Mindfulness in the Recovery Process

Kim Vytell
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
December 4, 2022

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. What Is Mindfulness?
  2. Mindfulness and Meditation: What’s The Difference?
  3. Does Meditation Help With Addiction?
  4. How To Practice Mindfulness
  5. Living in the Moment
  6. How To Access Meditation For Addiction

Mindfulness can mean a variety of things, especially in the field of addiction recovery, but what it can mean to you personally will be a very important part of your treatment. This article explores what mindfulness is, how to achieve it and why mindfulness in recovery is so helpful for those struggling with addiction. 

What Is Mindfulness?

Simply put, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present. This means having awareness of one’s emotions and thoughts in a judgment-free mental space. It’s bad enough when we experience negative emotions. Added layers of guilt and shame for feeling those emotions in the first place only pushes a person into a deeper mental mess. Mindfulness is meant to grant a person permission, so to speak, to fully experience whatever feelings they have without self criticism or shame. By observing one’s emotional state in a neutral environment, a person can begin gaining control over their internal world.

This process is helpful for anyone but can be particularly instrumental for those recovering from addiction. Utilizing mindfulness in recovery can keep a person in touch with themselves and act as a safeguard against relapsing. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration encourages meditation for addiction recovery, and describes this process as practicing mental anti-drug activities. They suggest that these mental exercises may help you get off from “autopilot” and begin driving your own life once again.

Mindfulness and Meditation: What’s The Difference?

These terms are often used interchangeably as they convey similar concepts, but it’s important to clarify the differences between them. 

Mindfulness is a quality or state of being that a person can cultivate in any activity they are engaged in, as long as they are paying attention and being present in what they are doing. It is a mindset that allows a person to feel peace of mind, without judgment or worry.

Meditation refers to a practice or a more formal technique in order to achieve a state of mindfulness. Meditation can include breathing exercises, listening to relaxing music or repeating mantras – all with the goal of calming your mind and focusing your attention on intentional thoughts.

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Does Meditation Help With Addiction?

Mindful recovery goes as far back as 500 BC, and was practiced by Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists in India. Although the reasons for practice may have been different the outcomes and processes were similar to what we utilize in modern day.

The Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery approach can serve as an essential tool in several ways, such as: 

  • Helping to develop awareness of the triggers that hide in your everyday activities. 
  • Assisting you in avoiding potentially unhealthy situations and even reshaping them in some ways.
  • Cultivating a new approach toward dealing with the little things that could ultimately create tension in your current path of recovery.

According to recent research, mindfulness and meditation for addiction recovery can actually alter the brain’s pathways to promote healthier thought patterns [1]. Experts are growing more optimistic about mindfulness as more studies are being done on the positive effects of how meditation helps with addiction recovery [2].

How To Practice Mindfulness

Here are some ways to help achieve mindfulness for addiction recovery.

1. Focus on Your Breathing

When you struggle with intense emotions, the first thing you can do to stop a downward spiral is to focus on your breathing. This allows you to ground yourself, lower stress levels and not give in to impulsive thoughts, such as violent activity or substances. 

2. Accept Your Thoughts as they Are

With a history of addiction, you can be used to pushing away uncomfortable thoughts and feeling a need to escape them by turning to substances. Learning to fully feel and accept negative emotions helps you gain a sense of control and subsequently resist the impulse to act on those feelings. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that thoughts are simply thoughts, and not true indications of reality. 

3. Use External Stimuli to Relax

Find small, easily accessible things that give you comfort and help your mind expand to think positively. Something as simple as tasting chocolate, smelling the zest of an orange, or hearing a soft relaxing tune can put you in the mind frame of the present so that you can use mindfulness to your full advantage.

Living in the Moment

Being aware of yourself and living in the moment can be a bit frightening at first, but this awareness is exactly what keeps you on the path of achieving recovery. For many of the people seeking treatment, relapses may occur even after long periods of abstinence. This is why awareness is so vital, and practicing mindfulness is beneficial even after completing treatment.

Recovery is possible for every addict or alcoholic, and personal tools such as mindfulness based sobriety can help empower you to independently overcome challenges. By facing your fears and experiencing life one step at a time, you can successfully navigate relationships, work, stress and whatever else you encounter in a productive and meaningful way.

How To Access Meditation For Addiction

There are many groups that practice mindfulness as a therapy through which you can gain access to the techniques involved. There are also many books and websites centered around mindfulness for addiction that can help you achieve this form of coping and recovery maintenance. 

Learn more at Avenues Recovery about mindfulness in recovery and other helpful strategies to overcome addiction.  

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[1] attheu.utah.edu

[2] msw.usc.edu

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