Mindfulness: A Healthy Skill in Recovery from Substance Abuse
The misuse of mind-altering substances can start with experimental use of substances in social settings. This can quickly lead to dependence and a compulsion to keep turning to substances. You find you need larger amounts of alcohol or drugs to obtain the feelings you’re looking for, and you may continue to use substances in spite of negative consequences.
It’s possible to recover from alcoholism and drug abuse. Part of your recovery requires you to be vigilant of people or situations that may trigger the urge to use. The compulsion to use mind-altering drugs may resurface when you least expect it and is often caused by a desire to escape from unpleasant feelings. A healthy alternative to substance abuse is the practice of mindfulness.
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Mindfulness is deliberately returning your awareness to the present moment. When you practice mindfulness, you’re consciously connected to this one moment in time. You’re fully aware of where you are and what you’re doing here and now, rather than wallowing over things that happened in the past or stressing over things that may be ahead for you.
Being completely focused on the present can help you be less overwhelmed by situations you can’t change. Incorporating mindfulness into your life helps you to acknowledge and accept whatever is happening, and can help you to calm stormy emotions.
Active Addiction: The Opposite of Mindfulness
When you’re actively addicted to substances or to behaviors such as overeating, shopping or sex, you’re driven by a desire to alter your present reality. Whatever you’re experiencing is something you very much want to escape from.
Obsessive thoughts about your life increase feelings of anxiety. Volatile emotions are sometimes reactions to future events that may or may not happen. They may also be caused by dwelling on things that happened in the past that you can’t do anything about. The substances you turn to in order to escape reality may instead intensify negative emotions such as anger, sadness or hopelessness. As your negative feelings intensify, so does your compulsion to turn to substances.
The Benefits of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery
Bringing your awareness back to the present moment can help to make emotions less overpowering. It’s important to learn to deal with painful or uncomfortable feelings, rather than trying to run from them, as part of your recovery from substance abuse and to maintain sobriety.
The practice of mindfulness can benefit both your mental and physical health. It can restore a sense of well-being and reduce stress. It can help give you the ability to cope with intense emotions and to attain greater awareness and acceptance of reality.
Mindfulness techniques can be done anywhere and anytime. You can practice mindfulness by sitting, walking or standing. Pay attention to your breath as it moves in and out, and to any sensations you’re having in your body. Notice the sounds and smells around you. When you sense your mind drifting off, away from this moment, gently bring it back.
It’s simple to do, yet it’s a habit that requires practice and a willingness to consistently make it part of your day. Start with a few minutes a day, and throughout the day keep returning your focus to this day and this moment. You’re not trying to force anything to happen—you’re only trying to observe what already is happening.
Mindfulness can help you return your focus to the here and now, rather than allowing your thoughts to spiral out of control. Your thoughts drive your feelings, and uncomfortable feelings can trigger the urge to use. By practicing mindfulness, you can cultivate inner stillness and peace, which can help reduce the urge to turn to substances.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our addiction treatment programs in Los Angeles.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.