If you know anything about alcohol and drug rehab, you understand that addiction recovery is not linear. There are peaks and troughs along the way. Many people relapse a number of times.
Unfortunately, this leads some to be cynical about alcohol and drug rehab. Often, that cynicism gets directed at the more alternative treatments used for addiction recovery. Mindfulness is one such treatment. While the practice of mindfulness is thousands of years old, it is relatively new in the context of Western psychology.
Skeptics tend to see mindfulness as unscientific. This is in spite of the fact that studies have consistently shown that mindfulness is effective for treating addiction and other mental illnesses. It’s not a matter of trying some wishy-washy construct, but of implementing a treatment plan that works.
But what role does mindfulness play in addiction recovery?
The most significant role mindfulness plays in addiction recovery is in managing emotions. Addiction is both a physical and mental illness. Even without physical cravings or withdrawals, people remain addicted to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms. They become a way out of the suffering of painful emotions.
Mindfulness provides a wholly different way of managing emotions. Instead of numbing them out or trying to avoid them, you experience them. It seems counterintuitive, but emotions disappear on their own when felt. It is generally the associations we have surrounding them that cause the real suffering.
Mindfulness is revolutionary for recovering addicts, as we have spent so much time trying to get away from emotions. Learning to be with the emotion without distracting ourselves, let alone using substances, is difficult but life-changing.
Another reason mindfulness is so important in addiction recovery is that it helps us manage our expectations. Recovering addicts often experience the fear that their recovery is temporary. It feels like since you cannot know that you will never relapse, you are never truly recovered.
Mindfulness practice trains us to recognize that the success of recovery should not be measured by what happens sometime in the future. If you are experiencing life sober or clean right now, a future relapse cannot change that.
This sheds a whole new light on the peaks and troughs of recovery. A relapse stops being catastrophic. In turn, this helps us stop obsessing about the possibility, and it actually becomes less likely.
Finally, mindfulness even helps with physical cravings. Every recovering addict knows that cravings come and go. It is nonetheless incredibly difficult to see a craving out, as you do not know how long it will last and how severe it will get.
By guiding you to focus on this moment, mindfulness practice makes it possible to “surf” the wave of a craving. This urge surfing makes it possible to weather a craving without obsessing about if and when it will end.
Mindfulness plays an important role in modern addiction recovery. Far from being an unproven “alternative” treatment, research has shown it to be effective where many other treatments fail.