Almost 20 million adults in the United States suffer from a substance or alcohol use disorder. In today’s society, addiction has become a problem of epidemic proportions, costing the country more than $740 billion a year in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs, according to a report by the American Addiction Centers .
Substance use disorders not only have debilitating effects on the addicted individual’s quality of life but can also negatively impact their family members and friends.
Meditation can be an effective tool to help those struggling with addiction achieve a state of calmness and relaxation, relieve stress, manage their triggers, cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and prevent relapse.
Whether you’re currently facing addiction, seeking treatment, or well on the road to recovery, keep going to learn more about the important benefits of meditation for addiction and various meditation strategies to help you navigate your journey to recovery.
Addictions are typically divided into two distinct categories:
The affected person engages in such activities because of the associated psychological reward or ‘high’; however, this is often followed by feelings of guilt, remorse, or overwhelm.
Around 60 percent of Americans will try at least one drug in their lives; however, 32 percent will remain users throughout the course of their lives .
Furthermore, the prevalence of behavioral addictions varies among men and women. For instance, one 2015 study found that excessive eating and shopping were two and three times higher in women than men, respectively; meanwhile, excessive sexual behavior was four times higher in males .
So why are some people more inclined to addiction than others?
A person’s propensity to addiction is influenced by numerous factors, including genetics, social and environmental factors, brain chemistry, mental health disorders, and even gender.
The benefits of meditation in recovery were once considered a pseudoscience, lacking any real scientific backing. However, in recent years, mounting evidence attests to the effectiveness of meditation for addiction recovery, convincing healthcare professionals to adopt a holistic approach when treating their patients.
For example, one 2006 study of an incarcerated population who partook in a meditation course found a significant reduction in cocaine, crack, alcohol, and marijuana use upon release from jail, compared to participants who received conventional treatment .
A more recent study published in 2018 found that mindfulness meditation was effective in preventing relapse by training patient’s in self-awareness to recognize their triggers, self-generate positive emotions, and contemplate reasons to remain sober .
So what makes meditation so effective? There are several physiological and psychological reasons why meditation can provide natural relief from addiction, including:
Ingesting intoxicating substances and engaging in addictive activities highly stimulates the brain’s pre-frontal cortex, otherwise known as the ‘happiness center’. This region of the brain is responsible for inducing feelings of joy, happiness, and satisfaction.
During periods of withdrawal, this area subsequently becomes extremely under-active, resulting in a crash that replaces the feel-good emotions with the exact opposite: depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt.
According to a 2005 study by neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar, meditation produces a natural high by increasing neural density, cortical thickness, and activity within the pre-frontal cortex, thereby training your brain to feel good naturally without the need for addictive substances or activities .
A 2005 study by Scott et al. of 121 patients undergoing a substance abuse program found that electrically stimulating alpha and theta brainwave frequencies effectively treat addiction. Results from a one-year follow-up showed that 77 percent of users remained drug-free .
Alpha and theta brainwaves place users into an advanced state of consciousness, inducing deep relaxation and pleasure, increased creativity, profound insight, and better decision-making.
Alpha and theta frequencies dominate the brain during a meditative state, thereby helping to beat addiction healthily and naturally without the need for expensive medical intervention.
One symptom for people suffering from addiction is an overwhelming urge to satisfy a craving when it strikes.
Meditation can effectively help sufferers overcome such self-destructing impulses by training the brain to objectively observe them come and go rather than try and suppress or ignore them.
By taking control of your desires and practicing detachment through meditation, cravings no longer have the power to defeat your willpower.
When an addict satisfies their craving, high amounts of dopamine-a chemical that makes you feel good-are released, flooding certain regions of the brain. Inevitably, when the affected person experiences the subsequent ‘crash,’ dopamine levels fall to an exponential low, triggering a vicious cycle of the brain seeking a further dopamine boost.
A 2002 study by Kjaer et al. found that meditation can successfully counter addictive behaviors by regulating dopamine production. In fact, participants’ dopamine levels were boosted by a staggering 65% during meditation and remained at optimal levels when not in meditation .
Abstaining from addictive behaviors and substances can generate a whole host of undesired symptoms that can be challenging to deal with, potentially triggering a relapse.
Recovering addicts will likely be tested with many issues, such as stress, anger, anxiety, depression, insomnia, physical pain, and making difficult decisions about their sobriety.
Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of meditation in alleviating such withdrawal symptoms by shifting the body’s chemical response out of a stress-based ‘fight-or-flight’ mode to a rested and relaxed state, allowing you to better regulate emotions and make sound decisions .
Furthermore, meditation releases an influx of endorphins, brain chemicals that act as natural painkillers, inducing a euphoric high that can effectively relieve pain.
People facing addiction spend most of their lives running on autopilot, drifting through life not in control or even aware of how they reached such a low point, further catapulting them into a downward spiral of unhappiness.
Ultimately, addiction and the unpleasant feelings that accompany it is a result of not living consciously. Meditation helps to change this negative pattern by training you to become mindful of every thought, action, and experience.
Such conscious examination compels you to address the true source of your unhappiness and empowers you to take conscious action to bring your life back into harmony.
The link between meditation and addiction has been the subject of extensive research over the decades. Several studies have confirmed that meditative intervention reduces the consumption of alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, and other substances and reduces the risk of relapse in patients with substance use disorders .
There are many meditation techniques, all of which focus on the mind-body connection. The best type will depend upon your personal preferences. Try each technique before settling on one that works for you.
