Mindfulness for Addicts
The term mindfulness is a term that may ring a bell or two. As to what exactly mindfulness is and what it entails is what I am going to reveal, along with the immense and staggering benefits that this practice holds. The term mindfulness can be used as a term to describe “the non-judgmental approach to observing and defining emotions that arise in the present moment.” Being mindful allows us to go beyond the chatter of the mind, and bring our attention into this moment that is happening right now. The present moment. Now this may sound a strange and confusing seeing as we are always in the present moment, your mind however, if you pay attention to it, is living in another universe completely. Thinking about what happened earlier that day, what you think is going to happen later, what is that person looking at me for? All these voices that are constantly chattering in your head and taking you away from the right here and right now. Don’t worry if this sounds a little strange to you, I will be providing you with some more clarity as we go.
Mindfulness as a Healing Tool
Being mindful allows us, in any situation, to bring our attention and focus back into the present moment. The states of addiction and craving are both states that are harmful, and are reinforced by a strong negative emotion. Eastern teachings have taught us that as human beings, we have a tendency to hold onto desires and objects that cause our own suffering. This attachment to feelings, objects, people, substances and behaviours, as well as the abstract concept of identity, is the root cause of all suffering. Mindfulness, through a heightened state of awareness, allows us to little by little let go of these cravings, compulsions and desires, promoting freedom and motivation to cease any harmful activities. Through increased awareness of desires and cravings, these emotions can be observed from a non-judgemental point-of-view, and ultimately not allowed to manifest into a negative state of emotional being. Cravings, desires and unpleasant negative emotions can now be objectively viewed from an outside perspective and better understood. This process further helps to provide a deeper perspective into a person’s emotional triggers, as well as to de-personalise the emotional attachment to a negative emotional trigger. Mindfulness does not encourage those whose practice it to attempt to avoid or substitute addictive behaviours, instead it drives a wedge between the feelings of craving and their resultant addictive behaviour patterns.
Being Mindful of Addiction
Essentially, addiction arises due the stimulation of certain stimuli that makes a person feel good. Over time, the behaviour of the re-creation of this feeling is reinforced, either by a positive or a negative emotion, to the point where it becomes a craving. A sensory and emotional “ally”. Resorting to the use of any substance during these times of emotional distress then become learned situational emotional cues that then act as ‘addiction triggers’. This is a highly successful escape route for the mind, as it is a basic human desire to move away from pain and toward pleasure. Mindfulness attempts to uncouple the links between craving and substance abuse through the promotion of self-regulation toward negative emotions, while remaining completely present in the present moment. The maintained attention on the immediate experience allows for the increased recognition of mental events in that present moment.
The First Use of Mindfulness to Treat Addiction
During the 1980’s, American Professor Alan Marlatt used a technique known as Vipassana meditation to help drug and alcohol abusers to overcome their addictions. All his participants were prison inmates. The 8-week study showed an improved metal outlook from the patients, as well as a significantly deceased number of substance abusers once they were released. Professor Marlatt did conclude however, that the continued practice of the meditation and mindfulness was indicative of their success. Since then, the practice of mindfulness in treatments therapies has been extended into a number of Western treatments, that include:
* Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
* Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)
* Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
* Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
* Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
* Functional Analytical Psychotherapy (FAP)
* Cognitive Behavioural Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP)
How Mindfulness Helps Treat Addiction
Mindfulness helps patients to better pay attention to their emotions that arise at the present moment. This increased attention helps addicts to better understand their emotional and addiction triggers, including their automated behavioural responses, A.K.A. their addictive tendencies. The end goal of practicing mindfulness, is to ultimately replace automatic responses with disenchantment to the addictive behaviour. Through mindfulness addicts learn how to better understand their internal workings. They learn how they feel, what they are thinking, and what their body is telling them during and after the addictive action has taken place. It empowers addicts to disengage from their negative triggers and automatic thought patterns, providing them with the awareness to respond and act differently.
The Goals of Mindfulness in Defeating Addiction:
* Increase awareness of triggers and cues of addiction
* Interrupting of habitual reactive behaviours
* Shift an addict’s thinking from their “automatic pilot addictive behaviour” to a more mindful observer of their own inner processes
* Increase the addict’s tolerance for discomfort, thereby decreasing the need for relief through the use of a substance
* Accepting the present moment for what it is, and not the construct that is made in the mind
Mindfulness in Treating Addiction
Mindfulness can be implemented into any recovery or treatment program, and more often than not involves a variety and forms of meditation techniques. These exercises typically focus on the breathing of the patient, focusing attention on some part of the nose, lips or nostrils, with the aim of clearing the mind of any unnecessary chatter. As the mind begins to wonder, and believe me it does, focus and attention are brought back to the simplicity of breathing, in and out. By clearing the mind the patient now has the opportunity to observe their emotions from an objective point-of-view the moment that they arise. Through this, they will learn to understand their emotions and the role that they play in addiction and behavioural triggers. Here patients will learn non-reactive responses to their cravings and emotional triggers, such as extreme discomfort, the intensity of the urges dissipating over time.
Immediate and Long-Term Benefits:
* Decreased heart rate
* Lower blood pressure
* Activates a soothing relaxation response
* Settle the fight or flight automated response
* Activate sensory awareness and control of attention
* Dampens reactivity to stress
* nIncreased positive emotions
* Increased insight and self-awareness
Mindfulness, I believe, is the single biggest contributor to an addict’s overall recovery and successful sobriety after any treatment and recovery program. The change in perception and insight into their behaviour and triggers will gently guide them away from their addictive tendencies through greater self-awareness and understanding. Mindfulness is a practice that should not only be practiced by those on the path to recovery. Everyone has something to gain from this practice. Whether it be overcoming an addiction, or simply a recipe for a happier and more connected life, practicing mindfulness will bring you peace of mind, and peace in your heart. It really is the secret ingredient to living a fuller and more fulfilled life.