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Meditation in Treatment: How Effective Is It?

Meditation is one of the most popular complementary health approaches used in the United States. The use of meditation by American adults tripled from 2012 to 2017.
Meditation is an alternative method that engages the mind to help a person become more self-aware. It can be a spiritual approach, as well.
Meditation can be useful as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program, as it can aid in improving self-esteem, lessening drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and relieving anxiety and stress. It can provide tools for managing triggers and therefore minimize relapse and enhance recovery.

Meditation Explained

Meditation involves mental exercises to help a person become more in tune with their feelings, emotions, and spiritual selves. It is considered a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) technique.
It is meant to be an adjunctive method, which means that it is used in addition to traditional therapies and other treatment modalities as part of a complete treatment program.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) publishes that meditation is considered a relatively safe and low-risk option that has been shown to help in lowering blood pressure, managing insomnia, and improving symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Mindfulness Meditation for Addiction Treatment

Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that uses breathing techniques to help a person focus on their thoughts and emotions in the present moment. The goal is to become more mindful of how they are feeling and how it relates to thoughts and subsequent actions.
Mindfulness meditation can be a very useful tool for improving side effects for a wide range of medical issues and mental health disorders, including addiction. Mindfulness meditation can help a person focus on thoughts and emotions that may have led to initial drug and alcohol abuse.  It is also useful in finding ways to make healthy lifestyle changes. Some people use it as a tool to identify self-destructive behaviors and to modify them positively.

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Who Can Benefit From Meditation?

Meditation can be beneficial and safe for most people, but it is recommended mostly for healthy individuals. It can be an effective way to become more self-aware and therefore raise self-assurance and feelings of self-worth.
It can improve the connection between the mind and the body. Since it can sometimes involve movement, physical health issues or limitations may make some forms of meditation more difficult. Always discuss all mental and physical health issues with your treatment providers before beginning a meditation program.

How Meditation Is Used in Addiction Treatment

When used as part of an addiction treatment program, meditation may be taught in a group or an individual setting. It starts with a quiet and relaxed environment with participants in a comfortable position.

Typically, cues are given to help participants become relaxed and focused on just themselves in the present moment. This allows all other concerns and worries to be set aside for the time being. The idea is to really dial into the present moment, to better understand precisely how the body is feeling and then use that to strengthen the bond between body and mind.

Guided meditation may be relatively short — just a few minutes a day. Once you know the proper technique, you can practice it virtually anywhere and at anytime. 

Meditation can help during addiction treatment by:

  • Easing discomfort, sleep difficulties, cravings, and emotional distress during drug and alcohol withdrawal
  • Identifying potential problematic thoughts and behaviors leading to drug and alcohol abuse
  • Improving healthy habits
  • Recognizing and managing potential triggers
  • Minimizing relapse
  • Coping with stress

Stress-Relieving Benefits 

The brain is not fixed. It is considered to be moldable and can change due to a variety of stimulants and actions. Drug use, for example, makes changes to the way that the brain processes rewards, handles impulse control, and regulates emotions.

Brain circuitry is changed, and pathways are rewired with repeated drug use. This can lead to compulsive drug-seeking behaviors, cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and an inability to control drug use. Meditation can help to assess some of these changes in the brain and potentially reset them.

Mindfulness meditation increases activity in the left prefrontal cortex, Psychology Today explains, which is the source of self-awareness, optimism, and compassion. By increasing function and activity here through mental exercises, stress, negativity, and self-doubt can be better controlled. 

Mindfulness meditation can also help with anxiety, Harvard Health reports. By becoming more aware of how your body feels when you are anxious, and understanding how to change that, you can potentially lower stress and anxiety levels.
Meditation is often used in combination with other therapies and medications when needed as an additional resource to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. It can help to regulate emotions in a positive and minimally invasive way.

Withdrawal Symptoms Eased With Meditation

One of the initial aspects of addiction treatment is detox or the process during which drugs and/or alcohol process out of the body. Drug and alcohol dependence is usually a side effect of addiction and can come with some powerful physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped.

Medical detox commonly uses medications, supportive care, and therapeutic techniques to ease withdrawal. Meditation may be a beneficial complementary and adjunctive method for lessening specific withdrawal symptoms, like the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Physical pain
  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Focus and concentration issues
  • Cravings

Research into meditation and its uses has indicated that it may be able to change the way the body and mind perceive pain, and therefore, it can potentially reduce the physical discomfort.
Meditation has also been shown to be successful in helping to decrease hypertension or high blood pressure. Coupled with stress reduction and the manner in which the brain can essentially be rewired in a positive way through mental exercises, it can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with drug withdrawal.

Meditation to Manage Triggers and Minimize Relapse

Addiction is a relapsing brain disease, with relapse rates between 40 and 60 percent. A comprehensive addiction treatment program will include numerous methods for minimizing relapse and strengthening coping skills, helping clients to both recognize and manage triggers that might arise in recovery. Meditation can be one of these tools.

A study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine shows that when used in addition to therapeutic methods, meditation can improve recovery, maintain abstinence, decrease and minimize episodes of relapse, and be a useful tool for managing alcohol dependence. 

Meditation can help to manage triggers in several ways. First, it can help to identify what they are and therefore, how to recognize the way the body reacts.

Woman sitting with her legs crossed on a yoga mat

Once this awareness is brought to light, it can be easier to accomplish it going forward.

Meditation can teach you how to control your breathing, change your thinking pattern, and stay in the present moment.

This can keep your brain and body in check and alleviate some of the stress response that can induce cravings.

Part of a Complete Treatment Program

Meditation is a tool that can take the time to learn how to use. During addiction treatment, it is best used in conjunction with other methods, which can include behavioral therapies, medications, counseling, and supportive methods.
Once clients learn how to center themselves and be truly in the present moment through meditation, it is a great skill that can be used at any time to reduce stress and control triggers and intense emotions. Meditation techniques can be learned from a trained professional as a part of an addiction treatment program.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is nonjudgmental. It is a skill that can be carried into recovery and used to relieve stress, improve sleep, and ease physical discomfort.

Sources

(November 2018) Use of Yoga, Meditation, and Chiropractors Among U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Older. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db325-h.pdf

(April 2016) Meditation: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Retrieved April 2019 from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

(January 2018) 8 Things to Know About Meditation for Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Retrieved April 2019 from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/meditation

(April 2010) Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction. Psychology Today. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-wise-open-mind/201004/mindfulness-meditation-addiction

(January 2014) Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety, Mental Stress. Harvard Health. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967

(September 2017) CAM Therapies: Meditation, Yoga, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Retrieved April 2019 from https://files.nccih.nih.gov/s3fs-public/NBMBPT_transcript5.pdf?6RaLrdr6NT5NSF7KLyG5aH6g5EjZ3mkt

(March 2012) Current Perspectives on the Use of Meditation to Reduce Blood Pressure. International Journal of Hypertension. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303565/

(July 2018). Treatment and Recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

(September 2008). Mindfulness Meditation for Alcohol Relapse Prevention: A Feasibility Pilot Study. Journal of Addictive Medicine. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106278/

Need Stress Relief? Try Mindfulness Meditation. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/need-stress-relief-try-mindfulness-meditation

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