While all forms of meditation focus on being mindful, mindfulness meditation reinforces building an awareness of the current situation by examining thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a detached and non-judgmental way.
The key is to allow these thoughts and sensations to pass without attaching any labels or emotions to them. You can incorporate breathing techniques and guided imagery into the practice to help you recover from addiction and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Spiritual meditation is used in nearly all religions and spiritual traditions where the focus is directed toward finding a connection with God, the universe, or a higher power.
While spiritual meditation is highly individual, the intention behind the practice is to connect to something greater than you in order to activate higher consciousness and awareness of yourself.
The practice can foster a sense of inner bliss that isn’t dependent on outer circumstances, thereby reducing unhealthy addictive behavioral patterns.
The purpose of focused meditation is to concentrate wholly on a single focal point, whether it’s your breath, bodily sensations, physical objects, or specific activities. Release any thoughts and feelings that arise throughout the process without allowing yourself to become absorbed, and then redirect your attention back to your focal point of choice.
By completely directing your consciousness to a single object, mantra, or sensation, you’re essentially training your mind to become unresponsive to any distractions, be it internal thoughts and feelings or external stimuli like loud car alarms or people shouting.
If meditating while sitting completely still doesn’t appeal to you, then you could try movement meditation. This practice consists of gentle, slow-paced, and controlled forms of moving, focusing your complete attention on the present moment as you perform the purposeful and steady moves.
There are many different forms of movement meditation, such as yoga and tai chi. Even everyday acts like gardening, walking, or riding a bike can become a meditative experience by directing your focus to the full range of physical sensations and motions involved in the activity.
For instance, if you’re walking, focus on your feet hitting the ground, your arms swinging back and forth, and your breathing patterns; similarly, if you’re riding a bike, pay attention to your feet pushing the pedals.
Introducing a mantra into your meditation can be an effective way to overcome your addiction. For instance, you can try basic positive affirmations, such as ‘I deserve to be sober’ as you inhale, followed by ‘My life is free of drugs’ as you exhale.
Reciting single-syllable sounds can also help to develop the power of mindfulness. While taking a deep breath, you may find plenty of spontaneous thoughts circling through your mind; however, repeating a sound like ‘ohm’ each time you exhale can help bring your focus back to the present moment amidst interruptions or intrusive thoughts.
Using water to relax your mind and body enhances the power of meditation by unlocking a new level of inner peace and healing. For people who struggle to make other forms of meditation work for them, incorporating water into their practice may be the answer.
Scientifically, your heart rate naturally drops anytime your body encounters water , making you feel calmer, weightless, and more present, thereby setting the right tone for your meditation session.
For instance, when taking a warm bath, you should pay attention to your body submerged in the water and the warm sensation on your skin. Leave the tap dripping and concentrate on the sound it makes.
Or, when taking a shower, you could imagine the water washing away your negative thought patterns relating to your addiction and watching them disappear down the drain.
You could even pair other forms of meditation, such as mantra and mindfulness, with water to enhance the effects.
Incorporating meditation into addiction treatment programs can be effective in achieving recovery. Whether you are days, months, or years into the process, the benefits of daily meditation can be felt immediately.
If you’ve never meditated before and find the idea a little daunting, these helpful tips on getting started will give you some peace of mind.
If you’re intimidated by practicing meditation, then sharing the experience with others and having the expertise of a teacher to guide you can be far more effective than trying it alone. Moreover, classes ensure you are closed to the distractions of the outside world, allowing you to focus in peace, and feeling like you’re part of a community will motivate you to stick to the habit.
Novice meditators are often burdened with questions like: ‘Am I doing this right?’, ‘How long should I continue for?’ or ‘How should I be feeling?’.
Meditation apps are the perfect tool to teach beginners the basics of how to breathe properly, approach your wandering mind, and manage feeling restless, taking the mental legwork out of the practice and making the process more interesting.
Download Mesmerize and follow the lead of a professional meditation guide to help you drum up specific mental imagery, walk you through breathing, and share inspirational stories designed to help you beat your addiction.
The expertly-crafted guided meditations help you learn and master new techniques, so you’re better equipped to handle any challenges you face on your road to recovery. Just listen to the expert’s voice and do as they instruct-it couldn’t be simpler.
Download Mesmerize on your iOS device and reap the benefits of guided meditation for addiction recovery today.
Gaining profound insight into your inner world, breaking free from addictive thoughts and behaviors, recognizing habitual patterns, and clearing your mind to feel better; these are just a few of the benefits you can experience from keeping a record of your meditation journey through recovery.
A journal can help you build clarity on your experience, providing vital hindsight of your practice and a more definite sense of how far you’ve come in your recovery journey.
Addiction can stem from several underlying issues, including trauma and abuse, peer pressure, mental illness, stress, a family history of addiction, and exposure to substances from an early age. Understanding how these factors correlate with substance abuse and addiction can help reduce a person's risk of becoming addicted.
Meditation has been proven to help individuals recover from addiction and substance abuse. By increasing awareness and a mind-body connection, practitioners are able to feel at peace in the moment and exert more self-control over their impulses. Regular practice can help to combat challenging withdrawal symptoms, triggers, and cravings.
Even in cases of prolonged substance abuse and addiction, the brain has a powerful ability to adapt and repair the damage it causes. Through a process called neuroplasticity, the brain builds new neuron cells and creates neural pathways, allowing it to grow, modify and restructure itself. This activity is enhanced in recovering addicts who practice regular meditation.