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Can Meditation Help with Addiction?

I know that is a bold question that is really hard to answer because people that are addicted to drugs or alcohol all have very different reasons for using.

There is no one-size-fits-all cure which makes it hard for researchers and medical professionals to help these individuals get and remain clean.

Nobody thinks they are going to become addicted when they first try using a particular drug or alcohol, but like all things in life, if you aren’t careful, they can quickly get out of control. So how do you get your life back on track when you are struggling to overcome an addiction?

Meditation can help with that.

Background – The Formation of an addiction

To understand how meditation might be able to help with addiction, one might want to take a few minutes to learn about how addictions are formed.

The mechanism of going from using a particular substance as it was intended, such as for pain management, relaxation, etc. to full blown addiction is fairly well understood.

When you take drugs or consume alcohol, your body develops what is known as tolerance. The increased tolerance requires more of the substance to produce the same effect which leads to physical dependence.

Ultimately when you abruptly stop taking the substance, you experience withdrawal symptoms that can trigger cravings.

People unable to cope with the withdrawal symptoms end up giving in to their cravings and reverting back to using drug or alcohol again.

Researchers are beginning to understand that it is the strength of cravings that separates an addiction from a physical dependence. If the craving is strong enough, addicts will stop at nothing in order to get their next fix to avoid feeling withdrawal symptoms.

Changes in The Brain Lead To The Drug or Alcohol Hijacking The Brain’s Reward Center

The brain’s reward system seems to be regulated by a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Dopamine is believed to be responsible for regulating movement, emotion, and feelings of pleasure.

When you take drugs or alcohol, what you are doing is artificially flooding your brain’s reward system with dopamine.

This creates a positive feedback system that tells your brain that in order to feel good, you must take that drug or consume alcohol. Repeated abuse over time can create a very strong neural circuit that can seem impossible to break.

Enter Meditation

Meditation has been around since the beginning of time, so it must have some benefit, right?

Buddhists are probably the most well recognized group to practice meditation on their path to enlightenment.

Fortunately, the meditation practice is not reserved only for Buddhists that are on the path to enlightenment. Many very famous celebrities from Katy Perry to Jerry Seinfeld are on record endorsing the role that meditation plays in their every day lives.

Meditation’s Purpose

The main goal of meditation for me was to quiet the mind and learn the emotional skills necessary to handle the stress of every day life.

Meditation may have a different purpose for each of the millions of people that practice it across the globe. That is the beauty of it.

For one person, the purpose might be to control anxiety, but for another person the purpose might be to control addiction cravings after completing an inpatient addiction treatment program.

Meditation for Addiction

The process of going from being an addict to sobriety is long and exhausting. Typically, the addict will go to an inpatient addiction treatment program. In there, they go through a medically-supervised drug/alcohol detox process and then enter into a therapy program that aims to get to the root cause of their addiction.

Once the now sober person leaves rehab, it is usually up to them to stay strong and ensure they don’t go back to their old habits.

I mentioned earlier that it is believed that addictions hijack your brain’s reward center to make it believe you need that drug or alcohol in order to feel good. If meditation is incorporated into the person’s daily life post-rehab, it can help retrain your brain to be more mindful and present.

The scientific benefits of being present are numerous, so I won’t go into too much detail. A study published in 2013 by Bowen and colleagues, looked at if mindfulness based relapse prevention (MBRP) programs post-rehab can reduce substance cravings that lead to relapse.

When they completed the primary analysis of the data collected, what they found was that individuals who received MBRP reported significantly lower levels of craving following treatment.

Lower cravings lead to a lower instance of relapse and meditation is a great way to practice and hone the skill of mindfulness.

How to Get Started with Meditation?

Many people think that meditation is a weird spiritual practice and that it takes a significant amount of time out your day. The truth is that you can get started with meditation in as little as 10 minutes per day.

There is so much information on the web about meditation that it can quickly become overwhelming and that is what deters most people from starting despite its benefits.

When I began meditating I ran into this same problem. I began looking into guided meditation sessions on YouTube, but they were inconvenient. There are many apps that help you get into meditation, which I would encourage you to research. I recommend Headspace to get started.

They are pioneering a way to bring meditation to the masses by making it easy to get started, reducing the time commitment, and providing specific packs geared towards a particular problem.

Addiction is a terrible experience for the people that have to go through it. It changes your brain’s biology and hijacks it’s reward system.

This requires the addicted person to expend tremendous energy retraining their brain to reduce cravings and prevent relapse after getting clean.

Meditation can help you do this and I encourage anyone struggling with a bad habit or full blown addiction to give it a shot starting today! Challenge yourself to complete 10 days and comment here to tell us how you feel.

All the best,

Marco

I am a former mid-level advertising executive who had the unfortunate experience with drug and alcohol abuse. My experience is similar to others and in going through it I realized how precious life really is. My aim is to help as many people as possible who are going through the same struggle. I currently serve as the Chief Editor for www.PaloRecovery.com and I hope that you will visit and find value in the topics I write about.