Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Mindfulness is becoming an increasingly popular technique for navigating mental distress, especially for those in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment. It is known to help individuals in recovery manage their substance use triggers and cravings while encouraging them to accept and let go of their past troubles and mistakes.

As a result of the researched benefits that mindfulness can have on recovery, many treatment facilities across the nation have implemented mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) as a part of their treatment programs. It is important to shed light on the value of these interventions and how they can be effective in helping individuals achieve and sustain long-term sobriety.

Mindfulness-based interventions focus on cultivating mindfulness-related skills in addiction recovery.

MBIs are a type of therapeutic modality that focuses on helping patients cultivate mindfulness-related skills which are necessary for an individual to build a strong recovery foundation. When a person is actively struggling with substance use — before or during treatment — their struggle likely comes from using substances as a maladaptive coping strategy. They may be experiencing underlying or co-occurring mental health disorders that perpetuate their substance use. Resorting to substance use as a coping strategy for any reason negatively affects all cognitive, emotional and behavioral processing.

Since there are many different avenues that the treatment process can take, individuals can use mindfulness-based interventions to help them reverse maladaptive strategies while gaining the valuable coping mechanism of mindfulness to take the place of harmful substance use.

There are numerous types of MBIs available, all of which have been uniquely developed to treat a wide range of disorders and symptoms. Some of these mental health conditions and distressing symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Physical pain
  • Personality disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Loneliness
  • Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Insomnia

Examples of MBIs in recovery from substance use disorder.

Many commonly-known therapeutic interventions can be characterized as MBIs. It can be helpful to know what interventions have a basis in mindfulness so that patients can advocate for such interventions to be a part of their treatment plan and recovery process.

Here are some examples of therapeutic modalities that use mindfulness-based practices:

#1. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented psychotherapeutic approach that emphasizes the value of acceptance in one’s recovery journey. Acceptance, which is a core element of mindfulness, is a strategy used to help patients navigate damaging and otherwise unhealthy thoughts, emotions, symptoms and circumstances. Without acceptance, an individual cannot move past these hurdles in the way of healing.

#2. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapeutic approach that breeds emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. Mindfulness skills such as acceptance, awareness and nonjudgment are the core components of DBT.

#3. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is considered a meditation therapy that may be used in combination with traditional therapeutic interventions. Patients who engage with MBSR receive formal training in mindfulness meditation techniques and may participate in simple stretches and postures as a coping mechanism for navigating stress.

Specific strategies used in mindfulness-based interventions

Many therapeutic strategies and techniques which promote mindfulness may be utilized during treatment, though they may not be identified as MBIs. For this reason, individuals need to understand what specific strategies qualify as mindfulness-based, regardless of whether the intervention itself is labeled as such. Mindfulness-based strategies include, but are not limited to:

  • Yoga and stretching
  • Meditation
  • Body scanning
  • Mindful breathing
  • Journaling
  • Dancing

MBIs are valuable for treatment and recovery.

The value of MBIs goes beyond the treatment of mental health disorders, including addiction. They can bring deeper awareness to maladaptive habits and processing that anyone may struggle with from time to time in their life. MBIs have a profound effect on the treatment of addiction because it facilitates more conscious awareness of — and can even alter — how an individual responds to substance use urges and cravings.

The main issue with chronic substance use stems from the fact that individuals with SUD view their thoughts and behavioral urges as one and the same. Mindfulness strategies used in MBIs encourage individuals to separate their thoughts from their behavioral urges. Once the intrusive thought of using is separated from engaging in the addictive behavior, patients can learn to simply observe, accept and release their thoughts rather than feeling compelled to follow through with them. For some, substance use is familiar and comfortable. To disrupt the conditioned behavior pattern of substance use, one must learn to pay attention to the present moment without reacting to it.

MBIs are proving to be vital aspects of the treatment and recovery process from SUD; however, it is important to remember that anyone can utilize mindfulness strategies. Incorporate some form of mindfulness into your daily routine today.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a premier drug and alcohol treatment center where we recognize the value of mindfulness-based interventions for achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety. We offer a number of therapeutic interventions for our patients during treatment, including mindfulness-based interventions, such as acceptance and commitment therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. We encourage all of our patients to use mindfulness strategies as a part of their continuing treatment plan as well. To learn more about the value of MBIs, or to get started with treatment, call us at (877) 557-5372.