General enquiries: 0800 326 5559
International: 0330 333 8188

Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment

    Mindfulness [1] is a state of being referred to constantly in our modern society, and those who achieve it are heralded as examples of peak psychological performance.

    Once a well-kept Tibetan secret, using mindfulness in recovery is ubiquitous in modern society.

    It provides the basis of yoga classes, helps students to concentrate, and appears in treatment programmes for Substance Use Disorders.

    A staple of ancient Buddhist belief systems, mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years: making it one of the world’s oldest traditions.

    Its name in Buddhist scripture, Sampajañña, directly translates to “clear comprehension”: the core aim of Mindfulness in daily life and when tackling addiction challenges.

    With regular practice,  those who achieve mindfulness can hone in on the present moment, nurturing a gentle awareness of their emotions, thoughts, and sensations to foster a sense of calm.

    However, rather than simply paying attention, being mindful is about how we focus this attention.

    With this in mind, experts have noted three psychological elements of mindfulness-based stress reduction [2].

    These are:

    • Attention: Grounding and training our minds towards the present moment.
    • Attitude: The art of staying curious.
    • Intention: Remaining compassionate during the practice of mindfulness.

    While present in Western therapies for addictive disorders, dispositional mindfulness has its origins in the early teachings of the Buddha.

    In the ancient text known as the Satipatthana Sutta (meaning The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness) Buddha states that mindfulness training is all about breathing (breathwork), focusing on physical sensations, the mind and mental contents.

    Throughout the ages, people have turned to Buddha’s mindfulness manifesto in times of stress, disappointment and loss, as its teachings help us let go, accept, and work on ourselves.

    It comes as no surprise then, that mindfulness-based treatments have been used to tackle addictive disorders and the cycle of negativity attached to them.

    Start engaging with mindfulness treatment at your ideal drug and alcohol rehab by giving us a call on 0800 326 5559

    The Science Behind Mindfulness

    A doctor typing on a laptop

    Mindfulness transcended its spiritual origin and entered the scientific realm as it gained notoriety. After each positive systematic review, it became widely implemented in clinical trials and from here, the efficacy of mindfulness was established.

    There’s an evergrowing body of evidence backing the scientific benefits of mindfulness: from medicine, neuroscience, and psychology,

    Perhaps the most compelling proof comes from neuroimaging studies that observe how mindfulness changes the brain’s functions and structures [3].

    These studies showed that mindfulness meditation increases neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to adapt and change. This makes it easier for us to recover from physical or mental injuries, heal old emotional wounds, curb substance abuse, and generally perform better.

    So how does taking the time to pause, breathe, and tune into the present moment change our brains? These studies have shown that, following mindfulness meditation, the prefrontal cortex area of the brain shows an increase in the grey matter, making it easier for us to regulate emotions and increase our attention span over time.

    Mindfulness-based stress reduction also impacts the amygdala, the brain’s fear and anxiety centre.

    Rather than strengthening the amygdala as it does the prefrontal cortex, mindfulness exercises reduce the size of the brain’s fear centre and make it less reactive.

    With time, mindfulness-based therapies help reduce our brain’s “fight or flight” response, making it easier to manage0800 326 5559

    And finally, we have the impact of mindfulness on the hippocampus; an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. It’s also thought to be more susceptible to stress and debilitating disorders such as depression.

    However, when we practice mindfulness consistently, we increase the function of our hippocampus region and help it deal with stress more effectively.

    Learn more about the science behind mindfulness by giving our team a call on 0800 326 5559

    Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery: What are the Benefits?

    A man sitting at an AA meeting smiling

    So how does all this help those recovering from Substance Use Disorders strengthen their long-term recovery, and what are the direct benefits?

    As a strategy to reduce stress, mindfulness-based relapse prevention techniques [4] are used in rehab clinics across the world.

    Instead of returning to a drug or alcohol dependency, the goal is to help patients replace substances with natural rewards.

