Integrative techniques that foster meditation and mindfulness have shown increasing promise in the successful completion of a drug addiction treatment program. Meditation’s ability to “retrain thought” can serve to alter cognitive processing in the brain, leading to healthier associations in the brain’s reward centers. The process of meditation also serves to produce natural stress-alleviation, reducing the potency of triggers, withdrawal symptoms and cravings in recovering individuals. Additionally, meditation has been associated with lowered relapse rates, aided by higher levels of empowerment and fewer psychiatric complications in those who have successfully completed residential or outpatient addiction treatment.
Effectiveness of Meditation in Addiction Recovery
The body of evidence for the power of meditation in addiction treatment is growing. In fact, one 2007 study showed that individuals who participated in meditative practices during recovery gained higher levels of coping skills, as well as an heightened awareness of substance abuse triggers that aided addiction recovery. Another peer-reviewed study established the effects of prayer and meditation on dopamine levels, servicing the mind and body by creating contentedness and calm through the brain’s pathways – an effect formerly produced by drug use.
Meditation-Induced Stress Reduction and Addiction
Because many drug and alcohol use triggers stem from anxiety and stress, the relaxing effects of mindfulness and meditation have been long thought to aid addiction recovery. One 2003 study of 550 intravenous drug users conducted by the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine found that those who participated in complementary alternative therapies such as stress-reduction techniques and meditation perceived the mind-body techniques aided their recovery.
Physical Benefits of Meditation in Addiction Treatment
Some of the reasons for meditation’s effectiveness in treating drug addiction may originate in the body’s response to the technique. In fact, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine also established the positive physical effects of meditation on those in addiction treatment. Of individuals in recovery who combined the daily habit of meditative practices with guided meditation experienced increased mindfulness, lowered depression and reduced anxiety levels. In fact, positive physical ramifications were also found in those who practiced meditation, including a decrease in cortisol stress hormone levels and an increase in interlukin-6 – a protein associated with strengthened immunity.
Alcohol and Drug Relapse Prevention Through Meditation
Meditation may also be effective in preventing relapse back into addiction. Research repeatedly demonstrates maximized sobriety outcomes when the practice is incorporated into established addiction treatment programs. A study of 168 addicted individuals by the University of Washington Department of Psychology found that those who participated in mindfulness-based relapse prevention therapy had lower relapse rates in the four months after inpatient or outpatient graduation than those who experienced traditional treatment alone. Those who participated in mindfulness treatment also experienced reduced cravings, and exhibited higher levels of awareness and acceptance than their traditionally treated counterparts. Meditation has also shown to help individuals cope with mental health issues, including trauma, anxiety and depression.
The Role of Meditation in Smoking Cessation
The effects of meditation on chemical dependency also extend to nicotine addiction. Among smokers, meditation has been found to significantly increase recovery rates. One 2009 study of nearly 160 smokers by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that mindfulness practices correlated lower physical addiction levels and reduced withdrawal. In addition, smokers who practiced mindfulness techniques experienced a greater belief in their ability to quit smoking, indicating that mindfulness-centered therapies may aid nicotine addiction recovery.
Eastern Meditation and Addiction Recovery
Alternative and Eastern-based meditative practices incorporated into individual alcoholism and drug abuse treatment plans seem to garner some of the most encouraging results, according to emerging research. In 2010, the use of the qi gong meditative practice was studied among nearly 250 substance abusers, increasing addiction recovery completion by 14 percent. Those who participated in qi gong also experienced reduced cravings, lowered anxiety levels and fewer withdrawal symptoms.
Similar results have been studied in one of the most popular forms of meditative practice in addiction recovery, known as Vipassana. A Buddhist nonjudgmental, observational practice, Vipassana seeks to harness thought positively in lieu of cognitive identification with addictive impulses. A stunning 2006 study of addicted and incarcerated individuals found that Vipassana meditation reduced rates of alcohol, marijuana and crack cocaine abuse in released prisoners who learned the meditative technique. In fact, Vipassana participants also exhibited fewer alcohol-related setbacks, fewer mental health conditions and more positive social experiences.