If you’ve been in any type of addiction treatment program or support group, you’ve likely heard about mindfulness more than a dozen of times. The word is often tossed around in our culture today, but its origins date back hundreds of years to Buddhist meditation. In Buddhism, mindfulness (the English translation of the Pali word Sati) is considered to be the first step towards enlightenment.
Focusing on what is occurring at the present moment without judgment is the central concept of mindfulness. But it is not as simple as it sounds. It is common for our minds to wander off into the future or the past, so it takes practice to bring the mind gently back to the present.
An Introduction to Mindful Meditation
Mindfulness-based meditation advocates that the individual sit quietly and focus on their natural breathing or “mantra” (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration) that is repeated silently. Thoughts are allowed to come and go without judgment and always return to the breath or mantra. When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, you gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
Experts in this area who work with addiction encourage addicts to use mindful meditation to cope with cravings for addictive substances and allow cravings to pass. They encourage the individual to notice how their body feels as the craving begins. They guide the person to replace the wish for the craving with the knowledge that it will subside.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Being fully in the moment has great advantages to the way we live our daily lives, but it is especially helpful for recovering addicts.
There are several reasons why incorporating mindfulness in recovery is a good idea, but perhaps the greatest benefit of all comes from its ability to help drinkers start to cut back on alcohol consumption. According to a new study , drinkers who are taught basic relaxation techniques consume less alcohol over the week than people who aren’t educated with the same tools.
After only an 11-minute training session, the mindfulness group drank 9.3 fewer units of alcohol (roughly equivalent to three pints of beer) in the following week compared to the week preceding the study.
Researchers state, “Practicing mindfulness can make a person more aware of their tendency to respond…to urges. By being more aware of their cravings, we think the study participants were able to bring intention back into the equation, instead of automatically reaching for the drink when they feel a craving.”
A Possible Alternative to Opioids
In a separate study, mindfulness was also used as way to combat opioid addiction, which yielded good results. An intervention program for chronic pain patients integrated the latest research on addiction, cognitive neuroscience, positive psychology and mindfulness to include a process known as Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE). Individuals received eight weeks of instruction in mindfulness-oriented techniques in order to alleviate pain and cravings for medication.
The results were groundbreaking. The individuals responded to healthy, natural (non-drug) pleasure and exhibited less cravings for opioids.
According to researchers involved with the MORE research, “A new option (to opioids) is needed because existing treatments may not adequately alleviate pain while avoiding the problems that stem from chronic opioid use.” Mindfulness provides an option to treating pain and offers a possible solution and an alternative to the drug.