Employing a host of techniques, the practice of mindfulness has become a popular and effective tool in the treatment of addiction and for maintaining recovery.
Conceptually, mindfulness is the process of focusing one’s attention on the present to become more aware of thoughts and feelings, processing and accepting them without judgement.
Mindfulness-based addiction treatment provides patients with self-managed tools which allow them to pause and exist in the present, acknowledging their cravings while restructuring their thought processes to support decision making and potentially reduce impulsive behaviors that could otherwise lead to bad outcomes, including relapse.
Important Skills for Long Term Recovery
As a part of Mental Health Awareness Month, Lisa Blanchard, Spectrum’s Chief Clinical Officer, reflected on the growing role that mindfulness plays in clinical settings across our facilities.
Blanchard leads Spectrum’s Curriculum Committee, which has developed a set of best practices for treatment practitioners to integrate mindfulness into other modalities both in early recovery and as part of a comprehensive wellness plan for long-term recovery. She is also the co-host of the “Airing Addiction” podcast, which examines important topics and stories related to addiction and recovery.
“There’s emerging evidence showing how supportive (mindfulness) is in treating co-occurring conditions that often come along with addiction, things like chronic pain, depression, or anxiety,” Blanchard said. “In the population we treat, co-occurring depression or other mental health conditions are very common, so this practice becomes another powerful tool for us to use, not only in a clinical setting but for patients to take home with them.”
Mindfulness encompasses techniques like meditation and breathing exercises designed to calm and focus the mind. According to Blanchard, one of the key benefits to mindfulness is that it “creates space” for an individual. “Patients working toward recovery need space between cravings or negative thoughts and the action they might take to fulfill them,” she explains. “These techniques provide calming, and important coping skills.”
Blanchard notes that “we also encourage our staff to practice mindfulness, as well.” Front line providers and clinicians benefit from mindfulness as a way of alleviating stress on the job, and to develop a more personal understanding of the principles being deployed when treating patients.
A Growing Track Record
Blanchard points out that mindfulness has rapidly overcome the misperception that it is an experimental, new-age treatment. In fact, the practice of mindfulness in the medical field in the U.S dates to the late 1970s, with the development of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Initially, the approach was tested for pain, primary care, and orthopedic patients. At the turn of the 21st century, researchers began investigating its ability to effectively treat addictions like alcohol use disorder and cigarette smoking.
Randomized clinical trial results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) compared the effectiveness of mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) against two traditional treatment modalities: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Relapse Prevention (CBTRP) and Treatment as Usual (TAU).
MBRP participants showed significantly fewer days of drug use and heavy drinking at their 12-month follow-up, leading the researchers to conclude that targeted mindfulness practices strengthen the ability to monitor and skillfully cope with the discomfort associated with craving or negative effects, thus supporting positive long-term outcomes.
Blanchard describes the best part of mindfulness as being its variety. “There are many alternatives to choose from,” she said. “Not everyone may want to sit and formally meditate, but you can incorporate it when you are eating, walking, or doing almost anything. It’s about learning to breathe, relax and create space.”
Plus, she adds, the actual practices are free. “There are free apps and free exercises anyone can access and use,” she notes. “It’s something patients can take with them and practice regardless of resources. You can bring mindfulness with you wherever you go, and that is not the case with every type of treatment.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or a substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.