The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation During Addiction Treatment

November 24, 2022

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a severe condition that negatively affects individuals as well as their loved ones. Each client responds to treatment differently, and often a unique combination of treatment approaches is needed for lasting treatment success. 

One increasingly popular treatment modality that is being used to treat addiction and substance use is known as mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation in addiction treatment is a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) that has been shown to decrease cravings and reduce the risk of future relapse.

Mindfulness Meditation

There are many different kinds of meditation, each requiring varying types of focus. Mindfulness meditation consists primarily of focused attention and open monitoring. 

Focused attention is the act of concentrating on an object or sensation. This can include focusing on the feeling of our breath, sensations in the body, a visual image, or body movement. The object of attention can change throughout the meditation or remain the same as long as our mind stays focused. On the other hand, open monitoring is the ability to maintain awareness of ourselves without overly focusing on one individual thing. It is like having a zoomed-out view, seeing sensations, feelings, and thoughts come and go without getting fixated on them. 

When we consistently practice mindfulness, we improve at it. Being mindful is a skill, and while most of us do not spend our daily lives in meditation, the skills learned through meditation seep into our lives. We can learn to be more aware of our actions, thoughts, and emotions in day-to-day life. So, if you have tried meditation in the past and found it difficult, that’s ok. It takes time to learn the skills of focus and awareness. Understand that your ability to be mindful will only grow with practice. 

The Value of Mindfulness in Treatment

Many studies have been performed to better understand how mindfulness treatment affects depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Research has shown that MBIs are effective in preventing relapse, managing cravings, and helping clients improve their overall awareness of addictive behaviors. More studies are needed to understand what aspects of the brain MBI interacts with and what dosage or combination of treatments prove to be most effective. 

However, mindfulness meditation used amidst an addiction treatment program, particularly as a relapse prevention strategy, is effective. There are multiple considerations on how it affects treatment. Some of these considerations highlight that mindfulness restructures the reward system of the brain and decreases stress reactivity. Both of these functions have been shown to decrease the risk of relapse and contribute to successful treatment outcomes. 

Restructuring Rewards

Addiction is well known to affect the reward center of the brain, making us crave and desire substances. This center is important and can be used healthily, helping us have more motivation to move towards healthy behaviors. Therefore, an important aspect of treatment involves reversing these altered reward systems. Aspects of treatment, including detox and therapy, help us on both chemical and behavioral levels because they work to rebalance the brain’s reward center.

Mindfulness training has been shown to help this process of rebalance using a process called savoring. An example of savoring would be to slowly eat a meal, focusing on the sensations of the experience. Another example is to take a walk and focus on what you hear, see, and feel. Learning to savor mindfully has been shown to strengthen natural reward responsiveness. In other words, savoring can aid in our recovery as our brain learns to recognize and feel pleasure from daily joys. This type of mindfulness is known to decrease cravings directly.

Stress Reactivity and Treatment

There is an undeniable link that lies between stress and substance use. In fact, many people turn to substance use in an attempt to manage their stress. During treatment, a necessary skill is learning new ways to deal with stressful situations. Researchers have shown that mindfulness meditation can create changes in the brain that allow us to respond to stress differently. These physiological changes can help us to be successful in treatment and long-term recovery. 

Examples of Mindfulness Meditation in Addiction Treatment

In many treatment programs, mindfulness is already offered and utilized as a part of the recovery process. It can allow us to be more in tune with our behaviors, feeling, and thoughts. Sometimes, mindfulness meditation can be as simple as setting aside time to sit quietly. However, it can look different for each person. In fact, mindfulness meditation can look like any of the following:

  • Taking a slow walk
  • Focusing on your breath 
  • Listening to the birds while drinking coffee in the morning 
  • Eating or drinking slowly, savoring the experience

Treatment can be scary as it requires recognizing your addiction and finding new ways to connect with yourself and your life. Becoming aware of your actions, feelings, and thoughts is one way that can help you to be successful in treatment and recovery. You can increase your awareness of these things through mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation can help you decrease cravings, improve your understanding of your behavior, and decrease your risk of relapse. Here at Buena Vista, we believe in finding the individual treatment plan that fits you. Your recovery is important to us, and our professional staff is here to help. There are many pitfalls that you may endure during your recovery, and we will help you to best avoid them. If you or a loved one is struggling and needs help, reach out today at (480) 741-9414 to find out how we can help.