Almost everyone can benefit from practicing mindfulness. In its simplest form, mindfulness means being in the present moment, aware of your surroundings without judging or thinking about them. Beyond the basic concept of living in the present moment, mindfulness has many definitions and can be practiced in many different ways.
Mindfulness benefits people with substance use disorders because it helps them maintain focus on their recovery, calm themselves when feeling stressed, and appreciate parts of the world their substance abuse may have kept them from enjoying.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness teaches people to focus their attention on the present moment, experiencing all their feelings and experiences in that moment without judging them. While people can learn from returning to past experiences or making plans for the future, spending all their time trapped in these thoughts can cause stress and frustration.
Many people with substance use disorders also have a dual diagnosis, meaning they have a mental health disorder too. Mindfulness has been proven to assist people in coping with many different mental health disorders.
Mindfulness brings people to the here and now, whatever they might be experiencing at that time. Instead of judging the experience as good or bad, while practicing mindfulness, clients will try to observe the experience without labeling it and try to live the experience without connecting emotions to it.
Counselors and therapists have many options for teaching mindfulness. There is no right way to “do” mindfulness or one right plan for using it. Having to think about doing mindfulness “correctly” would defeat the nonjudgemental nature of the practice.
Some exercises to build a practice of mindfulness include:
According to SMART Recovery, the ultimate goal of mindfulness is to achieve a “wise mind,” one not blinded by emotions but still able to recognize feelings. This “wise mind” has been sought by many people from many religious or secular groups for years. Reaching a mind perfectly balanced between rational thinking and being in touch with emotions challenges even people who have been practicing mindfulness for a long time. People can teach mindfulness techniques, but the practice itself only comes through daily use and conscious effort.
Mindfulness and Addiction
Although mindfulness can benefit anyone, research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has demonstrated in many studies that mindfulness helps people specifically with substance use disorders and dual diagnoses decrease their stress and improve coping skills.
A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that people with substance use disorders have what they refer to as a mindfulness deficit. Compared to an average group, these people showed less awareness, more negative thoughts, and difficulty separating from their feelings.
People in active addiction may have a lower natural tendency toward mindfulness as their substance abuse may have made them less aware. Regardless, providing mindfulness training and education can help fill this deficit.
Mindfulness serves as a critical strategy for helping people in recovery control the difficult memories, urges to use, and overwhelming emotions that can make recovery harder. By separating themselves from these urges or feelings, clients can examine them in a less intense way. Urges to use may seem powerful in the moment, but when a person steps back and examines the urge objectively, they can make better choices.
Mindfulness in Residential Treatment
For people learning mindfulness as a tool to aid in their recovery, separation from some of their issues gives them a chance to practice with less stress. Living with a substance use disorder, dealing with past mistakes, coping with present stressors, and the dependence on a substance can consume a person’s life. Mindfulness practice in a setting away from those problems can help people learn these coping skills better.
In residential treatment at Everlast Recovery Centers, group therapy can include guided meditation sessions for body scanning or just focus on the breath.
In individual therapy, the therapist might teach some basic mindfulness skills and set goals for the client to take time each day to engage in mindfulness practice.
This practice may look different depending on the model of mindfulness being used, but it typically includes the following:
Mindfulness techniques can be learned quickly, but the practice requires effort and time. For some people, mindfulness becomes a habit. Instead of reacting, they automatically shift into a state of observing without responding. During a walk, a meal, or any time of day, they make an effort to notice everything around them.
Therapists in residential treatment at Everlast may not have time to help people reach that point. However, even one very brief session of mindfulness education can help people reduce the chance of relapse. Since basic mindfulness techniques are free, do not require tools, and can happen anywhere, it gives people in recovery a tool they can turn to at any moment to lessen intense or painful feelings and live a life free from substances.