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Using Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment Therapy

It is a natural human inclination to seek pleasure and to evade uneasiness and distress, but research indicates we are not always aware of this innate inclination. For example, we might pick up our tablets or cell phones to decrease feelings of boredom. Or we might use food to cope with stressful situations, without even realizing we are using such means as coping mechanisms.

Researchers have shown that substance use is another instance of the need we feel as humans to gravitate towards enjoyment and evade pain.

While conventional treatment for substance abuse centers on deterring or restraining contact with triggers that cause emotional distress or inflict cravings, about half of those struggling with addiction end up using again within a year of leaving treatment. Though traditional methods can be effective, recent studies show that holistic rehab therapies like mindfulness can also be useful in deterring substance abuse relapse.

Mindfulness Objectives

With the aim of establishing enhanced self-awareness, the technique of mindfulness involves fostering a nonjudgmental consciousness of one’s thoughts, feelings and environment. Holistic rehab centers have cultivated relapse prevention programs with the objective of teaching individuals how to use mindfulness techniques in conjunction with traditional relapse prevention methods.

Their approach incorporates mindfulness skills such as sitting meditation, along with prevention tactics such as being aware of triggering events. But instead of avoiding the discomfort bound to emerge during triggering situations, this approach seeks to help individuals identify and learn to endure negative feelings and cravings.

But how exactly do mindfulness programs compare when measured against conventional substance abuse programs? And are mindfulness programs truly effective for everyone?

Thanks to the dedicated professionals pursuing years of studies on mindfulness as a holistic rehab therapy for addiction treatment, we are beginning to uncover details on the ins and outs of this approach to managing substance abuse.

How Does Mindfulness Help with Addiction?


Mindfulness meditation addiction treatment transforms the ways people regard their feelings in order to help them disengage with negative thoughts. For example, if someone struggling with alcohol use were invited to an occasion where there was going to be an abundance of alcohol, the individual might automatically follow a negative thought pattern. He or she may assume that attending the event would trigger a drinking binge, which would go on for several days.

These types of thought patterns typically emerge as a detailed storyline orchestrated to predict the future before it actually occurs. Oftentimes, individuals don’t realize the powerful extent of their mind’s stories.

Mindfulness techniques teach people to recognize these thought patterns for what they are: a manifestation of their minds. When pausing for a moment to become fully aware of one’s situation and thoughts, many people come to realize they do not have to believe their mind’s forecast of the future. This realization allows them to see they still have control over their actions.

Rather than enabling the triggering situation to stimulate an automatic narrative, mindfulness reminds people they have the choice not to engage in certain behaviors. It also empowers individuals with the freedom to combat the threat of relapse.

When someone has mastered the art of mindfulness, they can take note of the triggering situations that cause unpleasant feelings, remind themselves of their liberty to choose how they act, and simply maintain awareness of the unpleasant feelings and thoughts until they subside.

This is the essence of mindfulness: People learn to relate to their feelings in an entirely new way. With the use of mindfulness tools, individuals can disconnect from the automatic thinking patterns and addictive behaviors associated with such thoughts.

Mindfulness’s Effectiveness

A recently published study in JAMA Psychiatry sought to determine how effective mindfulness-based relapse prevention programs are when compared to conventional approaches of deterring relapse, including traditional 12-step programs. After a year of research, results indicated the mindfulness was more effective than the other two in decreasing the use of alcohol and drugs.

Professionals explain that when people pursue mindfulness, they are grasping a tool to increase their awareness of the natural human tendency to gravitate toward pleasure and avoid pain. This holistic approach also assists people in relating to uncomfortable feelings in a novel way.

As an example, if someone faces a triggering situation but has the ability to pause, notice the anxiety and recognize it with acceptance, he or she will be less likely to feel compelled to abuse substances in hopes of making the discomfort go away.

Mindfulness Is Not for Everyone

Professionals highlight the fact mindfulness is not guaranteed to work for everyone, but the question remains: How can you tell if mindfulness will be effective for a specific person?

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine recently published a report indicating that the success of specific therapies has a lot to do with the nature of the individual. For example, their research showed that mindfulness tends to come easier to those who have already adopted a nonjudgmental approach toward their thoughts and behaviors before beginning a mindfulness program.

A Long-Term Solution for Addiction

Addiction experts still need to do more research to fully understand why mindfulness may be more helpful than other approaches in preventing substance abuse relapses. However, many believe the power of this holistic treatment lies within its ability to transcend throughout the lifetime of a person as a technique that can apply to, and benefit, many areas of life.

In comparison, typical relapse prevention programs provide tools to combat specific issues with substance abuse, such as how to handle cravings and how to avoid triggering situations. In reality, life changes occur at a rapid pace. Therefore, a person in recovery may face a dramatically different assortment of difficulties a year after finishing a treatment program.

In many cases, conventional treatment programs do not provide the tools necessary to combat struggles emerging in the future, which can easily lead to a relapse if they are not handled correctly. Since mindfulness is a strategy with the potential to be applied in many areas of an individual’s life, using this holistic approach can be a healthy coping method employed throughout a person’s lifetime.

While some may be eager to conclude that the success of mindfulness implies it has become the best form of addiction treatment available, researchers confirm they still have much more to learn about the process. With the potential to impact the way we approach addiction treatment forever, there is no doubt the success thus far is only the beginning of using the innovative method of mindfulness as a powerful method in addiction treatment.

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