Mindfulness Meditation in Addiction Treatment

how to use meditation to treat addiction

By Audrey Bell, LMSW - Turnbridge Therapist

Mindfulness meditation can be beneficial for both physical and emotional wellbeing. Utilizing a range of treatment modalities, therapists often integrate mindfulness-based practices as an additive measure to help individuals recognize the impermanence of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness meditation can be an important component in the treatment of a number of problems such as substance abuse disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Our clients may struggle with one or more of the previously stated disorders, substance abuse being the primary diagnoses for most. Addiction is often driven by emotional pain, causing a constant state of suffering, a state in which individuals begin to become too comfortable.

Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) constructed from the Buddhist Vipassana meditation.  His mission was to teach his patients with chronic physical and mental health problems “how to improve their lives.”  After learning of his teachings, along with Buddhism concept -“to help awaken or enlighten sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving”—the benefits if implementing mindfulness meditation became more apparent.

 Mindfulness-based practices allow individuals to observe one’s internal experience as it occurs, as opposed to immediately reacting to it. The work I do with my clients is to help them accept their experiences, rather than modify or suppress them.  This practice allows these young men to take a non-judgmental stance of one’s self and focus on acceptance of unpleasant thoughts and experiences.

Examples of mindfulness techniques that I like to offer my clients are sensory, emotion, body sensations, urge surfing, and basic mindfulness meditation. Meditating can be challenging for many, and takes practice, however the mindfulness techniques listed are a form of meditation and are a great way to begin this practice. As previously stated, the goal is to allow one’s mind to focus on the present moment, creating awareness of current thoughts and sensations without judgment. For example, Urge surfing, created by Alan Marlatt, is a coping mechanism for individuals to employ to prevent addiction relapse. The basic concept of Urge Surfing is when an individual begins to contemplate using; they are coached to become aware of how their body feels as the craving enters. Next, they are to replace the desire for the craving “to go away”, with the understanding the craving will subside. This may sound simple to the reader, however this awareness is not easily achieved for the addicted person and takes practice.