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Mindfulness Meditation: An Addiction Therapy That Actually Works

Mindfulness meditation may sound like something that you need smelly incense for. But there is nothing further from the truth! Mindfulness is an ancient technique used for centuries in the meditation practice of yoga as breathing awareness, or Pranayama. However, today you can find that a mindful meditation can take place anywhere you want it to! You can do a meditation in your car while you wait for your child at school, or even at your desk at work. It’s that easy.

If you want to, you can do mindfulness meditations in a group setting and then after the exercise talk about your experience. Or, alternatively you may want to keep a meditation journal to help you keep track of your mindfulness practice during recovery. Because addiction is usually the result of a desire to numb negative emotions, becoming more mindful of yourself during recovery is a BIG plus! And it may even help to reduce your risk of relapse.

“Research in the burgeoning fields of Interpersonal Neurobiology, Attachment and Sensorimotor Therapy theorizes that various types of trauma can rupture neurological development in ways that make it difficult for individuals to regulate their emotional state,” says Dr. Rod Amiri of Malibu Hills Treatment Center, a non 12-step recovery center. “When people are unable to soothe themselves, they often turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to medicate intense feelings of terror, anxiety, rage, loneliness or alienation.”

5 Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation in Recovery

During recovery, practicing mindfulness meditation may help to encourage long-term sobriety. Here are just 5 benefits of mindfulness:

  1. Less Anxiety. Practicing any type of mindfulness can help to reduce anxiety. If you find that during recovery you feel more anxious – you’re not alone! Many people can experience higher levels of stress and anxiety while in a 12-step rehab program, or even just working through the recovery process on their own. However, mindfulness has been shown in clinical trials to help reduce stress levels, and anxiety – even in people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).1
  2. Bias Reduction. During recovery, many changes can occur in the life of someone suffering with an addiction including the task of making new friends. For people with any type of racial bias, mindfulness may help to make the process of making new friendships easier. One 2015 Central Michigan University study by Professor Adam Lueke revealed that mindfulness can positively affect people’s lives in a number of ways. In the study, participants who performed mindfulness meditation were able to increase their awareness and reduce both age, and racial bias.2

According to Professor Leuke, “This result was not because the mindful group were able to see the automatic bias and override it, but rather because the automatic bias simply didn’t appear as much as it did for the control group.”

  1. Fewer Distractions. Scientists know that over time a substance abuse problem can change the way your brain works. With continued use studies have shown that addiction can reshape the communication pathways between neurons (synaptic plasticity) which may influence negative behavior, or provoke relapse.3  

However, mindfulness meditation techniques have been shown to help boost brain function and cognition. Researchers suggest this could be due to the ability of mindfulness to improve to regular brain wave alpha rhythm, thought to “turn down the volume” on distractions in life that can cause you to lose your self-awareness.

In a Harvard study, researchers reported that “brain cells use particular frequencies, or waves, to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. One frequency, the alpha rhythm, is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the brain’s outermost layer, called the cortex, where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.”

  1. Self Acceptance. Many addicts can say that at some point they used drugs or alcohol to hide from their own self-acceptance issues. And while body dissatisfaction is common for both men and women, using drugs or alcohol to mask the pain is never the answer. In one study, on self compassion and body dissatisfaction, mindful meditation participants “experienced significantly greater reduction in body dissatisfaction, body shame and contingent self-worth based on appearance, as well as greater gains in self-compassion and body appreciation.”
  2. Better Mood. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness-based cognitive therapies (MBCT) including mindfulness exercises including yoga, body awareness and daily homework, such as eating or doing household chores with full attention to what one is doing, moment by moment are associated with a better mood. In one study, when compared to a control group, participants in the mindfulness meditation group were shown to show have fewer symptoms of depression. “MBCT helps them to recognize that’s happening, engage with it in a different way and respond to it with equanimity and compassion,” says study author Dr. Willem Kuyken.

Making Time for Mindfulness During Recovery

Addiction recovery is a process that takes time and a commitment to taking every day during sobriety one step at a time. However, it can be difficult to make time to practice mindfulness. With our fast-paced lifestyles as Americans you may feel like you don’t want to stop what you are doing in order to meditate. But, just remember these 5 benefits of mindfulness during recovery and make the time! You only need 5 minutes a day to gain these and many more benefits of mindfulness.

How-To Perform Mindfulness

Here is a quick mindfulness meditation you can do anywhere you like!  

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your hands open on your lap.
  • Then, take a deep breath to fill your entire soft belly with air. Inhale for 5 seconds through your nostrils (1-2-3-4-5), and then exhale for 5 seconds through your mouth until all of the breath is gone, and your belly is flat again.
  • You will repeat this for 5 minutes. So, you may want to add a mantra to the meditation, which can be anything you want. For example, on each exhale, simply repeat this recovery mantra in your mind, “One day at a time.”

 

NOTE: A kitchen timer may help to know how long you’ve been meditating.

References:

  1. Hoge EA, Bui E. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. J Clin Psychiatry. 2013 Aug;74(8):786-92.
  2. Adam Lueke, Bryan Gibson. Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias. The Role of Reduced Automaticity of Responding. November 24, 2014.
  3. Thomas J. Gould, Ph.D. Addiction and Cognition. Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2010 Dec; 5(2): 4–14.

 

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