It’s a well-known fact that substance abuse takes control over the brain’s pleasure centers. It causes a shortcut to the brain’s reward system as a huge amount of dopamine is released.
The brain needs to close off its dopamine receptors as it gets unnatural and dangerous amount of dopamine from outside.
Unfortunately, over some time, it gets much more difficult to feel pleasure as the brain itself stops producing enough dopamine.
It works this way because hippocampus creates memories of the immediate sense of pleasure, and the amygdala forms a conditioned response to such stimuli as drugs.
Certain triggers, like stressors or something associated with substances, can cause a relapse in the brain.
After repeating over and over again these relapses are followed by taking bigger amounts of substance as it’s the only way to feel satisfied.
That’s how addiction develops.
The problem is this: How to get back the control over the brain?
It’s a long and complicated process which consists of many stages and includes various tools. One of them is a mindfulness meditation.
What Addiction Actually Means
It’s not surprising that the word ‘addiction’ has it roots in a Latin term that means ‘enslaved by’. It makes sense if you have an understanding of how the brain is influenced by substance dependency. It really becomes a slave to the substances you take. Being a slave means to have strong cravings that go hand in hand with distressing feelings experienced when the substance is not available.
Mindfulness is a way to restore sobriety
Mindfulness is not just a trendy technique used for self-growth, but an integral part of modern holistic addiction rehabilitation (read about it here) as well. Nowadays, more and more people start practicing mindfulness meditation that proves its effectiveness for everyone, including individuals suffering from addiction. In 2011 Harvard researchers carried out a study on mindfulness called Eight Weeks to a Better Brain. This study provided scientists with incredible results. It turned out that practicing meditation can significantly alter the brain as it’s plasticity increases leading to notable changes.
How mindfulness meditation rewires the brain
- The increase of the brain’s neuroplasticity. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, scientists proved that it is possible to change the brain’s structure. They carried out studies with a Buddhist monk using fMRI. This study conducted by a famous neuroscientist Richards Davidson was called Buddha’s Brain project. It was found out that consistent practice of mindfulness meditation can enormously increase neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by making new neural pathways. That’s exactly what people recovering from addiction need in order to get rid of substance abuse and gain new thinking and behavioral patterns. By creating new connections of neurons instead of damaged ones, the brain heals itself.
- Antidepressant effects. Addicts’ brains make them seek larger doses of drugs to get high, as their tolerance to the substance develops together with the progressing of addiction. Meditation triggers a natural dopamine release, which produces a similar effect to taking substances. So meditation can cause the same feelings as drugs but in a natural and healthy way. This fact was proven by the scientists of the John F. Kennedy Institute in 2002. They discovered that people who meditated on a regular basis had a dramatic increase in their dopamine levels. Moreover, it was stated that even when participants weren’t meditating their dopamine levels remained at a healthy level. So you have at least one healthy option to get high and feel happy without drugs.
- Improvement of cognitive processes. Mindfulness meditation enhances the cognitive processes, such as emotional control, executive regulation, and attention. These cognitive abilities can help those undergoing holistic drug rehabilitation find unresolved mental problems that caused their addiction and heal emotional wounds. Moreover, it helps to reduce impulsive behavior and lower the risk of being triggered to substance intake.
- Anxiety reduction. Undoubtedly, regular meditation relieves stress. Due to the recent studies carried out at Stanford University, mindfulness meditation can ease emotional tension as it has the calming power and helps to develop a substantial threshold to stress. The lower the level of anxiety is, the easier it is to overcome triggers of substance abuse. To get a lasting solution for everyday stresses, mindfulness meditation must be a part of everyday activities for those who are engaged in holistic rehabilitation programs.
- The increase of alpha brain waves. The higher the level of alpha brain waves is, the less distressing feelings are experienced by a person. Alpha waves calm down the brain and reduce one’s anger and frustration. Moreover, alpha brain waves promote a better understanding of feelings that raises addict’s self-awareness which in necessary to recover. Moreover, feeling more peaceful and positive helps to repair relationships with close people as they probably were damaged by addiction.
These are the main reasons why meditation is used in holistic addiction treatment.
It turns out that mindfulness meditation makes a positive influence on brain areas associated with the sense of self, empathy, and stress.
According to the recent researches, meditation enhances brain functioning and can even reduce pain in addiction recovery patients undergoing holistic programs. It also eases anxiety and contributes to positive thinking.
It’s fascinating what a great plasticity the brain has. Mindfulness allows us to retrain the brain for a new experience of sobriety and decrease the risk of relapse. Meditation is an essential part of substance abuse treatment as it supports a calm and positive mindset needed for recovery.
And most importantly, the benefits of meditation don’t end when a meditation session stops. They last for a long time as your brain was taught to function in a new productive way.