Mindfulness and Addiction Recovery

The Importance of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery

Last Updated: Jan 18th 2021

Reviewed by Laura Riley

Mindfulness and addiction recovery skills are learned over time. But, small changes can make a large impact. North Jersey Recovery Center provides mindfulness addiction recovery treatment in New Jersey to heal the body and mind. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mindfulness as, “the process of focusing the mind, body, and soul what is being sensed at the moment”. In other words, it’s practicing self-awareness at the highest level. It’s more than being aware of the surroundings. Instead, mindfulness helps people stay aware of how their thoughts and feelings affect them.

How Mindfulness and Addiction Work

Mindfulness is a powerful and effective process; those who are recovering from addiction can deeply benefit from it. Countless studies and organizations have addressed the power of mindfulness and addiction recovery. It works because mental illness often affects people suffering from a substance use disorder. For instance, NAMI states that 9.5 million US adults were diagnosed with a mental illness and substance use disorder. This is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. 

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The most anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the US. Anxiety disorders affect 18% (40 million) of American adults every year. Psychiatry Times writes that decades of psychiatric research show drug addiction is a predictor of an anxiety disorder.  

People with this type of disorder focus on negative thoughts. Ultimately, these thoughts turn into reality as the illness progresses. Mindfulness can help a recovering individual to stay in the moment instead of thinking about the past or future. 

The Power of Mindfulness and Addiction 

Mindfulness shifts the thought away from outcomes. Instead, it says satisfaction should come from the intention behind an action. A mindset like this encourages those suffering from a substance use disorder to not dwell on what went wrong. 

The Journal of Mind-Body Regulation states how mindfulness has therapeutic benefits in the following ways: 

  • It’s a self-directed practice.
  • It reduces psychological stress for many disorders.
  • Mindfulness helps people think in terms of intentions instead of expectations.
  • Mindfulness training asks people to reframe their way of thinking in a positive way.
  • It works by letting people approach a stressful situation through the eyes of a friend, family member, or stranger.

At its core, mindfulness helps recovering addicts by holding them accountable for a situation without shaming them. This helps them think in terms of action and acceptance. Addiction recovery can fail without practicing mindfulness. The shame of addiction can cause a relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) around 40-60% of addicts relapse

7 Activities that Help With Mindfulness and Addiction During Recovery 

Practice Forest Bathing 

The magazine, Time, writes about the practice of forest bathing. It’s also known as shinrin-yoku. This ancient Japanese practice is when a person sets the intention to stay in the moment through visiting a forest. During their time there, they will use their senses to fully take in what the forest feels like. 

Those who want to try it out are asked to observe nature through: 

  • Sight 
  • Taste 
  • Smell 
  • Touch 
  • Hearing

The author of the piece, Dr. Qing Li, writes that anyone can practice shinrin-yoku wherever there are trees. Just take a seat and let nature be the therapist. A part of why it works is because Americans spend around 93% of their time indoors. 

Eat Healthily 

A healthy diet is a big part of mindfulness and addiction recovery. When a person suffers from a substance use disorder they don’t care about what they’re putting in their body. Those suffering from substance use disorders often have problems with malnutrition. Instead of mindlessly eating, eat a diet that enriches the body and mind. 

Eat a diet full of: 

  • Nuts 
  • Fish 
  • Eggs
  • Fruits 
  • Beans
  • Poultry 
  • Vegetables 
  • Lean meat 

When you prepare or eat a meal, stay in the moment. Focus on how fast you’re eating. Savor all the flavors or make a mental note of how to improve the dish for next time. 

Practice Mind-Body Activities 

NAMI released a digital pamphlet where they wrote that medication can be a crutch. Practicing mindfulness during recovery is a lifestyle choice that leads to success. The organization also writes that doing mind-body exercises changes the way the brain functions, can relieve stress, boost sleep patterns, minimize chronic pain, and reduce the risk of health disorders. 

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The National Cancer Institute defines mind-body exercises as those that use movement, focus, and breathing techniques to improve overall health. Popular examples are tai chi, yoga, and qigong. Mind-body exercises are forms of moving meditations. Anyone can practice them and benefit in the process.  

