Recovering from addiction is no easy task. It’s never impossible, but the road looks a little different for every individual case. For some, a little love and a lot of time can help someone go from their lowest low to a happy place in their life without the need for intensive rehab or detox care. In other cases, it’s medically necessary to hospitalize an addict, and take slow measures to build their treatment, step by step, until they’re ready to take on the world again. When professionals and recovery centers take in a new patient to help rehabilitate, one of the most crucial challenges to overcome is finding and tailoring a treatment plan that works. Among the many approaches utilized in treatment centers to teach patients to cope with addiction, meditation is a very effective one. However, it’s also often very poorly understood. This article deconstructs a few of the common misconceptions about meditation and explains the benefits it offers to those going through addiction recovery.
What is Meditation?
There are certain preconceptions around meditation that most commonly spring to mind whenever the word is mentioned. The first is its connection to Buddhism, and connected practices like yoga. When we think of meditation, we’re more likely to think of monks and people in hot yoga halls, sitting perfectly still, chanting a single tone and trying to basically think of nothing. To many who’ve tried, you’ve most likely fallen asleep.
Yet Buddhism, as per The Buddhist Centre, teaches meditation as a method of “concentration, clarity, emotional positivity,” whereas Psychology Today defines meditation as “the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference.” Meditation has roots in most global religions, and can be divided into concentrative meditation; the usual kind – and mindfulness meditation, or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
Why might this be useful, you ask? As per PT, meditation – and more aptly, mindfulness – allows you to remove yourself from your usual reactive patterns and look upon life in a new light.
Let’s explain this a bit more thoroughly. Perception is a trained muscle, in an abstract way. When confronted with the imagery of a door, you know instantly that you are facing a door. This is so despite the fact that it may be a door you have never seen before. This is because, unlike machines, we organically perceive and very efficiently sort experiences and phenomenon through certain patterns, and have prebuilt emotions and reactions based on these patterns.
When someone hits you, even if you’ve never been hit before, the connotation between the pain and someone else’s fault may immediately bring a reaction of anger. The same happens if someone cuts you off in traffic – create micro stressors that happen all around us in our environment, without us having enough control over our own reactions to reduce unnecessary stress.
The Effectiveness of Mindfulness
Studies go into more depth to tackle the effectiveness of mindfulness training – one study specifically states that practicing more mindfulness through meditation offers the following benefits:
- increases a subject’s capacity for noticing internal and external experiences
- enhances capacity for noting internal feelings
- increases one’s ability to act with more awareness rather than an auto-pilot mode
- increases one’s ability to take a more open, non-judgmental approach to issues, feelings and experiences
A Contemplative Mind in Life goes further to define mindfulness as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness.
While these are all amazing and clear benefits for the average person, the real question is still: why does any of this matter to a recovering addict? And the answer lies in the fact that it should matter, because it often works wonders for addicts. A study on the effectiveness of MBCT for drug addiction notes that stress is a common risk factor for addiction. The study found that mindfulness training correlates with a greater sense of agency towards sobriety and cessation of an addiction, as well as lower levels of depressive symptoms and stress.
12-step programs and cookie-cutter recovery plans may work for some, but they’re never ideal. Recovery doesn’t typically lie on the other side of a single treatment option. Rather, it’s the multitude that does it. Tackling an addiction successfully and starting the life-long journey of recovery involves:
- Learning tools and the means to understand addiction
- Forgiving oneself
- Building a support system
Tackling the issue of cookie-cutter treatment is an industry-wide goal, but it begins with a willingness in the patient to try alternative ways to recovery. In many cases, the incorporation of a no-drawback alternative technique like meditation or mindfulness-based therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety and introduce a greater sense of security in recovering addicts whose state of minds are often considered fragile.
A Support System is Essential
One important thing to keep in mind when seeking out recovery options is that, while a willingness from the recovering addict to truly fight for sobriety is a given, what is also absolutely vital is assistance from the surrounding community – from both friends and family, and the neighborhood at large if possible. Family involvement, in the least, is vital to fighting substance abuse.
No Two Treatment Plans are the Same
While it may happen by coincidence that some people go through a similar recovery process, everyone reacts to treatment differently. Some treatment options work wonders for certain individuals and for others, they’re duds. As per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, for effective recovery, treatment options have to be tailored to an individual. In addition, they should be designed to address the fact that addiction is a complex chronic condition, often with attached pre-existing issues like severe depression, anxiety and ADHD.
It’s important to try different things, and approach professionals and experienced psychiatrists to help you figure out what treatments will work best for you. Meditation is known as a complementary approach, because it’s not typically prescribed in mainstream medicine – but it most definitely has shown, both through rudimentary scientific research and through several anecdotes, to be effective for some people. Maybe it’ll be effective for you or maybe it won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to try. The more treatment options you explore, the more likely you are to find something that works best for you. When you find a suitable recovery program, it will allow you to advance through the stages of recovery and achieve a balance and control over your life that makes sobriety not just a lofty goal, but a realistic daily state of mind.
The most important thing, of course, is to be around people who care for you, and want you to stay clean – be it from drugs, or gambling, or another addictive vice. Relapses often happen due to contact with that old life. Cutting out these triggers and moving on is vital for long-term recovery.
We have to remember that the whole danger to addiction is that, essentially, it’s an ingrained chronic condition caused by a learning process. The brain is conditioned towards a certain behavior or substance due to the pure pleasure perceived through it and that takes a lot of active work to resist and break away from.
From an outside perspective, addiction is hard to understand or sympathize with – but in the very least, we have to empathize with recovering addicts, and do our best to help them find normality again. For some addicts, meditation offers a way to get away – and with time, stay away.