Why Meditation is Helpful for Sobriety

Published by Joe Gilmore on

We all know that meditation is a great and helpful practice that, if used properly and regularly enough, can lead to improved physical and mental health. Meditation and mindfulness exercises are used by millions around the world including fitness experts, doctors, celebrities, and more. One group of people that use meditation regularly to great results are those in recovery from substance abuse problems.

The practice is so useful for this population, that meditation and mindfulness techniques are normally taught in inpatient and outpatient rehab programs. But, why is mindfulness for addiction treatment such a useful tool to help people stay sober?

Let’s dig in a bit more.

‘Addiction’, photo courtesy of Hyokano

Mental Health and Addiction

One of the biggest reasons that mindfulness is taught in treatment programs is due to the overlap that exists between mental health and addiction. 

For people dealing with a substance abuse problem to either drugs or alcohol, it is common for them to experience a co-occurring mental health disorder that is contributing to or even causing the addiction in the first place. This is commonly referred to as a dual diagnosis in the addiction industry. In fact, the National Institutes on Drug Abuse estimates that of the 20.3 million American adults dealing with substance abuse, nearly 40% struggle with a mental illness.

Among those dealing with these co-occurring disorders, the most common mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder.

In order for those who are dealing with a co-occurring disorder the best shot at long-term recovery, both issues need to be addressed simultaneously. If one is solved and not the other, the chance of relapse to either is heightened. 

To address this, treatment programs that offer help for a dual diagnosis will likely have personal treatment plans in place to help each unique case. Helpful highlights of this treatment can include things like cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing, and more.

Along with these forms therapy, meditation, along with other things like exercise routines, are taught as a complementary form of treatment to be used in addition to these things. It is taught not only to be additional help for those dealing with a dual diagnosis but one that can be done even after they leave a treatment facility — it is meant to be a lifelong treatment that clients can always have in their back pocket.

‘Relapse’, photo courtesy of dews cult

Meditation to Prevent Relapse

So, meditation and mindfulness are taught to those in recovery because it can help with the mental health side of addiction and it is a convenient tool that can be used forever, but that’s not all. The most important reason it is taught is simple: it works.

Studies and reviews have shown evidence that meditation is a useful tool for anyone in recovery and can help in a number of different areas, one of the most prevalent being relapse prevention.

One study found that meditation led to a decrease in the severity of alcohol relapse triggers. The same study found that meditation had numerous other positive effects, such as:

  • Continued reduction of drinking
  • Improved mental health and reduced stress problems
  • High level of client satisfaction with meditation intervention

Evidence shows that increased levels of anxiety and depression were consistent with higher relapse rates and increased craving severity. And, studies into the use of meditation showed that while anxiety and depression scores were higher at the start, they fell off after continued use of meditation and even returned to normal levels after some time.

It also leads to decreased craving security, something that is known to be consistent with improved drinking outcomes.

Overall, there is tons of evidence that show that meditation can be not only helpful but life-changing for some people dealing with drug or alcohol addiction.

Meditation is a very versatile technique that can be practised everywhere, as proven by this woman. Photo courtesy of Andy

Some Meditation Techniques

Meditation is a personal thing and can be done in a number of different ways, it doesn’t have to be you sitting on a cliffside saying “omm” over and over again. That said, some people don’t know exactly where to start when it comes to meditation. So we’ll review a few simple methods that you may find helpful.

If you or a loved one is struggling with some cravings for a drug or alcohol problem and want to test out meditation to try and reduce these feelings, you can try some simple meditative techniques below.

Generally speaking, to try these methods out you want to be in a quiet, comfortable space and be sitting or laying down.

Focused Attention — This is a simple, commonly used method of meditation in which the individual focuses their attention on one thing, normally your breath. When you are going through the process and start to notice your mind going to other things (which is normal) you’ll want to return your thought process to your breathing.

Self Reflection — This technique is a little more specific but may prove to be immensely helpful for those in recovery. During a self-reflection meditative exercise, you will be asking yourself a question, something like “what are you grateful for?” or “what made me happy today?” Taking some time to process about the feelings you have that surround these questions and you may feel better after just one session and learn more about yourself along the way.

Guided Meditation — If this still all sounds a bit weird to you and you think it would be best to have someone help you along the way, you can find a number of guided meditation techniques and videos all on the internet. This one for instance can be used in the mornings to start your day. Once you do these a couple of times you can try other methods on your own without the help of a video if you’re feeling up for it!

Along with these, there are dozens of other types of meditation and mindfulness practices that you can try, things like yoga meditation, transcendental meditation, and even simple breathing exercises can help you improve your situation and make you feel better.

Get Professional Help for Addiction

Addiction is a disease and one that can be deadly. While meditation can be helpful, it is not a silver bullet to sobriety. If you or a loved one is dealing with a substance abuse problem, seek professional help today or the problem will only get worse.

Featured image (‘Delirium’) courtesy of Dr. Matthias Ripp

Joe Gilmore

Joe Gilmore works for The Hope House, a drug and alcohol rehab in Scottsdale, Arizona, dedicated to providing patients with the highest quality care at an affordable price.


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