There are many different tactics used to help people in addiction recovery to deal with their emotional and physical cravings. One of the most effective and useful strategies is mindfulness which allows people to feel relief from stress and anxiety that may contribute to their cravings. Mindfulness tactics can help people feel more relaxed and less likely to fixate on the idea of using drugs or alcohol because they are practicing how to slow down their thoughts.
Recent research has suggested that treatment for addiction that is based on mindfulness may be a more effective type of therapy and lead to increased results. Studies have shown that spending about two months in mindfulness training can lead to a significant drop in stress and cravings which in turn causes a better chance of staying clean for people struggling with addiction. Mindfulness could potentially lead to a breakthrough in addiction treatment if it used more often to train patients who are have issues with cravings and other emotional problems.
While some programs may offer some type of discussion of mindfulness, not all addiction treatment focuses a lot of attention on training patients to use these strategies. Mindfulness-based recovery could be a new kind of therapy that leads to more progress in becoming stable in sobriety. Researchers are still working on this type of treatment but many programs may benefit from beginning to incorporate more mindfulness into recovery.
How Mindfulness Works?
The concept of mindfulness is related to a type of meditation practice that focuses your attention on the present. There are different forms of meditation but mindfulness is a way to be completely aware of what is happening in your body, your surroundings and the present moment without focusing on distracting thoughts. When people follow intense trains of thought they often lose touch with their body and are thinking about the past or future with anxious feelings.
Mindfulness helps people turn down their obsessive thoughts because it helps train them to focus on something in the present such as their breath, feelings in their body, the sounds of the space they are in or other things that can ground them in the moment. Whenever they start to listen to their thoughts again they can turn their attention back to their breath. The process can be difficult at first because people are so accustomed to letting their thoughts run wild but over time mindfulness training can create more awareness and the ability to live in the present.
When people practice mindfulness it tends to calm their anxiety as many feelings of anxiousness have to do with recurring thoughts that are not based in reality. It can also be useful for cravings because the person may pay less attention to thoughts about drugs or alcohol that used to have trouble controlling. Their mind will focus less on their addiction and more on what they are feeling and experiencing in the present moment.
The Role of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery:
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.
Incorporating Mindfulness in Recovery
Researchers in the field of addiction are now imagining a future where there are more mindfulness-based recovery programs that can transform the way people approach addiction. Studies are currently providing this type of therapy to patients who have both addiction and mental health issues like PTSD that influence their substance abuse. Mindfulness can provide relief and help people learn to manage some of the symptoms of anxiety and other mental health problems.
Those patients in mindfulness training groups are learning strategies of how to recognize painful or uncomfortable thoughts without trying to get rid of them. Programs can also incorporate other types of meditation that can be helpful for anxiety and depression such as loving kindness meditation which teaches skills of self-compassion and compassion for others. These kinds of exercises can be useful in managing problems like PTSD and making it easier to handle cravings as they come up.
Mindfulness can be helpful for people who have trouble being more in touch with their own feelings and letting themselves work through them. The mind often makes efforts to fix our emotions or run away from them but mindfulness helps people experience them and get through them more effectively. Instead of judging or trying to get rid of feelings you simply notice them and allow them to resolve on their own.
Treatment with Mindfulness
Many programs already teach patients how to use mindfulness to cope with their cravings and their issues with anxiety or stress. A program that bases its entire treatment process on mindfulness could be a new type of recovery approach that would change the field of mental health. More studies can provide insight into how this type of program would help people succeed in becoming sober and remaining permanently abstinent.
In any type of treatment approach however, mindfulness can be useful strategy to learn in connection with other tactics taught in the program.