Meditation is becoming more and more available as a holistic treatment for substance abuse. Meditation is a very simple yet extremely powerful technique with many health benefits, health benefits that are ideal for substance abuse relief. Surprisingly, meditation can be used to combat symptoms of withdrawal, cravings, and triggers. Let me explain…
Benefits of Meditation
The benefits of meditation go far beyond what most people expect. Here are some of the many benefits that meditation has been proven to include:
- Significantly reduced stress
- Improved mood/reduced depression
- Decreased anxiety (all types)
- Reduced ADHD symptoms
- Reduced PTSD symptoms
- Increased emotional intelligence
- Improved focus
- Decreased insomnia/improved sleep
- Increased academic performance
- Reduced risk of relapse
- Reduced hyperactivity
- Increased physical strength
- Increased flexibility
- Reduces rate of aging
- Higher level of awareness
- Reduces memory loss
The list of benefits goes on and on… There is a fascinating similarity in brain activity during both meditation and drug use. During meditation, the prefrontal cortex of your brain is activated, which promotes the release of “feel-good” chemicals. These chemicals include endorphins, specifically dopamine, which is the same chemical released during meditation. These “feel-good” chemicals are released in your brain during BOTH meditation AND drug use. However, with meditation, there is no crash!
So What Is Meditation Exactly?
Meditation is an ancient practice that involves fully focusing on the present. It’s characterized by a cross-legged seated posture called the lotus pose. During meditation, you focus your attention on your breath, different parts of your body, or certain words and phrases. The idea is to train your mind through attention and awareness to achieve a mentally clear, emotionally calm, and stable state. This is a physical state known as “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is the ability to be fully engaged with whatever you’re doing in the moment. Meditation is a skill and learning to meditate is a practice.
Most meditations begin by sitting in the lotus pose in a quiet place, closing the eyes, focusing on the breath, and calming your mind. When we meditate we are training the mind to be more focused in the moment and to stop being so easily distracted. Using your breath as your foundation, you learn to gradually let thoughts and feelings come and go.
It is totally normal for your mind to jump all over the place in thought when you start to meditate. This is also known as “monkey-mind.” Meditation is not about stopping our thoughts. Our brain’s purpose is to create thought, so it is going to think! The goal is to tame this restlessness by developing awareness in the moments when our mind has wandered off. When we notice distraction we build our awareness by bringing our attention back to the present and our breath. Ultimately, practicing meditation will help us begin to learn how to bring the qualities we experience during meditation into our daily life; which are calmness, mindfulness, focus, and loving-kindness.
How to Meditate
For those who haven’t learned how to meditate in treatment, here is a quick cheat-sheet to get you started.
- Find a quiet spot with no distractions.
- Get into a comfortable position. Either cross-legged on a floor cushion (lotus pose) or seated on a comfortable chair or sofa. Avoid lying down to avoid falling asleep!
- Close your eyes or rest your eyes gently in front of you in a neutral place.
- Take a few deep breaths— in through the nose and out through the mouth. Try and have your exhale be a few moments longer than your inhale, as this will calm your nervous system.
- Completely focus on your breath, noticing each inhale and exhale.
- If your mind wanders, don’t cast judgment. Simply return your attention to your breath and continue.
Why Meditation for Addiction Recovery?
To practice meditation is a mental health tool. In this sense, it teaches the addict to put distance and time between themselves and their impulses. Pausing between this urge and action encourages your brain to REWIRE and establish new behaviors. Over time, it teaches addicts to learn how to self-soothe themselves without resorting to drugs or alcohol. This is known as “urge-surfing.” A person can notice their cravings, observe them, experience them, and ultimately detach from cravings without having to act on them.
- Meditation strengthens an addict’s ability to focus their attention, making it easier to let go of cravings.
- An addict can notice cravings and address them before they become urgent and overwhelming.
- Meditation helps an addict to better handle stress, making them less likely to turn to substances as a coping mechanism from the start.
In cases of withdrawal-related symptoms from addiction, such as anxiety or depression, meditation assists in grounding the individual and calming their nervous system. A calm nervous system enhances a better mood while being awake and their quality of sleep at night. Those suffering from imbalanced thoughts from disorders like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), can learn to observe their thoughts without attaching to them.
Many people disregard meditation thinking it’s a new-age practice that’s only trendy, but the truth is that science behind meditation is very real. Regularly practicing meditation helps a person learn to be more present in the moment and carefully examine their thoughts and feelings. Meditation has been proven to greatly benefit a recovering person. As a result, meditation has been shown to help people deal with stress, regulate their emotions, relieve pain, combat depression and anxiety, and promote positive mood states.