Keep a Journal 

A large part of cognitive-behavioral therapy is mindfulness. Some therapists who practice it will ask their patients to keep a journal. They will ask them to record how they feel and things they are grateful for. From there, patients can see all the things they appreciate in life. Also, it shows what stops them from appreciating it. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers research about how journaling boosts mental health. It does so by reducing intrusive thoughts, suppression of negative thoughts, and improves memory. The process simplifies and organizes thoughts logically.  

Practice Meditation 

The Harvard Gazette writes about how the mental benefits of mindful meditation are backed by science. Gaëlle Desborders, an instructor of radiology at Harvard and neuroscientist, used magnetic images of brain scans to show the benefits of meditation. After practicing mindful meditation, people were able to steady brain activity even when they weren’t meditating 

Participants in the study were taught how to practice meditation for two months. Meditation asks people to focus on breathing and their heartbeat. This allows them to be in the moment and be mindful of their thoughts. Research shows how people who practice meditation can reduce intrusive thoughts.  

Make Art 

Making art is another great way to practice mindfulness. Engaging in activities that force your mind to process and focus on present feelings can resolve anxiety, depression, and stress. Creating art is a way to do that. Harvard Women’s Health Watch writes that a German study in 2014 found making art improves emotional resilience. 

Recovering individuals need emotional resilience to get through treatment. Recovery is a tough road to travel along. The road takes patients through peaks and valleys, even after treatment. Staying present and resilient can help individuals stay sober. 

Exercise Mindfully 

NAMI writes that people who want to improve their mental state should aim to exercise for at least 20 minutes every day. But, using mindfulness to aid addiction recovery means being in the moment. Whatever the exercise is, focus on the sensation and setting. Is it hurting too much? Do you feel stronger/faster than last week? What about the scenery? Exercise can help recovering addicts stay grounded. Also, exercising releases feel-good chemicals. 

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Mindfully exercising helps with health disorders such as: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Obesity 
  • Stroke 
  • Depression
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Cardiovascular disease

CBT Acts As Mindfulness Addiction Recovery

One of the most popular forms of therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This version of psychotherapy came about when Dr. Aaron T. Beck saw that a person’s thoughts could drastically affect their mental health. In the 1960s, he studied the power of self-talk, and how “automatic thoughts” can help or hurt a mental disorder. 

He separated automatic thoughts out into three categories:

  1. Negative ideas about themselves 
  2. Automatic, negative thoughts about the world 
  3. Negative ideas about the future 

Before this school of thought, doctors didn’t realize how mindless thoughts could hurt mental health. Dr. Beck asked his patients to use mindfulness to identify negative, automatic thoughts. He found that awareness about these thoughts helped patients think realistically. Then, has asked them to rephrase that thought in a positive, realistic way. Ultimately, this kind of therapy resulted in long-lasting recovery. 

Since then, thousands of studies reveal the power of mindfulness and CBT. Drug and alcohol rehabs, like North Jersey Recovery Center, encourage mindfulness in addiction treatment. They use it to make them aware of their harmful thoughts and behaviors. In turn, it lets recovering patients think more clearly and respond to triggers in a positive way. Also, it provides them with a lifetime of healthy coping skills. 

CBT treatment for addiction involves: 

  • Facing fears 
  • Practicing radical self-love 
  • Role-playing to decenter from the problem 
  • Using healthy coping mechanisms to relax the body and mind 
  • How to use problem-solving skills instead of using drugs and alcohol 
  • Learning how to reprogram the brain’s way of automatic thinking 

CBT as mindfulness addiction recovery usually happens during individual treatment. Though, North Jersey Recovery Center also lets patients practice it in a group setting. Family members and friends can choose to join in if a patient prefers. Also, our therapists may use alternative therapies to complement CBT. 

NJRC Helps Improve Mindfulness and Addiction Treatment in New Jersey

Checking into a drug and addiction treatment center in New Jersey is the first step to recovery. Though, lasting recovery comes from a combination of mindfulness and addiction treatment. If you suffer from a substance use disorder and mental illness, actively choosing mindfulness can instill life-long skills. 

You’ll have to do the work, but we will guide you. After, you can take them with you for the rest of your life. Contact us now to see how a mindfulness addiction therapy plan can give you the tools to remain sober.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.

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