Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery
Why mindfulness treatment helps people who suffer from addiction
There are many different approaches to recovery from alcohol addiction or other addictions and many ways to do it well. The research will attest to several different modalities providing successful ways of practising sobriety. One treatment strategy is showing a lot of promise in the field of addiction treatment. Mindfulness-based addiction treatment can be a healthy way to go into living a life without alcohol. This means mindfulness seeks to allow us to focus our attention on the present moment. When your mind wanders to the future or past, or when powerful emotions such as cravings arise, mindfulness treatment refocuses our mind to the present moment.
What is Mindfulness?
A good definition of mindfulness is, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” It is the ability to practice merely paying attention to what is going on, both within your mind and body, and in the world around you. This is done from an objective, and nonjudgmental perspective, to eliminate the criticisms and faulty thinking that plague us all. Although we all have the capacity to have this perspective, it takes time and practice, as it’s just not something that we are taught typically. Mindfulness allows us to let go of these desires little by little increasing our awareness of these desires and compulsions.
Being mindful means being kind and compassionate to ourselves and understanding as well. We can see the connections we have to ourselves and others around us. In reality, we think a lot, and we see many things, but we just don’t pay attention enough to what is going on, and that is normal. We have full, busy lives. The kids have to get to school. Then Susan has choir after school, and John has tutoring. We go to work and have to stay late to finish that project. Dinner needs to get cooked. At some point, there’s sleep when there’s time. That is busy. It’s no wonder we don’t pay attention to ourselves in the present. There is always the next thing to do!
The history of mindfulness and addiction therapy
The idea of utilising mindfulness treatment in the fight against addiction was first proposed by American psychologist Professor Alan Marlatt in the early 1980s. Professor Marlatt used an ancient form of mindfulness known as Vipassana to help heavy alcohol and drug users, overcome their addiction.
Illustration by Detox Plus UK
Our brains naturally go to the next thing to focus on. They keep going and going because our minds need to do that. We need to train them to slow down and look around. Start taking time to see what that thought was that preceded us getting really mad at our daughter. What exactly makes us smile when we see dandelions? Do we really clench our teeth when we get furious? Essential facts and traits we all have, get missed because we are living in the next moment, not the one we are in. We need to train ourselves to stop and examine what we are thinking and feeling, and how does all of that relate to what is going on in the world around us.
The other core tenet of mindfulness is in the attitude that we have about ourselves and those around us. We are all very judgmental. This is not a bad thing. Humans survived as a species by being able to make snap judgments and label things good or bad, safe or dangerous. Learning those patterns is what helped us evolve to where we are today. Our brains kept that part of survival, and this is how it plays out today.
The issue that it is unhelpful often in how it plays out in modern society. The judgments we have now tend not to be focused on our survival, but what should or should not be. Or things like what we don’t like, or what reminds us of something from our pasts, whether they are related or not. Not all judgments are terrible things. Some may be simply, “red looks nice on her.” Others may not be so benevolent, like, “why am I so stupid?” Or, “ he’s just a jerk. I don’t have to listen to him.” These judgments often happen so fast that we don’t even pay attention to them. They come and go, and only leave a feeling in their wake. This is another reason why paying attention to mindfulness will help people in recovery in the long-term.
How can mindfulness help with addiction?
The practise of mindfulness is about learning to look at things objectively and from a nonjudgmental perspective. This is possible to do; it just takes time and practice like most things. Riding a bike took a couple of tries, so learning to look at things different will take time as well. Being objective means that we see the judgments we have, we acknowledge them so that they don’t hold power over us, and we act the way we want to, not the way they are telling us. Nonjudgmental means, looking at the negative criticism and letting it go, acknowledging it, and then moving on as if it were just a useless bit of information. It eventually becomes as easy as noticing that, “Oh I’m telling myself I’m stupid again,” and then moving on from that, not fighting it, but also not giving it any more attention.
Drug addiction and cravings are clearly behaviours that harm your physical and mental health and tied in with compulsion where you feel as though you cannot stop. Buddhism teachings state that humans hold onto desires and objects that ultimately cause suffering. This includes an attachment to objects, people, substances, behaviours and abstract concepts such as identity. Mindfulness allows us to let go of these desires little by increasing our awareness of these desires, cravings and compulsion.
One other key piece of mindfulness that has been woven in here is kindness and compassion, both for our fellow humans, but also for ourselves. Objectivity and attention are based on being compassionate. We pay attention and notice what we are thinking and feeling, the good and the bad, and then we are kind to ourselves and allow ourselves to let go of what is not helpful. We let go of what is actively hurting our lives. We no longer give credit to those negative thoughts that have plagued us all our lives.
The goals of mindfulness treatment in defeating addiction
Recovery models are generally based around mindfulness practices without even really knowing it. Twelve-step programs incorporate a lot of mindful tenets. By focusing on the present, and learning to look at things without judgment and more objectively, you let go of a lot of the stress and strife that probably caused the drug or alcohol abuse to begin with.
This improved level of attention in your addiction recovery helps the patient to gain a better understanding of his or her addiction triggers and cravings, including automatic behaviours that give life to addictive tendencies. Changing your perception and focus has an impact on your brain, making this a more permanent, healthy recovery. Mindfulness-based treatment is an excellent way to begin a clean and sober lifestyle free from addiction.
Above all, mindfulness empowers addicts through self-awareness of automatic thought patterns. Mindfulness also helps people to react to discomfort differently. When an uncomfortable feeling like a craving or anxiety arises, mindfulness teaches these patients to recognise these discomforts, and observe them non-judgementally, instead of automatically engaging in addictive behaviours.
Mindfulness addiction treatment
While this sounds easy, it takes work, and that can be done at a drug detox facility. There you can get the stability, and then the skills you need to live mindfully. Tasks like just focusing on the body, the thoughts, and feelings you are having at various points in the day are typical starting points. Addiction therapists and other support staff are there to help patients through this, and to teach patients a mindful recovery. If you or someone you love are struggling with alcohol addiction, and think mindfulness-based addiction treatment could help you, please reach out for help immediately. You can live a clean, sober and healthy life again.
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