Using Meditation for Recovery – Does it Work?

Meditation, or the practice of focusing one’s mind in contemplation or reflection in order to build awareness, is an ancient practice believed to be used by religious and spiritual groups as far back as 5,000 BCE. There are many different types of meditation ranging from spiritual, in which the practitioner is focused on developing a deeper connection with their higher power; to transcendental, where the practitioner uses a sound, or mantra, to achieve a calm, relaxed state; to mindfulness-based, which is useful in alleviating stress and negative thought cycles. Though the various forms of meditation may have different approaches, all types have at their foundation the primary objective of quieting the mind. 

As more effort is directed at understanding the physiological and psychological components of addiction, and as the medical community gains a deeper understanding of the role that stress plays in addiction and relapse, the use of meditation in substance abuse recovery has gained attention for being a helpful tool.  

Addiction and Stress Go Hand in Hand

When we think of the connection between stress and addiction, we may first think of a situation in which a real-time stress event triggers a substance-related coping mechanism. And while that is definitely one way that stress leads to addiction and relapse, it is not the only way, by far. The body of evidence linking stress to addiction is significant, wide ranging, and growing. 

In the article, Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction, Rajita Sinha outlines numerous psychological and neurobiological processes that are impacted by stress. To name just a few: acute and chronic stress can affect dopamine regulation; childhood stress brought on by adversity and mistreatment can alter the parts of the mesolimbic and prefrontal areas of the brain that are responsible for stress-related behavior control; and the act of using an addictive substance itself can activate stress pathways, creating maladaptive stress responses on the biological level. 

woman meditating

If Stress Triggers Addiction, and Meditation Helps Control Stress, Can Meditation Also Help Control Addiction?

It would stand to reason that meditation would be useful in the context of addiction recovery, because it is a practice that has a demonstrated ability to reduce and relieve stress. Though scientific enquiry is still at its infancy, and more research is needed, studies to-date indicate that, yes, meditation is an effective tool in managing addiction and relapse prevention.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – A Proven Methodology

One type of meditative practice in particular has demonstrated efficacy in treating addiction and relapse. It’s called mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, and it was developed by MIT-educated doctor and professor, John Kabat-Zinn. Though its use in the field of addiction recovery is still relatively new, this particular type of meditation has been the subject of several promising studies related to addiction and relapse prevention. It has been found to be helpful in craving reduction, acceptance, and stress management – in particular, it helps with the stress trigger, “experiential avoidance,” or “the unwillingness to remain in contact with unpleasant thoughts and experiences.”

Woman meditating

What Is Mindfulness?

In the paper, Mindfulness-Based Intervention in Context, Past, Present and Future, Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” 

The non-judgmental observation of thought and the practice of being in the moment without paying attention to an outcome can help people detach their thoughts or their being in the present moment from any stressful emotions that come with it – anxiety, shame, fear, anger, etc., and this is helpful because these emotions are often the triggers that send people into relapse.

Mare’s House and The Grounds Recovery Provide Meditation Support for Our Members

Through our years of work with young men and women in recovery, we have found meditation to be a helpful part of the healing process. Yoga, mindfulness-based meditation, and Reiki sound bath healing are types of meditation practice we offer to our residents.

“What meditation does – in whatever form works for you – is it helps to re-regulate your nervous system and impulse control, so that you can feel calm in the present moment and release yourself from that constant feeling of wanting to escape. A life of addiction is often a life of chaos or the anticipation of chaos. When chaos is normal and comfortable, stability and calm are uncomfortable and foreign. Meditation helps us to learn how to reverse those impulses so that we feel safe and comfortable right here and right now.”

-Meghan Bosse, Reiki Sound Bath Practitioner

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