The power of mindfulness to treat addiction has become increasingly evident as my sober time increases and I practice meditation in the ways outlined below.
Gaining this awareness required a glimpse into the mirror where I could see how badly I wanted to stop and how impossible that was at the time.
A Moment of Awareness
Years ago, I was struck by the sudden need to pause after leaving a business meeting abruptly. My hasty departure fueled by the beginnings of opiate withdrawal. I heard my inner voice pleading to stop and with another part of myself I heartily agreed, this is terrible and it can’t go on. In direct contrast to this, I watched my body enter my car and do everything necessary to satisfy a craving as it had done many times before.
The experience of addiction can be much like a state of mindlessness because the ability to reason with self is gone. The desire to stop can be very strong yet it rarely follows through into reality. It is almost like running on autopilot.
This happens in less harmful ways too, take for example the potato chip trance. While watching TV, one chip after another is consumed until surprisingly none are left. Despite valuing a healthy diet or desiring to limit portion sizes, a hand brings chips to the mouth and they are consumed without much awareness of taste or texture.
The How and Why of Mindfulness
One of the best ways to stop running on autopilot is through practicing mindfulness.2The more one meditates, the more mindful they will become in everyday life.1
An increasing amount of research has also made it clear that mindfulness:
-Reduces sensitivity to stress3
-Increases awareness of our actions2
-Gives thoughts more power to control behavior2
Check out our previous blog post, Why Be Mindful, for additional information.
Mindfulness Meditation Exercise
- Set a timer for 5 minutes (decrease or increase time as needed).
- Place your body in a comfortable position.
- Choose your point of focus, often referred to as an anchor. For some people this will be the breath, focusing on every inhale and exhale. If breath is not a suitable anchor, try staring at an interesting object, hold something in your hand for tactile stimulation, or repeat a few interesting words in your head.
- When you get lost in thought, purposefully redirect attention back to your anchor.
- Repeat step 4 until timer goes off.
Misconceptions of Meditation
Meditation is not and never will be characterized by the absence of thought. For those who think they are doing it wrong because they are thinking too much, congratulations you are actually doing it right. Gaining awareness of the unending and often useless thoughts going through the mind is an important and powerful first step.
The second step involves shifting attention from thoughts to the present moment.
The more often this is practiced, the more mindful you will become.1
We’re Here to Help
If you would like to learn more about the therapeutic uses of mindfulness as a treatment for addiction, contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our clinicians.
Eric Johansen, CSW
- Tang, Yi-Yuan et al. “The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation.” Nature reviews. Neuroscience vol. 16,4 (2015): 213-25. doi:10.1038/nrn3916
- Bullis, Jacqueline R et al. “The benefits of being mindful: trait mindfulness predicts less stress reactivity to suppression.” Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry vol. 45,1 (2014): 57-66. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2013.07.006
- Garland, Eric L, and Matthew O Howard. “Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research.” Addiction science & clinical practice vol. 13,1 14. 18 Apr. 2018, doi:10.1186/s13722-018-0115-3