Can Mindfulness Help Me Recover from Opioid Addiction?
Can Mindfulness Help Me Recover from Opioid Addiction?
Mindfulness has gained a lot of popularity in western medicine and in popular discourse over the last decade. Once, a relatively small movement built around Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBTR), mindfulness has moved into treating clinical anxiety and depression, aiding chronic pain recovery, and into substance use disorder treatment. In fact, mindfulness is increasingly touted as an important complimentary therapy during treatment and rehab centers across the United States are adopting it as part of treatment.
Mindfulness is also a relatively new therapy and is not yet recognized by the CDA or SAMHSA. However, multiple studies show that it can help. At the same time, those same studies strongly suggest that mindfulness is not enough to help you recover on its own. Instead, it functions to supplement or compliment another therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, multiple studies suggest you can use mindfulness to aid in long-term remission, to stay in recovery.
Therefore, the question of “can mindfulness help with opioid addiction recovery”, is somewhat complicated. On its own, likely no. As part of a compressive program to treat addiction, yes.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice of “being present” or living actively rather than spending time worrying or in thoughts. This involves the active paying attention to the moment, which entails actively letting go of stress, moving past worries, and living in a way that is about the present. Doing so requires practice and investment and it often requires a considerable amount of training, reminding, and building habit to do so.
While mindfulness is based on “ancient” Buddhist practices, it didn’t make its way to western medicine until the 1970s. The philosopher and professor John Kabat-Zinn brought it to the U.S. during this period and popularized it with his school and with his technique, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction”. Now, mindfulness, and spinoffs including “Mindfulness-based relapse prevention” (MBRP), “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” (MBCT) and others are all popular as part of addiction treatment.
How Does Mindfulness Help with Recovery?
Anxiety and stress make up a considerable portion of addiction, contributing to use, continued use, and relapse. Additionally, recurring thoughts of use and feelings of need (cravings, triggers, etc.), contribute heavily to relapse. Mindfulness can help individuals with an opioid use disorder to overcome those thoughts, helping them to move past a few of the pressing contributors to addiction and to relapse.
Depending on which stage of recovery you are in, mindfulness can contribute in multiple ways.
Addiction Therapy – MBAT is commonly used as a complimentary therapy to treat addictions. It may be combined with other therapies such as CBT or DBT or it may be delivered relatively on its own with counseling and group therapy. While mindfulness programs of this nature normally use cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling as part of the treatment, studies show that they are actually more effective than CBT on its own. Similarly, MBAT is more effective when used with CBT than on its own.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy blends these two treatment methods. It uses mindfulness to help individuals overcome thought patterns, worry, and anxiety, while delivering CBT to treat behavioral problems and patterns. This combined treatment is also effective in studies, with a 34% decrease in risk of relapse over Treatment as Usual (counseling only).
Relapse Prevention – While mindfulness is more-often making its way into addiction treatment, it’s also heavily used in relapse prevention. Here, patients learn to live in the moment, with a focus on improving long-term quality of life. These programs start out at 8 weeks, but typically encourage individuals to partake in ongoing practice, with daily meditation and sometimes daily courses for years. Some studies show this treatment is also more effective than either CBT only or counseling at preventing relapse.
How Does Mindfulness Help with Opioid Addiction Recovery?
Opioid addiction involves a combination of behavioral, psychological, and medical treatment. In most cases, you need medical treatment and possibly a long-term medication program to get off opioids safely. But, you also need counseling and therapy to help you move past the psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction. Most studies show that mindfulness can complement this treatment by helping individuals to achieve balance, mental stability, and to reduce stress. Over time, mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, reduce cravings and triggers, and improve overall quality of life.
Stress – Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction was one of the first medical uses of mindfulness. That’s important because it remains the primary application of mindfulness today. Focusing on the present, living actively, and actively letting stress go does help with reducing stress. That’s important for recovering from an opioid addiction, especially when opioids are used for medication and self-medication.
Cravings – Mindfulness helps individuals to leave their thoughts and to focus on the present. This helps with a phenomenon known as “attention bias”. Here, you focus on something and then continue to focus on it, seeing it everywhere. Most people are familiar with it in harmless terms like, you buy a new car and suddenly you see it everywhere – not because suddenly everyone bought one, but because your attention is now biased to see it. Opioid users have this in much less harmless contexts, where they experience a craving and lock onto that craving. Mindfulness has been shown to help with attention bias by training individuals to “let go” of that thought and to go back to their daily life.
This helps with other forms of attention bias as well. For example, associating a room or area with a substance and substance use. Mindfulness will help you to associate the room with being in the room. However, it’s not a magic pill. Yuu won’t see immediate or instant improvement, mindfulness is a practice, and it is work.
Essentially, mindfulness can help you to recover from an opioid addiction. However, its mechanism of doing so is by helping you to get out of your own thoughts, to enjoy what you are doing, and to focus on doing things not on thinking about things. That can help you to relax, to feel less stressed, and to let go of attention to opioids. However, it won’t release you from addiction. Mindfulness is a long-term practice that only happens when you actively put effort into it.
What can you take away from this? Mindfulness is proven to help and to improve the efficacy of both addiction recovery and relapse prevention. However, it’s not treatment on its own. You can seek out an addiction treatment program offering mindfulness as part of the program. You can also invest in mindfulness for your recovery and ongoing life after rehab is over.