Mindfulness in Recovery

By
Kim Vytell
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
September 7, 2023

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 In Recovery
  5. What Are The Positive Effects of Meditation On the Mind And Body?
  6. Living in the Moment
  7. How To Access Meditation For Addiction

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD

There are multiple approaches to mindfulness, especially in the field of addiction recovery, but what it means 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 grants a person permission to fully experience their feelings 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.

Mindfulness is helpful for anyone, but can be particularly valuable for those recovering from addiction. Utilizing mindfulness for addiction recovery can keep a person in touch with themselves and act as a safeguard against relapsing. According to the National Institutes of Health, numerous clinical trials found that mindfulness exercises significantly decreased addicts’ craving levels. Mindfulness practice can help you get off “autopilot” and begin driving your own life once again.

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Mindfulness and Meditation: What’s The Difference?

Mindfulness and meditation 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 formal technique used 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.

Does Meditation Help With Addiction?

“Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us.” Bill Wilson (co-founder of AA)

Mindful recovery goes as far back as 500 BC and was practiced by Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists in India. Although their reasons for meditation may have been different, the outcomes and processes were similar to our modern-day use of meditation for recovery.

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

  • 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, meditation and mindfulness activities 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 emerge on the positive effects of meditation for addiction recovery [2].

How To Practice Mindfulness In Recovery

Start your journey to mindfulness-based sobriety with the following techniques:

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. Take a long, deep breath through your nose and exhale slowly from your mouth. Focus on the inhale and exhale. Breathing meditation allows you to ground yourself, lower stress levels and not give in to impulsive thoughts, such as violent activity or substances.

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2. Accept Your Thoughts as They Are

With a history of addiction, you may 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. 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.

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What Are The Positive Effects of Meditation On the Mind And Body?

There are numerous benefits of meditation for addiction recovery, including, but not limited to, the following: 

  1. Stress relief: Overcoming an addiction can be stressful and challenging as you work to make major lifestyle changes. Calm your mind and stay on target with meditation.
  2. Lower rates of depression: Keep up a consistent, positive mindset and avoid feelings of despondency in your recovery journey with guided imagery or deep breathing meditation.
  3. Increased energy levels: Many individuals experience recovery fatigue as they work their way through treatment. Meditation can help you sleep better at night and give you an energy boost during the day.
  4. Improved cognitive performance: Train your brain to be fully present in the moment and reduce mental distractions with mindfulness meditation.

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 individuals seeking treatment, relapses may occur even after long periods of abstinence. This is why awareness is so vital, and practicing mindfulness techniques 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

Mindfulness meditation gives you the tranquility you need for every step of your recovery journey. You can join a group that practices mindfulness as a therapy, or learn meditation techniques from books and online resources. 

Mindfulness could be the key to long lasting sobriety, and much like the importance of nutrition in recovery, mindfulness is something that can be practiced at any moment throughout the day.

Learn more at Avenues Recovery about mindfulness in recovery and other helpful strategies to overcome addiction.  Empathy, trust, and dedication define the Avenues approach to treatment and healing. Give yourself the gift of long-term recovery and contact our rehabilitation centers today.

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Related Rehab Reading

Related Rehab Reading

[1] attheu.utah.edu

[2] msw.usc.edu

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