Did you ever grab a bag of chips or your favorite candy bar, begin eating and then suddenly realize all you have in your hands is an empty wrapper?
Or did you ever get in your car and drive to the grocery store without remembering anything about your drive there? Most of us have done these things, and they are perfect examples of mindLESSness, which some people call being on autopilot or mind-wandering. For a person with a drug or alcohol addiction, reaching for the next drink or using a drug can be just as mindless an activity, and they are often acting on autopilot.
According to an article by Steve Brandt in the Harvard Gazette, research shows that for an average person 47% of their time awake is spent thinking about something other than what they are actually doing. During this time on autopilot, a person’s attention is absorbed in the wandering of their mind. They are not actually “present” in our own lives. The article goes on to explain that “humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all.” This way of thinking leaves them more vulnerable to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress which are all very familiar feelings to people suffering with a substance abuse addiction.
What is Mindfulness?
Dr. John D. Rich, Jr., defined mindfulness in an article he wrote for Psychology Today, as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” It is being actively aware of your own feelings at the time they are happening, remaining neutral about those feelings, and considering your present feelings without being in judgement of them.
Although mindfulness has its roots in ancient Buddhism, it wasn’t until 1979 that it was used in western medicine. That year, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School founded a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to treat the chronically ill.
Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery
Many people describe mindfulness as the idea of “living in the moment.” For those suffering with an addiction, it is often impossible to focus on anything except the substance itself. They are constantly thinking about getting their next fix or drink or actively pursuing their goal of satisfying their craving. When mindfulness is included as part of the recovery process, recovering addicts learn how to use it to understand and deal with their cravings. They become aware of the triggers that cause the cravings and learn how to bypass them by accepting, understanding and dealing with their feelings. By doing this, instead of giving in to their cravings, the cycle of addiction is stopped.
Once a recovering addict learns how to use the skill of mindfulness, they have the ability to focus on the present, the here and now. They can then deal with the feelings they are experiencing.
The following are several of the ways mindfulness helps in addiction recovery:
- Mindfulness is an effective method for dealing with and reducing stress by learning how to focus on the present and not worry about the future.
- Mindfulness helps to break the cycle of negativity and thus reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Decision-making is improved because practicing mindfulness makes a person more aware of their feelings and thoughts. They are able to think more clearly.
- Recovering addicts are able to deal with cravings without giving in to them.
- It helps recovering addicts be aware of the warning signs that a possible relapse may occur.
Practicing mindfulness also helps to reduce insomnia, sharpens your memory, and helps to increase a person’s overall sense of well-being. It also helps to improve self-awareness as people become more attuned to their own bodies.
Incorporating Mindfulness in an Addiction Recovery Program
When looking for a substance abuse treatment program, it is important to find one that incorporates mindfulness into its recovery plan. For example, at Canyon Vista Recovery Center, in Mesa, Arizona, residents are provided with a full continuum of care that includes mindfulness as part of its Extended Care Treatment. The recovery program at Canyon Vista combines traditional and holistic therapies, life skills, nutritional guidance, and family healing to build their residents’ self-esteem and provide them with the coping strategies and skills they need as they progress along their journey toward life-long sobriety.