Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands
Substance use and addiction wreak havoc on an individual’s sense of self. They are chronic and invasive conditions that can lead to overwhelming thoughts and emotions. Even when the consequences of substance use become evident, there may be hesitation toward treatment and recovery because an individual may not be ready to face the feelings of guilt and shame that often accompany substance abuse.
Luckily, practical coping tools can help anyone manage distressing feelings that substance abuse may have brought into their lives. One of these tools is mindfulness. Mindfulness is not only beneficial when supporting an individual while overcoming ambivalence surrounding treatment, but it becomes an essential tool for sustaining long-term recovery.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware of the present moment.
While a lack of consciousness characterizes mindlessness, mindfulness is the experience of being fully aware and conscious of the present moment. Mindfulness encourages us to intentionally engage with our minds, bodies, and surrounding environments. While mindfulness may seem like something to achieve, it is actually something that every human being already possesses. The main challenge is recognizing how to access mindfulness in your own life.
Several factors make mindfulness an essential tool for spiritual growth and healing and a tool to foster greater connection and meaning in one’s life. These mindfulness factors include:
- Letting go
- Body awareness
- Emotional regulation
Mindfulness stresses the importance of experiencing each and every moment for what it is and what it may bring to your life. It helps you to better experience the world around you by bringing awareness to your thoughts, senses and emotions objectively, without explicitly putting a positive or negative label on your life experiences. It teaches individuals how to flow with their life circumstances, suspend judgment of themselves and others and approach every moment with kindness and gratitude.
Practicing mindfulness in addiction recovery helps individuals manage cravings and triggers.
Since substance use rewires the brain to promote drug-seeking behavior, recovery must work to reverse these brain changes. Non-judgement and acceptance, two critical factors of mindfulness, play a crucial role in helping create positive changes in thoughts and motivation.
Triggers and cravings serve as reminders of past substance use. They occur because the body and mind have learned a new version of “normal” with the regular use of chemical substances. When individuals try to learn how to manage their cravings and triggers in recovery, mindfulness teaches them how to recognize intrusive thoughts as a defense mechanism as the mind and body work to reverse the harms caused by substance use.
Managing cravings and triggers are not only crucial during the initial stages of recovery but remain essential throughout long-term recovery. Even years into your recovery, you may experience a trigger that you did not prepare for. Like recovery, mindfulness will strengthen over time only if you prioritize it in your daily life.
Regular practice of mindfulness in recovery will teach you to accept and let go of the past.
One of the most critical components of recovery is relapse prevention. This process involves recognizing the underlying causes of substance use and actively working to reduce any risk factors of relapse occurring after treatment.
While people may initially use substances for all different reasons, many fall victim to addiction due to feeling disconnected, isolated, or lacking self-worth. Even after a person quits using, they may have bottled up feelings of guilt and shame over past substance use, especially if it impacted their loved ones. Mindfulness helps an individual process these distressing emotions of guilt and shame.
Regular mindfulness practice rewires the brain to accept the things that you cannot control, including circumstances of your past. It is essential to understand that if individuals do not work through these feelings, their risk of relapse only increases. This potential for increased risk exists during emotional instability after treatment when a person is more likely to revert back to substance use in an attempt to cope with physical or mental distress.
Mindfulness helps a person accept emotional distress and adversity as a normal part of life.
Strengthening your mindfulness will strengthen your recovery.
Although many behavioral therapies utilize mindfulness tools, mindfulness can be improved without the guidance of mental health professionals. There are several different ways that one can practice mindfulness on their own that will prove to successfully reinforce their commitment to their recovery journey. These practices include, but are not limited to:
- Mindful breathing
- Mindfulness meditation
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Walking meditation
- Mindful listening
- Body scanning
Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a premier drug and alcohol treatment center that offers several programs to fit the individualized needs of patients. We offer various treatment therapy options, with mindfulness playing a pivotal role in all of our programs. We understand that mindfulness is essential in fostering long-term recovery and want to help you adopt it into your routine. To learn more about our treatment center, call us today at (877) 557-5372.