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What is Mindfulness and How Can it Benefit Recovery?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Practices like mindfulness and meditation have existed for thousands of years. They have been used historically to calm the mind, heal the body, and change the way the brain works. Over time, practicing mindfulness can change the way your brain functions, the way you think, and how you react to certain situations. And, when used with purpose, mindfulness can have many benefits on the recovery process.

When you first enter the world of recovery, you may be tempted to scoff upon hearing about meditation and mindfulness. While it may seem like nothing more than a relaxation technique, mindfulness is a tool that can revolutionize your recovery.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness refers to the basic ability to be fully present and aware of where you are, what you are doing, and what you are thinking without being overly reactive to the things going on around you. It is a meditative tool that is used to help people snap back into reality by focusing on what they are doing and feeling in the present moment. While mindfulness is something that every person naturally possesses, it can take some practice and training to utilize it for your benefit in recovery from addiction.

There are many different kinds of techniques that promote mindfulness, including:

  • Meditating while seating, walking, or standing
  • Inserting short pauses into day to day life
  • Using meditation while practicing other activities like yoga, sports, or cleaning

Applying Mindfulness to Addiction Treatment and Recovery

Mindfulness is incorporated into the addiction treatment process in a variety of ways. It may be used in behavioral therapy, holistic therapy, meditation therapy, and stress or anger management. One of the most popular ways it is practiced is through mindfulness meditation – a form of meditation where you focus on your thoughts and bodily sensations in a non-judgemental way.

Regardless of how you practice mindfulness, it should involve three key components. Mindfulness practices should be

  1. Intentional – Mindfulness is not letting your mind wander or go blank; it is an intentional practice that aims to acknowledge thoughts and feelings in the present moment.
  2. Accepting – When becoming aware of your thoughts, you may want to change them. However, part of mindfulness is realizing that you cannot change your thoughts or feelings – you can only accept them and reframe them. Mindfulness involves acceptance – not denial or suppression.
  3. Nonjudgmental – If you are intentional and accepting, but are harshly judging your thoughts, you won’t benefit from mindfulness. Even though you may feel shame, guilt, and anxiety about your drug use and recovery, it’s important that you don’t judge or criticize yourself. Instead, mindfulness encourages you to reframe negative thoughts.

Benefits of Mindfulness in Recovery

Mindfulness affects everyone differently and the way you experience it may depend on the techniques you use to achieve it. Study after study suggests that mindfulness produces immediate and lasting effects on the mind, body, and spirit of people in recovery from addiction or mental health disorders.[1,2] Even though being mindful may seem like a small task with no real value, the truth is it carries many benefits.

Changes in the Brain

The brain has neuroplastic features, meaning it can change and adapt over time. It is no secret that substance abuse changes the brain negatively, but mindfulness is one way you can reverse these changes and make new, positive changes that support your recovery.

As you practice mindfulness over time, your neural pathways will adapt to this behavior. In the case of meditation and mindfulness, they change the brain by increasing the thickness of the brain’s cortex. The cortex is responsible for cognitive function, attention, and sensory processing.[3]

Mindfulness can also boost brain connections, emotional regulation, and self-awareness. Some studies even show that long-term meditation can increase the density of grey matter in the brain – improving memory, learning, and cardiovascular function. All of these changes can affect the way you think, feel, and respond to the world around you in a positive way.

Improved Mental Health

Mindfulness has numerous benefits on mental health in recovery. As you learn to breathe in and out while relaxing and focusing on your thoughts, you may notice that your levels of anxiety, stress, and depression decrease. You may also notice you feel refreshed, relaxed, or rejuvenated after finishing a mindfulness meditation. In the long-term, these changes can become long-lasting, and improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and some personality disorders. As a result, mindfulness can have a huge impact on your mental health in recovery.

Physical Health Changes

Meditation affects so much more than your brain and your mental health. It can also improve your physical health. For example, mindfulness is thought to:

  • Lower heart rate
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Decrease stress
  • Boost energy levels
  • Improve immunity
  • Enhance overall health

All of these benefits can make your body feel healthier and more functional, which can help reduce burnout and promote self-confidence.

Relapse Prevention

When it comes to relapse prevention, mindfulness is a priceless tool in addiction recovery. Mindfulness promotes self-awareness, so it can help you recognize exactly what your triggers are. It can also help you monitor your emotions and physical sensations so you are better able to listen to your body’s needs. By becoming more self-aware, you will be able to monitor your moods, triggers, thoughts, and feelings to help you stay on the right track in recovery. And, if faced with a trigger, you can use mindfulness strategies to pause, identify your thoughts and feelings, reframe your thinking, and cope with difficult emotions. This practice can be implemented to help prevent relapse in virtually every situation.

Start Implementing Mindfulness in Your Recovery Today

At Carolina Center for Recovery, we know that drug and alcohol addiction is about more than just substances – it is also about your thoughts, emotions, and brain. That’s why we facilitate a variety of different therapies to provide all patients with a whole-person approach. Whether you’re looking to start your recovery journey or you need help managing your sobriety, our team is here to help. Give us a call today to get started.