A new study has shown that mindfulness helps prevent addiction relapse. [READ: Meditation For Cravings]
Addiction is recognised as a disease that has a debilitating effect on the suffering, causing everything from depression and anxiety to social problems. Many people with addictions struggle to quit in the first place. The nightmare that often happens, however, is that even when someone is successful in quitting addictions they eventually experience a challenge in life that causes them to relapse. This happened to me, myself, when I quit smoking only to later relapse when my father died.
Under certain circumstances, the temptation to give in to cravings increases. These situations can be environmental (such as being in a place associated with the addiction, such as a bar for alcoholics), or it could be causes by trauma (the death of a loved one, which I myself experienced) or a mental health condition such as anxiety and depression.
Basic emotions and emotion schemas (psychic structures that shape our personalities) are a common cause of substance abuse and subsequent relapse.
It is estimated that an average of 40% to 60% of quitters relapse on their addiction. The problem for many is that negative emotions causes them to undo all the good they did in quitting their addictions, and relapse. A large part of decreasing the risk of relapse is controlling emotions. And this is where mindfulness meditation can help, along with other types of meditation techniques.
If these cause addiction relapse, mindfulness can help solve the problem. Mindfulness is the practice of mindfully aware of our emotions and sensations in a non-judgmental fashion (READ: Mindfulness For Beginners). When we practice mindfulness we become more aware of our emotions and thoughts. This conscious awareness helps us to process our thoughts and feelings from a more logical and rational standpoint, instead of being automatically directed by them. Instead of, “I feel sad so I want a drink” we are able to think “I am experiencing sadness, but it is just an emotion. I do not need to react to it.”
When an addict experiences a craving, it takes control of their awareness and directs their brain towards the substance. Mindfulness, on the other hand, gives the individual the ability to be calmly aware of what is happening in the mind, and thereby not react to it.
A study published in the Journal of Research in Applied and Basic Medical Sciences looked at the effects of mindfulness on 70 subjects (51 men and 19 women) between the ages of 31 and 45 to study the effect of mindfulness on cravings. The author stated that those who received the treatment showed significant reduction in cravings compared to the other group, who received routine care. The group that had practiced mindfulness had less cravings and greater self awareness. Cravings are considered the number one predictor of a relapse. By reducing cravings we reduce the risk of relapse.
What mindfulness gives addicts is self control. It increase the individual’s ability to observe and regulate the thoughts and emotions that lead to a relapse. In essence, mindfulness gives us control of ourselves. For addicts afraid of relapsing, this is huge.
When I quit every addiction a couple of years ago, I was only successful because of mindfulness and meditation. The self control these methods provide is a game-changer for addicts.