding them.
While mindfulness often begins as an intentional practice in the rehab setting, consistent usage of this approach often improves a client’s ability to remain mindful as they move through their everyday life.
While the research into the effectiveness of mindfulness is not extensive, there are studies indicating that individuals who practice mindfulness in addition to evidence-based recovery approaches experience improved rates of abstinence and successful recovery.
Which mindfulness practices are used in addiction recovery?
Mindfulness consists of a number of practices that are often tailored to the individual’s needs. For example, some mindfulness practices are intended specifically to support smokers, while others, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, are designed for broader use to help individuals suffering from health issues, chronic pain, and various types of addictions.
Other practices are tailored specifically to individuals who struggle with addiction. These practices utilize mindfulness practices with a focus on addressing the patterns of thought and behavior that lead the individual into addictive practices. There is also a program called Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention that integrates with cognitive-behavioral therapy in order to equip clients with the tools they need to continue their recovery after they leave active treatment.
Regardless of the specific mindfulness program used by clients, these techniques tend to have the following elements in common:
- Observation – The participant pays attention to their external and internal circumstances, including their bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings.
- Description – The participant describes what they are experiencing.
- Participation – The participant engages in an activity without anxiety, self-consciousness, or self-judgment.
- Non-Judgmental Approach – The participant accepts their circumstances, such as the existence of a craving, without a judgmental attitude.
- Focus – The participant focuses on one thing at a time without becoming distracted by other events, feelings, thoughts, or experiences.
- Effectiveness – The participant works on making choices that support their recovery and the life they desire.
Mindfulness can be a useful tool in addiction recovery, when used alongside other practices, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. By teaching participants to manage the thoughts, feelings, events, and cravings that are a part of their lives, mindfulness can enable them to more successfully abstain from drugs and alcohol and pursue the healthy daily life they desire.
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This page does not provide medical advice
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