Why Does Mindfulness Matter When Treating Addiction?

Mindfulness is a powerful word denoting wellbeing and stress management. Mindfulness can aid in reducing stress and feelings of anxiety that can serve as reinforcements of chemical dependencies and addiction. ‘Very Well Mind’ notes mindfulness is “the practice of becoming more fully aware of the present moment—non-judgmentally and completely.” Researchers feel this practice can help people recover from trauma and Substance Use Disorders (SUD). Since many people struggling with SUDs (such as alcoholism and prescription Opioid dependence) also suffer from stress, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and anxiety, mindfulness in combination with medical treatment can merge holistic and modern methods of healing.

Mindfulness Research

Many addiction experts now support the incorporation of mindfulness into substance abuse recovery. USC researchers, in particular, have continually conducted research on the power of meditation and mindfulness. Previously, studies have revealed the effectiveness of mindfulness in the face of stress and trauma. An extant study by the university has open enrollment to people between 18 and 26 years-old with PTSD or a SUD. In addition to academic study, USC’s campus is home to many student groups who practice meditation.

USC researchers Jordan Davis, assistant professor at the university’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, and Nicholas Barr advocate the study of mindfulness while encouraging people with substance dependencies to continue clinical methods of treatment.

Davis recalls one instance of the benefits of mindfulness that took place during his treatment of a man with a history of child abuse who later abused Heroin. The man agreed to be in Davis’s study, but stated he didn’t believe in meditation or therapy in general. However, on “day 1, session 1, first six minutes—he broke down crying,” Davis said. “He had never sat with a feeling or emotion like that before.”

After meditating and practicing mindfulness, the man was able to see how his Heroin use was an escape mechanism from past memories and present feelings of guilt and depression. According to Davis, he was able to detect “negative thought processes” before regaining perspective and learning new coping strategies. Eventually, he began practicing meditation on a regular basis.

Practicing Mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness includes deep breathing techniques, meditation, and introspection that allow someone to focus on the here and now. Some benefits of mindfulness include better sleep and overall stress reduction. Practitioners have reported mental clarity and greater focus on themes such as self-compassion–which can encourage the patience necessary for recovery. With this concentrated focus, people are more aware of stressful triggers and drug or alcohol cravings. With medication, they can redirect their energy onto changing negative behaviors by making better decisions at critical moments. Mindfulness allows people with cravings, temptation, or stress to take a breath and consider different coping strategies.

Patients of mindfulness and meditation can also utilize meditation to battle chronic pain.

In inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment, patients can use meditation and other forms of holistic, mindful-based practices to promote recovery. Such alternative programs encourage wellbeing as patients who graduate recovery programs can continue to practice the wellness methods they’ve learned.