Mindfulness and Addiction
Mindfulness has a long and storied history in Eastern spiritual traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism, but has become popular in Western traditions only relatively recently. Current research has shown that mindfulness treatments can be effective treatment for a variety of clinical conditions like depression and chronic pain. It now shows great promise as an effective treatment for drug and alcohol addiction as well.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is essentially the state of being present in the moment. It means being aware of your surroundings and how you are feeling in the present moment. It means owning each moment, regardless of whether you perceive it as good or bad. A basic step to achieve mindfulness is being grounded in the present moment. It means staying in the now, and not thinking about the past or future.
Because you are noticing all the things around you, your life is fuller and richer. It can also help you to be calmer by way of temporarily putting aside your regrets about the past and the worries about the future. Since much of what upsets you is from different time periods, this can be liberating.
What Behavior Is Necessary?
Mindfulness is achieved primarily through the practice of some type of meditation. In fact, one could argue that the goal of meditation is mindfulness. There are many different types of meditation, but the common goal is to become mindful and fully present.
There are many resources available now like these free guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, that may help to get you started.
Mindfulness allows you to be more effective in the here and now.
- Observe what is going on around you with all of your senses.
- Notice these things as a bystander.
- Participate fully without triggering any worries.
- Do one thing at a time.
- Be non-reactive by noticing where your mind goes and being able to pull your mind back.
- Do not judge your experiences as positive or negative.
- Describe your experience.
You will experience the possibility of joining together your emotional and rational mind to achieve wisdom – at least in the present moment.
How Does Mindfulness Work to Help with Relapse Prevention?
The technique of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) was originally created at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. Modeled after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, MBRP appears to target and effectively reduce your main predictors of relapse, which are cravings and negative emotions. In fact, treatment centers, veterans affairs facilities, and prisons have already implemented this program, and so far the results look promising.
According to a 2014 study Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention has been compared to various 12-step programs and actually showed lower relapse rates of substance abuse, including alcohol. Those who did relapse reported markedly fewer days of substance use.
What Will A MBRP Program Be Like For You?
One version of MBRP involves a group of eight to 15 people meeting for two hours a week for eight weeks. All of you have gone through some initial treatment and are newly sober. Now that you have been through detox and stabilized, you are ready to participate in this program.
There is a meditation practice in each session along with a practice with different behavioral and cognitive skills. You will become familiar with them by writing them down to help you practice very applied skills for daily living.
Other treatment centers may use a different schedule or group dynamic, but the underlying principals are similar.
How Does Mindfulness Tackle Addiction?
It focuses on shifting your current relationship to any discomfort that can act as a trigger to relapse. The practice teaches you to notice those feelings when they arise, and react to them differently. By decreasing your cravings, it reduces your likelihood of reaching for something to make you feel better.
By helping you see what is happening in your mind, you find that you have a choice and that choice leads to developing a feeling of freedom. Essentially, you are learning to become an expert on yourself so you can see the process unfolding that takes you to places you do not want to go. When you see it, you can intervene and practice tolerating the uncomfortable feeling without using.
How Will This Help You In Ways That Other Programs Did Not?
This program has earned a tremendous amount of trust and respect from those who have used it, because it is different. As a group, you are looking at what it means to be human versus just how you are going to avoid using again. It focuses on the fact that we are all struggling, whether we are an addict or not. The mindset is there is much more right with you than wrong with you.
By thinking about what it means to be human and recognizing we are all in this together, it also lessens the stigma of addiction. You are encouraged to be kind to yourself, which leads to forgiving yourself. This helps you get rid of any shame, guilt, or resentment you may feel. You are acknowledging that you are really doing your best, and you need to be kind to yourself to get through it all.
If what you have done over and over again hasn’t worked for the long term, or if you are just looking for a different approach to maintain your sobriety, then some type of Mindfulness training and possibly a program like MBRP may be right for you.