Mindfulness and Addiction

Mindfulness and Addiction

Nick January 10, 2020

Mindfulness. It’s a fascinating concept and one that can greatly help a person on their road to recovery. As the word implies, mindfulness is the ability to objectively interpret events without influence of your own personal bias. It’s a person’s impartial, conscious understanding or awareness of the world around them in the present moment. One article, available at mindful.org, describes it as, “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”.  Historically mindfulness has been used in meditation practices. Recently however, it has begun popping up in certain types of cognitive behavioral therapies.

Being mindful means being both aware of your outer environment and inner experiences. Particularly how your experiences impact your responses to the world around you at any given moment. Mindfulness is done with the goal of becoming conscious of your actions without attachment to your experiences. A common example of a mindfulness exercise is the body scan. In this exercise you start at the top of your head working your way downward paying attention to the sensations felt in each individual body part.

Mindfulness & Addiction

You’re probably wondering how this can be helpful to overcoming addiction. To start, mindfulness was a concept that I found to be inconceivable during active addiction. So much of our life is based around habits. The easiest way it helps is by slowing life down so you aren’t mindlessly dashing from one pursuit (or thought) to another. Learning to quiet your internal mental ramblings provides you with the opportunity for some peace. Desperately trying to quiet this ruckus is a common reason people use drugs in the first place. In addition to this benefit mindfulness allows you to begin noticing other new enjoyable experiences in your day-to-day life. Experiences that often go unnoticed.

People often use due to a lack of enjoyment or purpose in life. When you identify more reasons to find enjoyment you have less reasons to want to pick up and use. Basically it’s being able to enjoy life on life’s terms. The last way that mindfulness can help with addiction that I’ll discuss is that it helps you better understand the motivations behind your actions. Learning to look at what’s driving your decisions without attachment or getting emotional allows you to objectively work through your responses and let go of things that might have triggered you previously.

Science Backs this Up

This scientific article hypothesizes that mindfulness consists of three components: intention, attention, and attitude. According to the hypothesis these mechanisms lead to a significant shift in perspective, which they term as reperceiving. “We believe reperceiving is a meta-mechanism of action, which overarches additional direct mechanisms that lead to change and positive outcomes. We highlight four of these additional mechanisms: (1) self-regulation, (2) values clarification, (3) cognitive, emotional, and behavioral flexibility, and (4) exposure.” The “self-regulation” aspect of this hypothesized outcome is what’s important for overcoming an addiction. Addiction is a disease, however it is a choice to decide to start up again with use after a period of sobriety. Self-regulation helps us with this choice.

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