Meditation in addiction recovery is an important tool that keeps you aware of your surroundings and helps you to think more clearly, breathe more easily, and understand your feelings better. It’s a popular and long-lasting therapy with origins in Buddhist rituals and modern psychiatry alike, with a lot of benefits to explore.
However, meditation isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment without a variety of styles and exercises to try. It’s an evolving strategy, and patients are encouraged to see what helps them the best. It’s about understanding your own body and the world around you to help you repair the damage done by your substance addiction, so it’s important to know yourself and your needs, as well as what type of meditation works for you. If done correctly, it’ll become more than just an addiction recovery tool — it’ll be a practice that sticks with you and helps you stay healthy and happy long after you finish treatment.
Meditation as a Stress-Reliever
Meditation is widely thought of as a relaxing exercise to help you calm down, breathe, and even get to sleep. For the most part, this remains true, as many meditation exercises are meant to have a calming effect on the body. However, this isn’t always the case, and some meditations stimulate and energize instead, depending on what the point of the exercise is and what you’re training your brain and body to do. For example, an exercise that requires more effort will actually increase your heart rate, such as breathing-control exercises, but once you get more used to the exercise, your heart rate will begin to decrease instead.Lumma, A.-L., Kok, B. E., & Singer, T. (2015). Is meditation always relaxing? investigating heart rate, heart rate variability, experienced effort and likeability during training of three types … Continue reading
What does this mean for how meditation helps addiction recovery? It’s been proven that many addictive behaviors result in higher stress levels and more activity for the sympathetic nervous system, with smoking and drinking being just two examples.Yuksel, R., Yuksel, R. N., Sengezer, T., & Dane, S. (2016). Autonomic cardiac activity in patients with smoking and alcohol addiction by heart rate variability analysis. Clinical & … Continue reading In addition, stress is believed to massively impact addiction rates and the potential to relapse, as not only do you become more sensitive to potential stressors, but that negative emotional reaction might compel you to return to your addiction as a way of coping.Koob, G. F. (2008). A role for Brain Stress Systems in addiction. Neuron, 59(1), 11–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2008.06.012 In fact, stress is linked to addiction in several ways.
As a result, it’s ideal to use meditation styles that decrease our stress responses and calm us down, rather than ones that increase our heart rates. Being able to stay calm and in control is a necessary part of long-term addiction recovery and using relaxing meditation exercises will help you deal with stress in a productive way.
The most calming forms of meditation are the ones that require less cognitive effort and focus. You’ll want to try relaxation exercises that don’t include controlled breathing, as well as styles that involve mental imagery over a focus on real-life sensations. The harder it is to train yourself, the more work the exercise will be, and the less it will help you to relax when you need to.
Meditation and Self-Love
Meditation might be useful for calming down, but it has many more benefits than that. It’s also used to encourage feelings of positivity and compassion toward yourself and others, which is vital for recovering from an addiction and preventing a relapse. This style of meditation is known as “Loving-Kindness Meditation.”
Though the ultimate goal of Loving-Kindness Meditation is to increase feelings of compassion for every being in existence, a necessary step is to learn about and practice loving yourself. Being kind to yourself and accepting yourself for who you are and what you’ve been through, is a major component of coping with drug or alcohol addiction and staying in long-term recovery. Similarly, learning to empathize more with others will make it easier to reach out and be social, which also does a lot of good for your mental health and overall happiness. Social connectivity decreases stress hormones, increases oxytocin, and fulfills one of our primary needs to function properly.Macfarlane, J. (2020). Positive psychology: Social connectivity and its role within Mental Health Nursing. British Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 9(2), 1–12. … Continue reading
Love-Kindness Meditation works by generating good intentions towards other people, starting with yourself. Repeat positive affirmations to yourself while you meditate and visualize scenes of yourself or others in your head to teach yourself to be compassionate and loving. The more this is practiced, the better you’ll feel, but it even works if done just once, as the positive emotions follow the meditation itself, rather than the long-term practice of it.Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P., Wang, R., Oei, T. P., & Leung, F. Y. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. … Continue reading
Tips for Better Meditation
Aside from using some major types of mindfulness exercises for addiction recovery with the goal of achieving specific emotional and physical results, there are other important tips and tricks involved with meditation in addiction recovery. A meditation exercise can only achieve the proper results if the person meditating learns to do it properly, and there are plenty of nuances that might surprise you if it’s a therapy style you’re only just learning to use.
