The Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington developed Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for working with those who suffer from addictions. The therapy is intended to rework the imprisoning thoughts that keep an addictive cycle in place. With a practice of mindfulness, those addicted to alcohol, for example, can become aware of the triggers that lead him to drink, to participate in destructive habitual patterns, and to follow the unconscious and automatic reactions that lead to making poor choices.
Using mindfulness as an aspect of drug addiction therapy has proven to support success in arriving at sobriety. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming conscious of your internal and external environment. It is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting the existing feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding activity. Today, it is often used as a therapeutic practice among therapists and psychologists. And because of recent research on the effects of mindfulness on the brain, more and more drug treatment centers are beginning to incorporate the therapeutic modality.
Daniel Siegel, Director of The Mindsight Institute at UCLA and author of the book, The Mindful Brain, has been studying the effects of meditation on the brain for over 20 years. He has come to recognize that meditation and mindful awareness can alter brain function, mental activity, and interpersonal relationships.
Essentially, Siegel uncovered that mindfulness practice could help those parts of the brain that regulate mood to grow and strengthen, stabilizing the mind and enabling his patients to achieve emotional equilibrium and resilience. Mindful awareness, wrote Siegel, in his book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, can directly stimulate the growth of those clusters of neurons called the resonance circuits, which enable resonance with others and self-regulation of moods.
Yet, prior to any real evidence that mindfulness could be an effective treatment method, one study investigating obsessive-compulsive disorder at UCLA found that psychotherapy, including mindfulness-oriented methods of treatment, could actually change patterns in the brain. This study along with insights made by Siegel about the brain led him to use mindfulness with his patients and further his research on effects of mindfulness in the therapeutic setting.
Since then, other areas of counseling and psychology, including drug and alcohol treatment, as well as drug treatment aftercare, have been using mindfulness as a means for facilitating healing. Some drug addiction treatment centers, for example, have combined Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with mindfulness in order to further support the freedom from destructive thought patterns. Mindfulness-Based Behavioral CognitiveTherapy for addiction includes the practice of becoming aware of your inner and outer experiences while also investigating and replacing the specific thoughts that might lead to drug use. Along these lines, combining the practice of mindfulness with addiction treatment is precisely what the Addictive Behaviors Research Center has done, leading to Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention.
The ability to do change unconscious, habitual behavior is the important opportunity that brain research has uncovered. The brain has a wondrous capacity for learning and rewiring itself, which is known as neuroplasticity. Mindfulness facilitates neuroplasticity, allowing anyone with destructive habits to change patterns regardless of how worn out those habits are.
Paying close attention to present circumstances is incredibly important, and it’s where mindfulness comes in as a therapeutic modality. By staying present, each moment becomes opportunity to make a choice, different than one made in the past. Mindfulness can help a teen stay keenly aware of what he or she is doing in order to create new, healthier habits that are more life affirming. Carrying out different choices that are positive and healthy may be challenging at the start, but with practice, they too can become habitual. Finding and creating new habitual thought patterns and choices (healthier ones!) is the definition of neuroplasticity.
It this sort of change that ultimately creates a life of sobriety!
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