Mindfulness and addiction recovery

When people in Texas think of mindfulness and meditation, they might think of a Buddhist monk in a robe.

Mindfulness for alcoholism treatment probably isn’t what comes to mind.

It is an ancient buddhist practice and extracted from eastern world philosophies. However, you don’t need to wear a robe and become a monk with a shaved head to practice mindfulness.

You can be an alcoholic or drug addict who adds mindfulness training to your treatment program.

Mindfulness came to western society in the 1940s and 1950s. Eventually, it made its way into mental health. It began entering American therapy in the 1970s when Jon Kabat-Zinn created Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for stress reduction.

Since then, studies have consistently shown that mindfulness-based interventions can reduce anxiety, depression and PTSD. It can help cancer patients, people in prison and it is becoming a way to help treat substance use disorder.

Behavioral therapists and researchers saw that mindfulness can help people with substance abuse treatment and mental health. More than 20 studies have shown that practicing mindfulness is associated with reduced substance use.

“For young adults with a history of substance abuse, mindfulness-based interventions were shown to be effective in preventing relapse or reducing the frequency of substance use.”

Mindfulness based addiction treatment combines cognitive-behavior therapy with traditional relapse prevention approaches and mindfulness practices.

What we have found at Renewal Lodge is that teaching and practicing mindfulness with the 12 Steps helps with relapse prevention.

What is Mindfulness?

The godfather of modern mindfulness Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Participants focus their awareness on the “non-judgmentally” present moment. Harnessing this non-judgmental attitude can change how we recognize and respond to psychological suffering. Mindfulness gives you the ability to change your attitude to this suffering.

The goal — just like any form of therapy — is to create better coping responses to inner and outer experiences.

Mindfulness Can Enhance 12 Step Work

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous continue to be a guide to recovery for the alcoholic and addict. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous was written in a time when there were no meetings or treatment centers. People would read the book and get sober.

Traditionally Burning Tree Programs has worked with chronic relapsers in our long-term rehabilitation program. We saw that many of the chronic relapsers we worked with had trouble staying accountable and honest with themselves. We created an environment to help foster this accountability and honesty.

However, we also saw that not every addict or alcoholic who came to Burning Tree Programs fit the requirements for long term treatment.

We opened Renewal Lodge to help alcoholics and addicts who may not qualify for long-term treatment but still need help. Renwal Lodge’s specialty combines mindfulness and the 12 steps into recovery.

Mindfulness and addiction treatment with the traditional 12 steps can go hand in hand.

Mindfulness helps our clients gain deeper insight into what is going on in their minds and in their daily lives. It helps one to get a better relationship with their minds, emotions and behaviors.

This insight can help our clients be more honest and thorough when doing their step work, which is what the program laid out in the Big Book asks them to do.

In the Big Book Steps 4 and 5 have us looking at emotional states and behaviors like resentments, selfishness, fear, and dishonesty. With mindfulness practice, clients can be more aware of what is going on in their minds and in their environment.

Mindfulness practice also comes with a level of responsibility and accountability. This ethical responsibility is the same as when Step 12 directs us to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Mindfulness Can Change the Brain

Mindfulness meditation can help participants strengthen parts of the brain that are related to self-regulation of thoughts and behavior. More specifically, research has shown that mindfulness affects the prefrontal cortex which governs decision-making.

Other studies show that mindfulness breathing can change the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that experiences the emotions.

Research has shown that certain mindfulness practices “may engage multi-network neural processing.”  (Riggs N.R. 2019)

Responding with Nonjudgement

After an alcoholic has written a searching and fearless moral inventory, they are on Step 5, where they are required to talk to someone else about their resentments, selfishness, fear, and dishonesty.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous talks about how difficult this honesty can be for someone addicted.

“Coming to his senses, he is revolted at certain episodes he vaguely remembers. These memories are a nightmare. He trembles to think someone might have observed him. As fast as he can, he pushes these memories far inside himself. He hopes they will never see the light of day. He is under constant fear and tension – that makes for more drinking.

Psychologists are inclined to agree with us. We have spent thousands of dollars for examinations. We know but few instances where we have given these doctors a fair break. We have seldom told them the whole truth nor have we followed their advice. Unwilling to be honest with these sympathetic men, we were honest with no one else. Small wonder many in the medical profession have a low opinion of alcoholics and their chance for recovery!”

Mindfulness trains participants to respond non-judgmentally to uncomfortable emotions. What this means is that clients have the ability to accept painful current experiences. Researchers say that this can reduce substance use behavior because unpleasant emotional experiences are looked at from a different perspective. (Linehan, 1993)

Mindfulness training can help alleviate an alcoholics common problem of opening up and being honest. When someone can respond to past harms or unwelcoming thoughts in a non- judgemental way, it means that they will experience less pain related to whatever they are thinking about. (Kabat-Zinn, 1982)

The Big Book states that the problem of addiction centers in our mind. An attitude adjustment, psychic change or spiritual awakening is what needs to change in the alcoholic or addict.

Mindfulness practice helps us to more effectively be aware of what is going on in our minds and in our environment, which leads to adaptive changes in one’s thinking mode or attitude (Teasdale, Segal, & Williams, 1995);

 


References

Riggs N.R., Greenberg M.T., Dvorakova K. (2019) A Role for Mindfulness and Mindfulness Training in Substance Use Prevention. In: Sloboda Z., Petras H., Robertson E., Hingson R. (eds) Prevention of Substance Use. Advances in Prevention Science. Springer, Cham https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-00627-3_21

Jennings, J. L., & Apsche, J. A. (2014). The evolution of a fundamentally mindfulness-based treatment methodology: From DBT and ACT to MDT and beyond. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 9(2), 1-3. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0100990

Jon Kabat-Zinn, General Hospital Psychiatry, Volume 4, Issue 1, 1982, Pages 33-47, ISSN 0163-8343, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0163834382900263

John D. Teasdale, Zindel Segal, J.Mark G. Williams, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 33, Issue 1, 1995, Pages 25-39, ISSN 0005-7967, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0005796794E00117

 

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