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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

Meditation and Addiction Recovery

Originally posted May 23, 2017

With many people taking a holistic approach to treating addiction, meditation has become an integral aspect of many addiction recovery programs. Meditation has been used in Eastern cultures for years, and has recently found its way into Western culture as countless people turn toward more natural ways of taking care of their body and mind. And, while not considered a cure-all for those overcoming addiction, meditation is unprecedented at increasing self-awareness, combating stress and anxiety, decreasing negative emotional response, and helping increase connection.

5 Ways Meditation Helps in Addiction Recovery

#1 – Lowers Stress Levels

It’s no secret that stress leads to substance abuse. Anyone who has struggled with addiction is familiar with the immediate urge to use when hit with stressful situations. Whether it’s cigarettes, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or food…when stress hits the addicted brain, the desire to numb it with a person’s drug of choice is clearly evident. A regular meditation practice can help relieve stress and invoke a sense of calm that permeates a person’s presence even when they aren’t meditating. Meditation works in harmony with the central nervous system, guiding a person out of “fight or flight” mode and into an oasis of increased calm and awareness. Meditating even five minutes a day can significantly reduce the stress that leads to compulsive drug or alcohol abuse.

#2 – Increases Dopamine Levels

Drugs and alcohol increase dopamine levels in the reward centers of the brain, part of which makes a person feel good when they’re high. When their drug of choice begins to wear off, however, dopamine levels plummet to levels lower than they were before using. This is what leads to people craving more of whatever it is they’re addicted to. A 2002 study showed that meditation leads to a 65 percent increase in dopamine levels. When an individual recovering from addiction starts to meditate regularly, they will begin to naturally increase dopamine levels and decrease the desire to get high.

#3 – Decreases Compulsive Behavior

The compulsive behavior that is a natural aspect of any addiction can be managed by a regular meditation practice. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), an addiction is a “chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive (substance or behavior) seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and those around him or her. Although the initial decision to use is voluntary for most people, the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person’s self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to use.” Meditation can change compulsive behavior that is found in the majority of addicted individuals. A study published in 2012 showed that two-thirds of participants suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) reported a decline in their symptoms after combining mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

#4 – Offers Emotional Balance

Anyone addicted to drugs or alcohol is familiar with the wave of emotions that come with it. An addict can feel invincible while they’re high, yet succumb to a deep state of depression when they begin to come down. Some of the other emotions a person might experience on the addiction rollercoaster include confidence, insecurity, happiness, anger, acceptance, irritability, contentment, anxiety…it goes on and on. Stay addicted and you’re going to continue to experience a wrath of different emotions. A regular meditation practice offers emotional balance like nothing else can. Making a concentrated effort to focus on the breath in meditation for just a few moments each day can help a person regain emotional balance after battling addiction. For the myriad of emotions that are a natural part of addiction recovery, meditation offers accentuated emotional balance when made a regular part of one’s recovery journey.

#5 – Induces a “Natural High”

When a person abuses drugs or alcohol, the happiness center of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) is stimulated. When they begin to come down from this high, the prefrontal cortex becomes under-active. Meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, which can over time, evoke feelings of happiness and a “natural high” without the need for drugs or alcohol. Meditation also increases endorphins in the brain that lead to increased happiness and feelings of wellbeing. When offered as a part of an individual’s addiction recovery strategy, meditation can give patients the “high” we all inevitably seek…in the most natural way possible.

There is a reason meditation has become wildly popular in Western culture over recent years. It works (and works well) to bring calm to the chaos we all experience in our modern, fast-paced culture. For those who have fallen into the viscous trap of addiction, meditation can help ease the struggle when they make the decision to set themselves free.

When combined with other methods that have been proven successful in addiction recovery, meditation has the potential to change people’s lives. Meditation can bring a higher level of awareness not just to your addiction, but to body, mind, and soul as you consciously breathe through the recovery process.

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