Addiction is a complex disease with deep-rooted causes. People often turn to drug use to cope with underlying mental health issues like stress, depression, or anxiety.
While in the short term, drugs or alcohol can offer relaxation or an escape from these issues; it only exacerbates the problems in the long term. You may find yourself in a destructive cycle when you continually use drugs to try and make yourself feel better, but over time feel worse and worse.
This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is a powerful tool to help you cope with feelings of sadness and stress in healthy ways and improve your overall well-being, so you don’t need to turn back to drugs.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing only on the present and is a skill that requires great mental discipline. It involves letting go of or accepting past and future anxieties and being at peace with yourself.
Mindfulness is rooted in the Buddhist philosophy of spiritual enlightenment. By focusing on his being and existence in the present moment, the Buddha reached an altered and enlightened state of mind.
Modern scientists have recognized mindfulness’ potential as a treatment for several mental and physical disorders, including substance use disorders and addiction. In the 1970s, the master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, spread the idea of mindfulness as a treatment for pain and depression across the globe.
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
You can cultivate mindfulness through meditation practice and mindful exercises. These include becoming more aware of your surroundings and practicing deep breathing.
Being More Aware of Your Surroundings
One technique for becoming fully present in the moment is to focus on your surroundings in the here and now.
Try to focus on the sensory input you are experiencing. Pay attention to any sounds you are hearing or smells that come your way. Do a body scan and notice how each part of your body is feeling.
During this process, you may find that your mind wanders to other things. Maybe you start thinking about what you will do tomorrow, or what you told your friend yesterday. If this happens, do not feel frustrated; calmly guide your thoughts back to your present sensations.
Practicing Your Breathing
Deep breathing is one of the most important mindfulness tools. Breathing deeply can effectively lower your heart rate and make you feel more relaxed. Concentrating on your breathing also helps you remain focused on the present moment.
How Does Mindfulness Support Addiction Recovery?
Current scientific models suggest that the skills and self-awareness you develop through mindfulness practice can help with many psychological and behavioral processes involved in addiction and relapse. Many drug addiction treatment programs now offer mindfulness alongside other treatment approaches like support groups and behavioral therapies.
Research suggests that addictive behavior occurs when stress, emotions, and cues in your environment trigger a series of processes in your brain that compel you to seek and use drugs. Mindfulness practices may be able to interrupt these processes at several different points, breaking the connection between these triggers and drug use. These include:
- Helping you to cope with and accept negative thoughts and emotions, so you do not seek drugs as an escape.
- Making you less responsive to environmental cues and increasing your control over cravings.
- Helping restore normal reward pathway functions, so you seek rewards from other activities like exercise or socializing.
- Helping you avoid falling into negative thought patterns and projecting stresses and anxieties into the future, which can exacerbate stress.
- Helping you accept and let go of past actions and reduce feelings of shame.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool in the early stages of recovery and throughout the recovery process. Stresses, negative emotions, and triggers are often the reason someone turns back to drug use and mindfulness helps you redirect these processes to prevent relapse in the long term.