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Mindfulness and Addiction Recovery

A close-up shot of a man’s feet as he walks along a sandy beach at sunset.
Being mindful means living completely in the present moment.

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Mindfulness is a way to get out of your own head and enjoy the moment.

Does that sound familiar? One of the reasons so many of us are drawn to alcohol or drugs is because they offer a chance to quiet the voices telling us to fret about the past and worry about the future.

Emerging research shows that being mindful can accomplish the same thing, without the harmful effects to your mind and body.

Before we get into the research, let’s take a quick look at exactly what mindfulness is. Jon Kabat-Zinn is a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is credited as being one of the early leaders of the mindfulness movement in the United States. He defines mindfulness simply as:

“Paying attention; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness and Addiction Research

So how can being mindful help those in recovery from addiction?

In general, research shows that mindfulness helps because it reduces stress, which is one of the leading reasons that people relapse.

But mindfulness also arms us with a very specific strategy to use when cravings strike—urge surfing.

Think of how you might normally react when the urge to use strikes. It’s common to feel fear, maybe even panic. You feel stressed and uncomfortable. You’re ready to battle, and you know it won’t be pleasant.

Now imagine your cravings as a wave. You feel them. You acknowledge them. And then you simply observe them, knowing that they will pass.

As Kabat-Zinn said, “You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to surf.”

Urge surfing requires no formal training. Interested in trying it? Listen to this 8-minute tutorial by Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington.

Should We Be Mindful of the Bad Stuff?

Urge surfing can be a powerful tool, but it’s only one aspect of being mindful.

Mindfulness, in fact, can be a way of life. Remember Kabat-Zinn’s definition: “Paying attention; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

That’s easy to do when life is good, right? Who doesn’t want to relish in the feel of sand under your feet and sunshine on your shoulders?

But what about when life is tough, as it so often is?

In a piece she wrote for Psychology Today, psychotherapist Nancy Colier made the case for being in the moment—even when you don’t like the moment. She wrote that:

“We believe that, in order to keep things good in our life, we must brace against, ignore, and reject anything not good. This is an incorrect assumption with profound consequences.”

Instead, she advises accepting the moment. By doing so, she says one will experience “a kind of wholeness … a profound completeness.”

Checking out of a moment prevents you from moving on and results in being stuck.

Being mindful—of the good and the bad—is what allows us to be fully alive.

Mindfulness and Addiction Treatment at The Raleigh House

At The Raleigh House, located in Denver, we offer individual therapy, group counseling and family counseling. There are also a wide variety of opportunities to heal both mentally and physically, including yoga classes, a climbing wall and art and music therapy. Interested in learning more? Fill out our form or contact us today to get additional information on the treatment programs at The Raleigh House.

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