Mindfulness and Recovery
Meditation is a complementary and alternative (CAM) approach to mainstream addiction recovery services, such as psychotherapy and group counseling. 1 This mind and body practice can heighten the benefits of traditional therapies when used in combination with them.
Learn more about meditation and substance abuse, including:
- What is meditation?
- Benefits of meditation.
- Meditation exercises for addiction.
- Use of meditation in drug rehab programs.
- How to find a recovery program that offers meditation.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a generally safe exercise that focuses on the mind-body connection with the goal of inducing relaxation and serenity. It has been shown to improve physical and mental health.
Meditation practices can vary greatly. But there are a few common components or guidelines: 2
- Find a quiet and distraction-free setting
- Sit or lie down comfortably
- Focus on your breathing, a repeated sound or word (mantra), or a single idea
- Keep an open mind
Meditation does not need to take place over a set duration of time. Beginners can start meditating for a few minutes at a time and work up to longer sessions. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual to participate.
The activity focuses on mindfulness, or awareness of present feelings, thoughts, physical sensations, and surroundings. Mindfulness also involves accepting feelings and thoughts as they are without judging or labeling them. 3
Although meditation, along with other CAM treatments, has been received with some skepticism by addiction and medical professionals, a growing amount of research supports its effectiveness for addiction recovery and relapse prevention. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Benefits of Meditation
In general, meditation helps promote a sense of inner peace and calm, increases self-awareness, improves mental functioning, and helps the person detach from thoughts and impulses, which can help reduce cravings and prevent relapse.
Meditation can provide a person in recovery with numerous psychological and physical benefits, such as:
- Decreased blood pressure: Studies suggest meditating can lower the blood pressure of those at risk for hypertension. 2
- Immune system enhancement: A mindful meditation program may improve immune system functioning. 9
- Pain relief: Meditation can decrease subjective pain ratings in practicing individuals. 10
- Anxiety relief: Meditative techniques can help individuals control anxiety. 2, 11
- Stress management: Meditation can produce small to moderate improvements in stress levels. 12
- Reduction in depressive symptoms: Some evidence suggests improvement of depression in those practicing meditation. 2, 12
- Better sleep: Studies suggest meditation may enhance sleep in insomniacs. 2
Additionally, some studies suggest that long-term meditation can have positive changes in brain structure and functioning. 2 Research results indicate the following changes:
- Increased gyrification, or the forming of folds on the cerebral cortex. This can speed up information processing, improve decision-making, and enhance memory formation. 13
- Slowed or reversed age-related changes in the brain. 2
- Decreased gray matter in the amygdala, which plays a role in anxiety and stress. 14
Further research is needed to evaluate the therapeutic value of meditation and mindfulness, but it is a relatively risk-free practice, with reports of adverse effects being rare. 2
Meditation Exercises for Addiction
Many different meditative exercises are available. Trying each technique will allow you to choose which one works best for you. Different exercises include:
- Breathing: Breathe naturally, focusing on inhalation and exhalation.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: This form of meditation brings awareness to each part of your body, ultimately relaxing you from head to toe.
- Mantra-based: Repeat a word or phrase out loud or internally. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the mantra.
- Guided: A trained teacher verbally guides you through the meditation process.
- Movement meditation: This involves physical activity, such as walking, yoga, hiking, and surfing, being mindful of each part of your body as it moves.
What works for one person may not work for another, so if you’re interested in trying meditation to curb cravings and prevent relapse, it’s important to keep an open mind when trying new techniques.
Use of Meditation in Drug Rehabilitation Programs
Meditation is combined with group therapy, individual therapy, and medication.
Many recovery centers have begun to incorporate meditation into their treatment programs. Meditation isn’t meant to be used as a standalone treatment, but rather as a complementary treatment. Drug rehab programs use meditation in combination with traditional forms of treatment, such as group counseling, individual therapy, addiction education, medication, and any other recovery services.
The addiction treatment programs that offer meditation typically have classes led by therapists or other certified staff members. These leaders guide participants through the exercise, with everyone sitting quietly and following instructions.
Many people encounter meditation and mindful practices for the first time upon entering a treatment program and find that they continue to do it after they leave rehab. This healthy habit can promote long-term abstinence for those in recovery.
Find a Recovery Program That Offers Meditation
If you’re interested in a recovery program that offers meditation, call our helpline at 1-888-892-1840Who Answers? to talk to a recovery support specialist about treatment options. Someone is available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
. UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program. (2016). Complementary And Alternative Treatments For Addiction
. National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2016). Meditation: In Depth.
. University of California Berkeley. (2016). What is Mindfulness?
. Manheimer, E., Anderson, B. J., & Stein, M. D. (2003). Use And Assessment Of Complementary And Alternative Therapies By Intravenous Drug Users. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 29(2), 401-413. doi:10.1081/ada-120020522
. Pruett, J. M., Nishimura, N. J., & Priest, R. (2007). The Role of Meditation in Addiction Recovery. Counseling and Values, 52(1), 71-84. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007x.2007.tb00088.x
. Carlson, B. E., & Larkin, H. (2009). Meditation as a Coping Intervention for Treatment of Addiction. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 28(4), 379-392. doi:10.1080/15426430903263260
. Zgierska, A., Rabago, D., Zuelsdorff, M., Coe, C., Miller, M., & Fleming, M. (2008). Mindfulness Meditation for Alcohol Relapse Prevention: A Feasibility Pilot Study. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 2(3), 165-173. doi:10.1097/adm.0b013e31816f8546
. Khanna, S., & Greeson, J. M. (2013). A narrative review of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21(3), 244-252. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2013.01.008
. Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564-570. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000077505.67574.e3
. Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., Gordon, N. S., Mchaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2011). Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(14), 5540-5548. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.5791-10.2011
. Arias, A.J. et al. (2006). Systematic Review of the Efficacy of Meditation Techniques as Treatments for Medical Illness Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 12(8):817-832.
. Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. JAMA Internal Medicine JAMA Intern Med, 174(3), 357. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
. Wheeler, M. Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain, UCLA researchers say. University of California, Los Angeles. Press release, March 14, 2012.
. Science Daily. (2011). Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks.