Using Mindfulness And Meditation To Treat Addiction
Mindfulness meditation practices are holistic and ancient practices that are believed, by scholars, to be around 5000 years old. Meditation is believed to have begun before civilized societies were developed, being used by hunters and gatherers.
In 500 BC, Buddha developed meditation teachings into what we know them as today. Meditation mostly stayed in Asian culture due to the cost and lack of transportation to move it across the ocean. It wasn’t until 1960-1970 that meditation in the United States took form. Meditation practices are now popular to many around the world and are being used by millions of people for a number of reasons and ailments, “including as a medically prescribed all natural yet highly powerful remedy & preventative measure, and as an overall mental and physical wellness tool.” (www.eocinstiute.org/meditation)
Meditation Benefits And Addiction
There are many forms of meditation. Mindfulness meditation is unique from other forms of meditation. Psychology Today states that it is different “in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are. Instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment.” It teaches us how to be present in any given moment no matter what is happening.
One of the most common ailments that meditation and mindfulness approaches are being used for is the reduction of stress. But did you know that along with stress, mindfulness meditation can also be used when coping with an addiction? Having an addiction is believed, by some, to derive from emotional dysregulation. Emotional issues can be the reason individuals turn to substances as a way to deal with emotions which is otherwise unknown by the individual or uncomfortable to face. Pain is numbed by the substance of choice when using it to cope when crisis occurs, leaving the individual without the ability to cope with said emotions and enabling the addiction and behavior to continue.
When you have an addiction, your mind is closely focused on how to get the substance of choice, and/or recovering from the use of the substance. As stated by Rachel Fintzy, author of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Addiction, when practicing mindfulness and meditation you experience a “non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.” Mindfulness practices are practices in awareness. Instead of attempting to avoid uncomfortable situations related to emotional dysregulation, through mindfulness meditation, you try to gain an understanding of your feelings and thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation is said by scholars to be extremely successful in clients who are coping with an addiction and in preventing relapse as it helps the individual gain awareness of the body when urges occur. It also helps the individual learn to deal with the emotions from these urges. When used over a period of time, mindfulness meditation improves the individual’s self control, taking control of the urges, emotions, and the body, which helps reduce relapse.
Studies And Method
In a recent study completed by scholars, it was found that 40-60 percent of participants in a treatment program relapse within one year. Those scholars decided that there was a lot of work still to do in our culture to assist those struggling with an addiction. They then performed a study of 286 participants and sent 1/3 to a meditation-based treatment program, while 1/3 went to group discussion, and the last 1/3 of participants went to a relapse prevention group. Six months later it was found that the relapse group and mindfulness group both experienced a decreased risk in relapse when compared to the typical discussion group.
A group called Headspace states that “Neuroscientists found that after just five 20-minute sessions of a mindfulness meditation technique, people had increased blood flow to an area of the brain vital to self-control, the anterior cingulate cortex. After 11 hours of practice, they found actual physical changes in the brain around this area.”
Even everyday stress can trigger addictive behavior. Practicing healthy habits like stress reduction with tools like mindfulness meditation will increase your ability to tolerate everyday stressors and assist in being in the present moment. Being in the present moment will help the individual learn to deal with any uncomfortable feelings instead of reacting on “autopilot,” ending in addictive behavior. This balance of meditation and modification of behavior by practicing mindfulness will assist in making needed changes in your life.
To practice mindfulness meditation, one must simply focus on breathing:
- Sit quietly and ensure that your body is completely relaxed (legs and arms uncrossed)
- Close your eyes
- This is the time to be in the moment, no judgment or focus on whatever else occurs
- Bring your attention to your breath, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth as you slowly exhale and inhale, simply noticing what is naturally happening
- If your mind wanders to other thoughts, and it will, accept this and simply go back to focusing on your breath
- Do this for 5 minutes each day and slowly increase to 20 minutes per day
Four reasons mindful meditation might be for you:
- You may notice cravings before they get the best of you, so you are able to control them
- It strengthens the muscles of attention, gaining self control, therefore making it easier to let go of the substance
- It allows you to fully experience a craving and understand it without having to react
- It helps reduce stress while you learn to cope with it, allowing less focus on turning to the substance