Guide to Meditation in Recovery

couple outpatient treatmentAccording to Yoga International, meditation is both an art and a science. It is the process of training your mind to let go of outside stimuli and create an inner stillness and self-awareness. Meditation can help you find an island of peace in the churning and chaotic river of everyday life.

Stress and anxiety as well as feelings of self-loathing and a lack of self-confidence may lead people to abuse alcohol or drugs in an attempt to escape reality, or as a form of self-medicating depressive or anxious behaviors or thoughts. Poor impulse control and a lack of substantial family and social connections may also be predictors of substance abuse. The National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) of 2013 found that 24.6 million people over the age of 12 in the United States were current illicit drug users at the time of the study, and 60.1 million people binge drank in the past month.

Abusing drugs and/or alcohol may lead to a substance abuse disorder, or SUD, and the NSDUH reported that 8.2 percent of the American adult population in 2013 suffered from an SUD in the past year. Meditation, in conjunction with behavioral therapies, is often employed as a successful adjunct treatment method during recovery from substance abuse or a substance abuse disorder.

Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is often thought of as primarily an Eastern practice based in spirituality, when in reality, it is practiced around the world and focuses more on calming the mind, finding focus, and eliminating outside distractions. One of the important aspects of addiction treatment is to discover the emotional triggers and stressors that may have led to the abuse of substances in the first place. Meditation can help with this process by helping you to turn inward and explore your inner thoughts and feelings. Becoming more self-aware is one of the goals and benefits of addiction treatment and meditation alike.Substance abuse can often take control of your life, wreaking havoc on your family, social circle, and your ability to fulfill workplace or school obligations. Compulsive drug- or alcohol-seeking behavior becomes the center of your existence as most of your time is spent figuring out how to obtain substances, using them, and recovering from their use. Learning how to control impulses and transform negative thoughts into more optimistic ones can be extremely beneficial in the battle against substance abuse and addiction.

Psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, works by helping you to modify negative thought and behavior patterns into more positive ones, thereby increasing self-confidence and boosting self-esteem. Meditation may help achieve the same results, and when used together, both may be successful tools during addiction treatment. A wandering mind can be a dangerous thing for someone struggling with substance abuse, and a lack of motivation may lead to relapse.

Meditation may also help an individual to regain focus and the ability to concentrate, which may have been damaged by substance abuse. The New York Times published that meditation may actually increase cognitive abilities, focus, and attention. The mind is sharpened, and clarity may be achieved through meditation. Serotonin levels may be increased with regular meditation, which helps to boost moods and positive feelings. Cortisol levels in the body, which are partially responsible for feelings of stress and anxiety, are also lowered through the practice of mindful meditation, as published by the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand.

Meditation may have physical benefits as well as emotional ones. It may lower blood pressure and decrease levels of lactate in the blood, which reduces anxiety. The immune system may be boosted as tension is dissipated and healthy sleep patterns are restored.

Insomnia is often a side effect of substance abuse; the sharpening of the mind, increased clarity, and relaxation of the brain’s arousal system that are promoted during meditation may help sleep come easier. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine published a study showing a direct tie between mindful meditation and improved sleep patterns. Substance abuse takes a toll on the body as it can affect appetite and a general sense of health and well-being, but meditation, combined with a nutritious diet, may help to restore a healthy balance.

Meditation and Brain Function

man about to have a prescription drug relapeRecent studies are highlighting how meditation may actually change and increase brain functions and cognition, regardless of one’s age. Researchers affiliated with Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found a direct correlation between mindful meditation and increased grey matter in the hippocampus region of the brain and decreased grey matter in the amygdala. The hippocampus is responsible for memory and learning, as well as compassion, self-awareness, and introspection while the amygdala controls reactions to stress and anxiety. Participants in the study practiced mindful meditation for 27 minutes a day, and brain functions were studied at the end of eight weeks, highlighting the difference in brain matter and density in these specific regions of the brain.

Substance abuse makes negative changes in the brain’s circuitry, as chronic abuse leads to interference with the production of some of the brain’s natural messengers or neurotransmitters. Many illicit drugs, for example, stimulate the production of dopamine, which is responsible for pleasure. Chronic abuse may lead the brain to stop producing this important neurotransmitter on its own, instead relying on the chemical stimulation. Over time, the brain then becomes dependent on the drug in order to feel “normal” or balanced. When the drug is then removed or wears off, users may feel depressed and anxious, motivating them to take more drugs in order to feel good again.

Physical and psychological cravings and withdrawal symptoms are common side effects of addiction and drug or alcohol dependence. Meditation can help substance abusers begin to repair these reward pathways in the brain, thus reducing stress and combating cravings. Consciously changing your mind may actually make physical and positive changes in your brain, as reported by Psychology Today.

Tips for Performing Meditation

Meditation is a tool that can be used virtually anywhere and by anyone. It doesn’t require a gym or any special equipment. Practicing the art of mindful meditation for a few minutes each day may be enough to increase self-awareness and happiness as well as improve a variety of health problems, as reported by Yale News.

Guided meditation is a great way to achieve these benefits and learn the art of meditation. Some helpful hints for meditating on your own include:

  • Find a peaceful and uncluttered location.
  • Sit on a cushion, up against a wall, or on rigid-backed chair with your back straight.
  • Choose a duration of time; start small for as little as five minutes and work up to longer periods of time.
  • Allow your muscles to relax while keeping your posture.
  • Breathe normally.
  • Focus on one thing for at least 10 breaths (e.g., breathing or a body part)
  • Practice each day.

Anyone practicing meditation, especially beginners, is likely to experience feelings of doubt. It is important to embrace these negative energies as normal but not get caught up in them. Meditation gets easier over time and with practice. A trained meditation guide, attending meditation classes, or a meditation retreat can help you learn proper techniques as well.

At Orlando Recovery Center, we use a progressive treatment approach that focuses on regaining healthy balance between the mind, body, and spirit.

Meditation may be used during detox to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, thereby reducing drug-seeking behavior. Beyond detox, meditation is a great adjunct treatment method used in conjunction with behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups to encourage a successful recovery. Traditional and holistic methods are employed by professional staff members to ensure a comprehensive treatment regime. Call today to learn more about our specialized treatment models.

Medical Disclaimer: Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.