Use Meditative Anchors
An “anchor” keeps you linked to the present and helps you to regulate your thoughts. For example, one common anchor involves focusing on your breath. However, an anchor can be anything the practitioner chooses, such as sounds they hear around them or their own bodily functions. The key is to find something that keeps you centered and helps you avoid having distracting thoughts. Once you find your anchor, stick to it, and it will become easier and easier to keep yourself focused.
One potential problem with using your breath as an anchor is that it might leave you susceptible to “manual breathing,” in which you’re forced to breathe unnaturally rather than do it subconsciously. When breathing, don’t force it. Allow yourself to breathe as you normally do, which is less stressful and requires less focus and effort
If you’re going to turn meditation into a daily routine, then you need to be consistent about when and where you do it. This turns it into a habit and makes you less likely to forget or lose time. Making schedules and planning ahead is also a good way to decrease stress and get more feelings of control, thus decreasing the odds of a relapse, so a consistent meditation schedule has multiple benefits that ultimately help with addiction recovery.
Get Comfortable However You Can
Comfort is a massive part of meditating, and not all positions work for everyone. While it’s stereotypically believed that you need to cross your legs, many perform better with their legs straight or feet flat on the ground. You can also meditate while lying down, standing up, or any position in between, as long as it helps you to relax, breathe, and focus.
Don’t Judge Yourself
We all have that voice in our heads that tells us we’re doing things wrong, and that voice can stick around even when we’re trying to meditate. Don’t listen to it. When meditating, it’s important to be nonjudgmental and give ourselves the freedom to simply exist as we are. It’s okay if you’re having a bad day at work or are struggling with your finances. You don’t need to be perfect, especially not when stopping to meditate and calm yourself down. This advice is also important for addiction recovery as a whole, as the more you accept yourself, the less likely you are to suffer a relapse.
Why Is Meditation Important in Addiction Recovery?
So, can meditation help with drug addiction? Being able to achieve mindfulness, relaxation, and positive emotional responses after a meditation session is important, whether you’re doing it to help with addiction treatment or just to improve your mental health in general. However, meditation is a way to train your mind and body, and the longest-lasting benefits come when you can translate the mindfulness exercises into real life. Being able to calm down and think, respecting yourself and others, and setting healthy habits are all a part of long-term addiction recovery.
For example, the positive affirmations and compassion training of Love-Kindness Meditation can be used for more than just making you feel better in the moment. Teaching yourself to be kind and empathetic to everyone, including you, goes a long way in helping you live a happier and more productive life. If you’re willing to accept yourself and what you’re feeling, develop a bigger social support network, and be there for others, then you’ll be able to understand yourself more and have a place to go if you need help. This alone means that your odds of relapse are lowered since there won’t be as many negative loops, and you won’t feel so alone in handling your addiction.
Meanwhile, being able to stay relaxed and focused will help you handle all of life’s stressors without getting overwhelmed or distracted. Keeping your breathing and mind under control allows you to instead focus on solving the problem, rather than on trying to calm down and cope with the stress itself. You’ll become less tempted to use substances as a way of feeling better, while your ability to focus and think clearly will teach you to use the various task-oriented coping skills that help you find solutions and stay on track.
Meditation and Addiction Treatment
Meditation is an important, but varied, type of meditation that has a lot of uses for addiction recovery treatment and long-term mental health improvement as a whole. If you know what works for you and use it to achieve results such as relaxation, self-love, and better focus, you’re more likely to stay in recovery for longer periods of time and avoid situations that’ll lead to a relapse.
At Maryland Recovery, we understand the benefits of mindfulness exercises when it comes to addiction treatment. Our goal is to help you recover holistically and undo the damage the addiction has caused for your mind, body, and mental health.
Learn More About Mindfulness and Other Holistic Approaches to Addiction Recovery
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.
|↑1||Lumma, A.-L., Kok, B. E., & Singer, T. (2015). Is meditation always relaxing? investigating heart rate, heart rate variability, experienced effort and likeability during training of three types of meditation. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 97(1), 38–45.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2015.04.017|
|↑2||Yuksel, R., Yuksel, R. N., Sengezer, T., & Dane, S. (2016). Autonomic cardiac activity in patients with smoking and alcohol addiction by heart rate variability analysis. Clinical & Investigative Medicine, 39 (6), 147. https://doi.org/10.25011/cim.v39i6.27519|
|↑3||Koob, G. F. (2008). A role for Brain Stress Systems in addiction. Neuron, 59(1), 11–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2008.06.012|
|↑4||Macfarlane, J. (2020). Positive psychology: Social connectivity and its role within Mental Health Nursing. British Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 9(2), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjmh.2020.0007|
|↑5||Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P., Wang, R., Oei, T. P., & Leung, F. Y. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01693|