Mindfulness and addiction recovery can be a powerful combination. Here’s how slowing down your thoughts can help you heal.
For many who struggle with addiction, cravings and withdrawal aren’t the only challenges on the road to recovery. The force of habit can be equally powerful. When an action becomes routine, whether it’s a daily coffee habit or an instinct to check social media in a free moment, the mind often switches to “autopilot” mode, prompting action before conscious thought kicks in. For addicts who find themselves following old habits before they even realize it, mindfulness can be an important part of lifelong recovery.
Dr. Andrew Mendonsa, an expert medical professional in the Sprout network who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, recently spoke about mindfulness and addiction recovery in this interview: What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Researchers have now discovered that mindfulness can also play a key role in self recovery by giving users the tools to become more conscious of their thoughts, actions, and overall well-being in the moment. Here’s how it works:
My Mind Does What?
Would it surprise you to learn that you’re not always conscious of your decisions? Studies show that nearly half of our daily decisions are made on “autopilot,” or what scientists call default mode network (DMN).
This explains you may find yourself driving to work when you meant to visit a friend, or why you might have trouble describing the exact details of your morning routine. We’re hardwired for habit — and most of the time that benefits us.
However, sometimes the same mental shortcuts that save us from having to think intensely about everyday tasks can fast-track harmful behavior. If alcohol is your default reaction to stress, you may find yourself pouring a drink before you’re even conscious of the bottle in your hand. Likewise, if you routinely use Adderall to feel focused, you might reach for a pill before assessing your energy level without it.
The disappointment of relapsing by acting before thinking is one of the most frustrating aspects of addiction, but you’re hardly alone if you’ve found yourself using drugs before you even understand what prompted you to act. It’s not your willpower. It’s your brain on default mode network.
How Mindfulness Fuels Self Recovery
Mindfulness promotes recovery from addiction by helping you to become more conscious of your immediate thoughts, feelings and surroundings. When practicing mindfulness, you turn your attention inward, focusing on the moment so you become more conscious of your actions. Much like cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness slows down negative thought patterns and interrupts the urge to escape reality. When combined with behavioral therapy and other modes of treatment, mindfulness can be a powerful tool.
If you struggle with addiction, here are five ways mindfulness can fuel your own addiction recovery:
1. Mindfulness Helps You Recognize Addictive Behavior
It might be easy to spot signs of addiction in a friend or loved one, but recognizing addiction in yourself is far more difficult. We often have little reason to question whether we’re in control of our actions, until we face negative consequences. By tuning into your physical and mental state at a given moment, you can more easily recognize the signs of physical or emotional dependence before it becomes too late. This intentional reflection allows you to interrupt destructive habits and seek help to find healthier coping mechanisms.
2. Mindfulness Allows You to Make Peace with the Present
Although we may not realize it, many of us actively avoid the present. We make plans for next weekend, scroll through yesterday’s social media posts, or think about what we’ll achieve in the distant future. Rarely are we content to sit with the moment. This can be detrimental to those who suffer from addiction. When the present feels unsatisfying or discouraging, drugs and alcohol act as an escape. Mindfulness fuels self recovery by focusing on the body’s current state without judgment. This is achieved through breathing exercises, yoga, and other meditation techniques. Practicing mindfulness in this way can keep you from ruminating on past habits or behaviors, allowing for solace and acceptance of the present.
3. Mindfulness Slows Down Your Thoughts
One of the main ways that mindfulness can aid someone therapeutically is by slowing the mind’s activity. Mindfulness teaches the importance of living intentionally and filtering thoughts without judgment. Thoughts have a tendency to run rampant when left unchecked, and practicing mindfulness requires an inward reflection meant to sort through the clutter of day-to-day thoughts and emotions. People have the chance to feel less jumbled when they are granted the opportunity to slow things down. Quieting the mental chatter can provide a sense of tranquility that has also been known to improve decision making when under stress. These moments of bliss are one of the reasons why people abuse substances like drugs and alcohol in the first place. Little did they know that mindfulness could offer the same release without the dangers of addiction.
4. Mindfulness Heightens Your Senses
Mindfulness can provide the same sensory experience that some users seek in drugs and alcohol. The techniques of mindfulness promote intentional, inward reflection, willing away all other thoughts that do not pertain to the present. This reflection gives those who practice meditation the ability to experience each sensation with heightened intensity. This phenomenon can help you regain an appreciation for the world by grounding yourself through your senses, rather than drugs or alcohol.
5. Mindfulness Can Help Regulate Your Mood
Sometimes people use drugs and food to manipulate their mood. Some experience a surge in happiness; some abuse it to keep from spiraling downward. When accompanied with professional treatment, mindfulness can help with mood regulation. Not only can individuals find tranquility by addressing emotions and feelings without judgment, but they also become physically healthier by lowering the stress hormone, cortisol. This leads to a decrease in anxiety and an increase in peaceful sleep.
Mindfulness and Addiction Recovery
Although mindfulness can be one effective tool among many to fight addiction, it’s important to note that it does not replace medical treatment — and will not impact every person in the same way. Anyone who struggles with addiction should seek professional medical assistance to learn the safest, most effective way to detox, manage emotional dependence, and build healthy habits that lead to lifelong recovery.
At Sprout, we incorporate many approaches to drug addiction treatment, focusing on individualized care for every client. To learn whether mindfulness can be an effective component of your overall treatment, call us at the number below to take the first step toward recovery.