For many people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, mindfulness is an essential tool that helps them become aware of what triggers their cravings and how to respond to those triggers. The continual cycle of addictive behaviors is broken as the person learns to accept and deal with their feelings rather than giving in to their cravings.
What Is Mindfulness?
A psychological process, mindfulness is explained in an article in Psychology Today as actively paying close attention to the experience that is occurring at the present moment. The present moment must be accepted with compassion and without criticism or judgment. Thoughts of past and future are put aside so that you can focus on what you are experiencing now.
There are three basic aspects of mindfulness:
- It is intentional. The person must always make a conscious effort to be aware of what they are experiencing from moment to moment.
- It requires acceptance of all thoughts and feelings.
- It is nonjudgmental. The person must not criticize themselves in any way for what they are thinking of feeling.
By focusing only on the present, the person increases their awareness and self-perception. This helps them to learn how to form strategies for better self-management and coping skills. It also helps them to reduce stress about the future and regrets associated with the past.
A Brief History
The concept of mindfulness was introduced by Buddha as a path to spiritual enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago. It was a way of finding a deeper, truer understanding of the world and of oneself as the mind opened to greater awareness. Essentially it is the art of being present in our own life or living in the moment. However, it wasn’t introduced into western medicine until 1979 when a program for the chronically ill called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was started by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Mindfulness & Its Importance in Recovery
It is almost impossible for a person suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol to think about anything but how to satisfy their craving. When they are actively drinking or using, they reach for their next drink or fix without thinking. Although they are aware of their actions, they are not being mindful of what they are doing. When mindfulness is included in the recovery process, the person learns how to focus on their experience and feelings as they occur at the moment. They learn to understand why they have cravings and how to accept and deal with them. They learn how to avoid a possible relapse by recognizing the triggers that cause their cravings. By practicing mindfulness, they learn to accept, understand, and deal with their feelings and experiences. Instead of giving in to their cravings, they are able to break the cycle of addiction.
The following are additional ways that mindfulness helps those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction:
- Mindfulness teaches those recovering from a substance use disorder a different way of dealing with stress. They are able to focus on the moment rather than worry about the future or the past.
- When a person practices mindfulness, they become more in tune with their body, and their self-awareness is improved.
- Feelings of depression and anxiety are reduced by practicing mindfulness, which helps to break the cycle of negativity.
- Practicing mindfulness helps improve decision-making skills because the person is able to think more clearly as they are aware of their feelings and thoughts. Their decisions are more likely to have a positive effect on their overall health and well-being.
- Mindfulness helps a person acknowledge, accept, and cope with emotions and feelings that may not be rooted in reality.
In addition, practicing mindfulness reduces insomnia, sharpens a person’s memory, improves physical and mental health, and increases an individual’s overall sense of well-being.
Mindfulness, Recovery, & the Human Brain
The only organ in the human body that is specifically designed to be shaped by practice and experience is the human brain. A person with an active addiction is unknowingly shaping their brain in a negative way that works against themselves and being mindful. Studies have shown that by practicing mindfulness or mindfulness activities, such as meditation or yoga, the brain can be intentionally reshaped in positive ways, bringing more awareness, greater control, and happiness to the person.
There Is Help Available
If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, there is help available. Call and speak to a qualified professional at English Mountain Recovery Center located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. There you will find a supportive, caring staff and the resources you need to begin your journey to a healthy, sober life.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.