Josh Chandler | December 6, 2017

Why Mindfulness Works for Holistic Addiction Treatment

Treating addiction isn’t just about finding the right medication. Holistic addiction treatment options, like mindfulness, can provide tons of amazing benefits.

You know the pattern: you encounter a stressful situation and the next thing you know, you’re reaching for your substance of choice. That’s where mindfulness as a holistic addiction treatment can pick up the slack.

Compared to people in a 12-step program, those in the University of Washington’s eight-week mindfulness-based relapse-prevention program, MBRP, experienced a significantly lowered risk of relapse. Even those who did relapse reported fewer days of substance abuse and heavy drinking at follow-ups.

Here’s how mindfulness works – and why you should consider adding it to your holistic addiction treatment.

What is Mindfulness?

No, it’s not yoga. It’s not necessarily meditation either, but it can be both.

At its most basic, mindfulness is maintaining moment-to-moment awareness of our bodies, sensations, surroundings, and emotions. It also means a state of acceptance – accepting thoughts or feelings as they come, without trying to push them away or judge them.

So what this mindfulness stuff is really about is active, nonjudgmental attention to the present moment. It can be yoga and meditation because both practices ask that you pay attention to the present moment, but it doesn’t have to be.

How Do You Start?

You can use mindfulness in almost any everyday scenario, but it’s easiest to start with a reference point. Let’s break it down.

1. Basic Meditation

Don’t turn your nose up yet. Mindfulness meditation is originally derived from the Buddhist Vipassana meditation, but there’s nothing fancy here. Just breathing.

  1. Sit comfortably with a straight spine. You can lay down if it’s more comfortable, but you may also be tempted to take a nap.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Bring attention to your breath. Don’t go nuts here – just notice what it feels like to breathe in and out. You don’t have to make anything happen. Just notice.
  4. Don’t get frustrated if your mind wanders (it will wander, by the way, unless you’re secretly a Buddhist monk.) Just notice the thoughts, without judging them or pushing them away, and let them go.
  5. Come back to noticing your breath.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 for about five minutes.

Et voila: you’ve meditated.

2. Applying Mindfulness

Take a moment to notice what it felt like when you weren’t judging or pushing away your thoughts. Remember what it felt like.

Now, when you go about your day, come back to that idea – focus on your breath, and then notice what thoughts come through your head without judging them. Especially in a stressful situation.

You don’t need to always come back to your breath – the point is that it’s a focus tool to get you in the present.

Instead of running from stressful, unpleasant or otherwise unwelcome situations, you’re using mindfulness to pay active attention. In other words, you’re using mindfulness to face the unwanted situation head-on.

What are the Benefits?

It’s a whole lot more than just zen – mindfulness practice is good for your health. Specifically for your stress management skills, which are a key component in a successful holistic addiction treatment.

Here’s how.

1. It Lowers Stress.

Mindfulness doesn’t just help you feel less stressed in a difficult situation – it chemically makes you less stressed.

According to a study by Health Psychology, mindfulness practice has been linked to decreased resting levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Besides dealing with a particularly stressful situation in the moment, mindfulness chemically cuts down on your stress day-to-day.

This doesn’t just leave you feeling better – it leaves you better equipped to handle everyday situations with less anxiety.

2. It Helps Even When You Don’t Practice It

That’s because regular mindfulness practice as part of a relapse-prevention regimen literally rewires your brain.

A study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that the amygdala, the part of the brain which reacts to emotional stimuli, affects emotional processing both in and out of the meditative state.

Why? That’s because the amygdala is involved in both emotion and memory processing.

While practicing mindfulness, you’re training your brain to react to emotional stimuli in a certain way. If you do it often enough, your brain will then apply that training outside of a conscious mindfulness practice – rewiring the brain circuits.

3. It Lets You Control the Volume

It isn’t just about the amygdala.

You feel good when you practice mindfulness because you’re regulating your brain’s cortical alpha rhythms, which regulate what senses we pay attention to. By doing this, you’re teaching your brain to have better control over processing pain and emotions.

Why Mindfulness Works in Addiction Treatment

Let’s go back to our original scenario. There’s a stressful situation, and you find yourself reaching for your substance of choice without realizing how you reached that conclusion.

In other words, you’re operating on autopilot.

The thing is, we operate on autopilot all the time. This is for a number of reasons, but often it’s because we’re doing a basic task we do all the time – like brushing our teeth – or because we don’t want to deal with a situation – like going to a party where there will be alcohol or an uncomfortable conversation.

This is where mindfulness as a holistic addiction treatment is useful.

Stress is a known factor in raising your risk of addiction and relapse. Especially when you lack the tools to deal with stress in a healthy way.

Mindfulness as a holistic addiction treatment works because it provides tools to deal with stress so that you can successfully handle situations your standard relapse-prevention program didn’t prepare you for.

It also lets you apply it more widely so that situations won’t translate to stress so easily.

Holistic Addiction Treatment at Muse Treatment

We know the wreckage that addiction can cause – friends are hurt, bridges are burned, opportunities are lost. That’s why addiction recovery at Muse Treatment is designed to deal with each facet of addiction to best prepare you to build your better life after addiction.

Take a look at what people have said about our program, or check out our program options.

Still not convinced that you need substance abuse treatment? Read our blog post for signs that treatment could help you.

Addiction,Drug Addiction,Drug Rehab,Mental Health,Recovery,Rehab,Sober Living,Treatment,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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