    Here are just some ways integrating mindfulness exercises into addiction treatment can optimise recovery from substance abuse and improve quality of life.

    1. Mindfulness Can Help Ease Withdrawal Symptoms

    It might be difficult to see how mindfulness could help those amid detox, as this is arguably the most vulnerable stage of recovery requiring medical, not holistic attention.

    It’s important to note that during detox, mindfulness is very much a complementary therapy, and is only used alongside medication and therapeutic mechanisms.

    However, individuals in addiction recovery often find training in mindfulness helps them deal with the withdrawal phase. While it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for those detoxing from addictive substances, it can help negative sensations pass.

    For example, deep breathing exercises have been shown to create chemicals in the body that reduce pain. As many withdrawal symptoms manifest in unwanted physical sensations, this can help those in detox feel better.

    If, for instance, someone is experiencing muscle cramps during a drug detox, breathing deeply can help them pass through the pain by being present with their symptoms.

    Dispositional mindfulness can also provide relief for those struggling with psychiatric symptoms [5] during the recovery process.

    The practice of mindfulness meditation, even for just a few minutes each day, can make symptoms such as anxiety and agitation seem less overwhelming.

    During mindfulness meditation training, many people find comfort in the positive sensations that emerge. This can be as simple as feeling the breeze on their face or feeling snug in a pleasant environment.

    2. Managing Co-occurring Disorders

    Unfortunately, as many as half of patients receiving substance use disorder treatment suffer from psychiatric disorders or comorbidity. This means that as well as suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, they are combating anxiety, depression, OCD, or other psychiatric disorders.

    When used alongside medication and behavioural therapies, mindfulness is a fantastic therapeutic mechanism. This is partly due to the flexible nature of mindfulness activities [6], with people able to choose an exercise based on their unique symptoms.

    For example, early morning meditation might help someone suffering from depression feel ready to face the day.

    Rather than ruminating over complex thoughts and feelings, grounding in the present moment helps lessen depressive symptoms.

    While meditating, people notice themselves open up to the full range of their human experience, noticing the sounds, smells, and physical sensations associated with their current location.

    Similarly, mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing can help those with anxiety and have been proven to reduce stress levels during panic attacks.

    Mindfulness-inspired breathwork signals the nervous system to calm down in the presence of anxiety by regulating heart rate variability and blood flow.

    A woman smiling in a group therapy session

    3. Relapse Prevention

    For many people in recovery, addiction relapse is an ongoing threat that, while possible to manage, can present many challenges.

    Recovering from substance use disorder is a lifelong journey, and relapse warning signs can crop up seemingly out of the blue.

    This is especially likely upon leaving the safety of rehab [7] and resuming daily life. To help increase their self-awareness and tune into how they’re really feeling, using mindfulness alongside standard relapse prevention methods is recommended.

    The practice of mindfulness meditation helps those recovering from addiction recognise triggers before they can take hold.

    Contrary to popular belief, relapse can occur for various reasons outside of being presented with drugs or alcohol and experiencing the temptation to use.

    Clinical trials have shown that if someone in recovery is feeling “off”, either physically or emotionally, it can make them more likely to turn back to substance use as a way of coping.

    Feeling tired, stressed, hungry, or lonely are all listed as common risks of relapse, and it’s for this reason that self-care is so important.

    Many people assume that mindfulness is just an appreciation of nature or the outside world, but it’s an incredibly introspective tool. When using mindfulness in recovery, we can recognise how we’re feeling and, if these bodily sensations are negative, how we can respond appropriately.

    In rehabilitation programmes, therapists often use mindfulness practices in conjunction with the HALT acronym: a useful relapse prevention technique [8].

    Standing for Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Tiredness, HALT encourages those in recovery to stop and recognise how they’re doing. How better to do this than by taking the time to tune into how we’re feeling at a given moment?

    Unlike other relapse prevention techniques such as group therapy, mindfulness meditation training is available to us whenever we need it.

    Whether you’re on the train, relaxing at home, or on your lunch break, individuals in addiction recovery can be mindful wherever they are.

