Mindfulness for Managing Addiction

MastHead Outline
March 5, 2018

Managing addiction can be difficult even if you are receiving the best treatment. Withdrawal symptoms rear their heads when you least expect them. Cravings can be triggered by emotions you barely notice. While mindfulness meditation is not a substitute for traditional treatment, alongside traditional methods, it can have a huge positive effect on your recovery.

​What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment and being aware of everything going on around you. It can help you notice emotions or latent thoughts you’ve been suppressing without judging those thoughts – or yourself for having them. By being aware of negative thoughts and emotions, you can begin to notice negative thought patterns. Studies show that mindful meditation can help reduce stress, decrease feelings of depression, increase focus, and increase cognitive flexibility. Everyone can benefit from mindfulness practice, but those dealing with addiction often find mindfulness techniques helpful.

​Mindfulness and Addiction

Stress is one of the most common causes of relapse for those struggling with opioid dependence. Learning how to handle the stress life throws at you is an important part of recovery, and mindfulness can play a part in helping you recognize stressors in your day-to-day life. Because mindfulness teaches you to be fully aware of your thoughts and emotional states, you will learn to notice stress without being consumed by it. Similarly, when you experience feelings of craving, mindfulness can help you cope. One of the most important things that mindfulness teaches is not to judge yourself. Everyone who is recovering from drug addiction experiences cravings, and it’s important to realize that this is normal. It isn’t shameful, and this experience doesn’t make you weak. Seeing yourself as shameful or weak can actually hurt your recovery. Mindfulness will help you to realize these feelings while knowing that they don’t define you and their presence does not mean you have to give in.

​How to Practice Mindfulness

Guided meditation can be useful for beginners because the instructor will keep track of time for you and draw you back to the present moment. There are many free guided meditations online, and some yoga studios have guided meditation classes if you want help. You can also practice mindfulness on your own. ​First find a quiet, solitary place and set aside about 10 to 15 minutes. Find a seated position that allows for good posture. Some people like to have their feet solidly on the floor, but do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. Once you have found a position, close your eyes. Focus on your breathing, and trace the breath through your body without trying to control it. You will notice thoughts running through your mind or emotions that appear throughout this practice. Acknowledge them, and then refocus on your breath, letting those thoughts go away on their own. When you feel comfortable enough, you can expand your awareness to the sounds around you, noticing them without needing to trace their sources or focus on them. As you grow more confident in your practice, you might allow yourself to be aware of your body and the physical sensations you experience during your meditation. It’s normal to get distracted at first. Mindfulness takes practice, and in the beginning it can be hard to sit still and focus on your breathing for long periods of time. If you continue to practice daily, though, you will find that it becomes easier. As you become more comfortable, you will be able to apply techniques you’ve learned during meditation when you experience stress in your day-to-day life. Continue to practice, and you will see a difference when confronting cravings and dealing with stress. Mindfulness meditation is particularly useful when used in combination with traditional treatment.