Benefits of Meditation in Recovery from Substance Use Disorder
When you hear meditation you may think of a monk in the Himalayas wearing orange and sitting in silence all day, or of your local western Yogi doing yoga and meditation in a studio or in a garden. What you may not know is that there are many different forms of meditation and that it is widely practiced throughout many different cultures. For persons in recovery, many studies have shown that meditation can bring about actual physiological changes that promote recovery for those battling substance use disorder.
On our Journey to Wholeness: Return to Be programs page, we scratch the surface regarding meditation. Here we want to elaborate on the actual effects that meditation can have on the brain in general, and specifically on those in recovery. Research continues to show that the act of meditation by those recovering from substance use disorder can reduce stress, reduce cravings, and promote acceptance and emotional well-being.
Stress is widely known as a prominent contributing factor to substance use disorder, specifically, use and relapse. Offering our clients different ways to cope with stress and anxiety promotes recovery and greatly reduces the risk of relapse. Those suffering from substance use disorder require coping skills to deal with hurdles that life throws at us. Every individual is unique, but daily matters such as financial stress, family obligations, and pressure at work or school can lead to stress buildup.
This is where meditation can help. The act of meditation brings one into a relaxation response, effectively altering immune function, energy metabolism, insulin secretion, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and brain activity. All of these factors are directly related to stress, anxiety, and potentially a number of diseases. It has even been shown in an 8-week study “that long-term practice of the relaxation response changed the expression of genes involved with the body’s response to stress.” (Reference)
There is also a fair measure of evidence that in some cases, practicing mindfulness meditation can not only reduce substance use but reduce the actual cravings experienced by those with substance use disorder. There is current evidence to suggest that Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can actually be more effective at reducing cravings, and use, of alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, cigarettes, and opiates than other types of non-specific support groups. (Reference)
Acceptance and Emotional Well-being
Mindfulness meditation can help promote acceptance, a well-known foundation of 12-step recovery programs, as well as emotional well-being. Sarah Bowen, Ph.D., published an article in 2009 called “Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) for Substance Use Disorders: A Pilot Efficacy Trial” which offered some of the first randomized-controlled trial data on the effects of mindfulness meditation on those suffering from substance use disorder:
“Feasibility of MBRP was demonstrated by consistent homework compliance, attendance, and participant satisfaction. Initial efficacy was supported by significantly lower rates of substance use in those who received MBRP as compared to those in TAU over the 4-month post-intervention period. Additionally, MBRP participants demonstrated greater decreases in craving, and increases in acceptance and acting with awareness as compared to TAU.” (Reference)
Awareness and acceptance of emotions and sensations can lead to those in recovery to learning to cope with such experiences rather than to act out immediately with substance use. Substance abuse disorder sufferers historically act on the mental obsession for use without pause, and adopting a practice such as meditation can offer different tools to deal with thoughts and emotions as they arise.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mindfulness meditation, other forms of meditation, and various other coping skills for those in recovery. Heartland House is available for any questions, and we are happy to direct you where we can most helpful. Please visit our Journey to Wholeness: Return to Be page for more information on programs where we are implementing meditation.
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