    Experience all the benefits of mindfulness at a drug and alcohol rehab near you by calling us on 0800 326 5559

    Mindfulness-Based Therapies in Addiction Treatment

    Men talking during 1-1 therapy

    While not a  treatment for addiction in itself,  mindfulness is a huge part of many therapy styles.

    The link between stress and addictive disorders is well known, and psychiatrists have recognised the benefits of using mindfulness meditation training in their therapy sessions [9].

    From holistic methods to commitment therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, this grounding technique appears across many different mediums.

    1. Holistic Therapy

    We’ll start with the type of treatment most renowned for its use of mindfulness meditation training: Holistic Therapy, or alternative therapy. This non-traditional treatment for substance misuse helps patients create healthy coping mechanisms through a range of activities.

    Typically, these include yoga, meditative martial arts like tai chi, massage therapy, acupuncture, and of course mindfulness-based relapse prevention.

    This alternative treatment for addiction aims to treat the whole person, rather than just one set of symptoms.

    First and foremost, holistic activities promote relaxation – helping patients to focus on healing through understanding their mind-body-spirit connection.

    So, while holistic therapy is an umbrella term for a range of healthy practices, it is deeply rooted in mindfulness. Yoga and meditation place emphasis on remaining present in the moment, helping to improve mental clarity and manage stress through physical movement, mindful concentration, and deep breathing.

    This therapeutic mechanism is known as Somatic Counseling. Known for its positive clinical outcomes, it allows participants to learn stress reduction techniques while increasing their self-awareness.

    Utilising dopamine-enhancing, natural rewards such as yoga helps people connect the dots between different aspects of their lives. They’ll be able to learn how mental, physical and spiritual factors affect their well-being and use this information to curb addictive behaviours.

    2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    When it comes to treatments for addiction, CBT is among the most well-known and ubiquitous methods.

    However, it wasn’t until recently that mindfulness and cognitive behavioural treatments were combined to tackle addictive disorders.

    Often considered the gold-standard therapy, CBT has been around since the 1970s, while mindfulness has only been recognised by the scientific community in recent years.

    Nowadays, this hybrid has been given its name – Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCBT). By utilising elements of traditional cognitive therapy, MBCBT helps patients recognize their negative thought patterns and replace them with positive, healthier ones.

    Backed by numerous clinical trials, this way of tackling addictive behaviour fosters clarity of thought and self-awareness.

    Crucially, MBCBT provides the tools needed to let go of negative thoughts that are so often the root cause of drug or alcohol use disorders.

    During sessions, traditional CBT methods and mindfulness skills work in tandem to target automatic cognitive processes. While cognitive therapy teaches you to interrupt negative thoughts and feelings, mindfulness helps you observe and identify these feelings without judgement.

    Two people holding hands

    3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

    Though not as ubiquitous as CBT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been a staple of the addiction recovery process for several years now.

    It’s also a method that’s grounded in mindfulness, helping people learn to accept difficult feelings and behave in ways that reflect their personal values.

    ACT aims to improve psychological flexibility by using mindfulness practice and behavioural science [10] seen in methods like CBT.

    Psychological flexibility is something that many people struggle with, whether they’re in recovery from addiction or not. It’s simply our ability to contact the present moment while being aware of thoughts and emotions without trying to change them (the acceptance part of ACT).

    Approaching distressing thoughts with compassion and accepting that they’ll pass is key in mindfulness-based addiction treatment.

    ACT therapists teach mindfulness meditation practices to help clients access the present moment. From here, they can make decisions that are more in line with their values (kindness, honesty, compassion, etc).

    4. Dialectical Behavior Therapy

    Mindfulness meditation practices are also a huge part of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy [11], the younger sibling of CBT.

    This therapeutic mechanism was designed to help those with difficult emotions underpinning their addiction or mental illness.

    Its core tenet is to combine the opposing ideas of acceptance and change, teaching patients to let difficult feelings pass while developing ways of coping.

    In this endeavour, those who created DBT turned to mindfulness-based addiction treatment methods. In particular, DBT sessions use mindfulness meditation training to teach emotional regulation, the ability to control the levels of distress we feel.

    During workshops, therapists teach mindfulness using three key skills:

    • Observing
    • Describing
    • Participating

    Firstly, patients are asked to observe their thoughts and feelings without trying to change them.

    After achieving this state of awareness, they’re asked to describe their experience before deciding how best to respond with a level head.

    Developing this neurobiological mechanism can be a game-changing technique in how someone deals with addiction-related feelings.

    Experience all of these treatments and more at a drug and alcohol rehab near you by giving us a call on 0800 326 5559

    Mindfulness Techniques for Everyday Life

    A woman drinking tea outside

    It’s all very well explaining the efficacy of mindfulness in active recovery from addiction, but how can we use it in everyday life?

    Fortunately, there’s a range of mindfulness tactics specifically designed to be used in daily routines.

    The following exercises have been proven to address relapse triggers by allowing you to sit with cravings and allow them to pass. They’re also great for any time you’re feeling stressed out or restless, which happens to all of us at some point.

    1. Practice Sitting Still

    This may sound like the last thing you should do when trying to deal with negativity, as we’re taught that keeping busy is the way to overcome difficulties.

    However, while staying active has its benefits, there is also tremendous value in stillness, and allowing ourselves to simply exist.

    By practising sitting still, you may start to notice feelings of tranquillity creeping in. With time and practice, this can lead to a deeper meditative state where you start to notice the sensations of simply being.

    Even when feelings of anxiety remain, sitting still combined with breathing deeply can help quieten the mental chatter.

    If you’re someone who’s restless by nature or who struggles with sitting still, it can help to start small and build up to longer periods of stillness.

    Start by carving out the time in your day to sit still for a few minutes; focus on the tangible things around you (colours, smells, sounds, furniture, etc) and try breathing deeply.

    2. Focus on Breathing Deeply

    It’s no secret that taking deeper breaths fosters positive clinical outcomes, from pain and discomfort to anxiety and other addiction-related cues. It’s also one of the easiest mindfulness exercises to unlock because you can practice deep breathing wherever you are.

    Mindful breathing [12] requires you to observe how you’re breathing in a given moment; maybe it’s rapidly due to stress, or maybe it’s slow because you’re already comfortable.

    While undergoing mindfulness therapy, counsellors will encourage you to pay attention to every inhale and exhale.

    This involves placing your right hand on top of your navel and your left hand on your chest.

    From here, you can observe the natural flow of your breath and start playing with some techniques.

    Popular breathing strategies include triangular breathing (a 4:4:4 ratio for inhaling, holding, and exhaling), and alternate nostril breathing (blocking one nostril at a time as you exhale through the other).

    3. Body Scan

    Trust us, this doesn’t involve entering a claustrophobic chamber in your local hospital, it’s a simple mindfulness technique for bringing awareness to your body.

    It involves checking each part of your body for pain, tension, or stress, either physically with your hands or by bringing attention to it.

    Typically, mindfulness body scans start at the tip of your toes and encourage you to work upwards to the crown of your head. This can be a great relapse prevention tool, as it encourages us to check in with ourselves and make time for self-care.

    Discover how to employ mindfulness in your everyday life by talking to our addiction experts on 0800 326 5559

    Access Treatment Today

    person holding phone

    Reaching out for help can be the hardest, most crucial step towards quitting addictive substances for good.

    Here at Ok Rehab, we have the tools you’ll need to access the best treatment for substance misuse, regardless of your particular addiction or its severity.

    All our treatment providers and the methods they use are backed by neurophysiological evidence and certified by the Care Quality Commission.

    To help someone you love curb their addictive behaviours or access treatment for yourself, don’t hesitate to give our team a call.

    You can access our UK hotline by dialling 0800 326 5559, or call our international helpline on 0330 333 818















    Subscribe to our email list to get the latest information right to your inbox