It is already well-known in the treatment community that meditation and mindfulness can help treat a number of issues ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Waves of new research have already proven that meditation reduces symptoms of mental health problems and can be used as a tool in a program for psychological treatment.
More recent findings reveal that mindfulness-based treatment can also be effective for the nearly 24 million Americans that are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. When meditation is used as part of a program for relapse prevention, it can help addicts find a lasting recovery even for especially difficult addictions. While more research is needed to determine the long-term effectiveness of the treatment, the results so far have been promising.
Adopting Mindfulness in Recovery
The new research focused on mindfulness-based relapse prevention programs and the possibility of this type of treatment offering hope for addictions with low-recovery rates like opiate and crack addiction. Treatment that incorporates mindfulness could improve the condition of people struggle with tougher addictions because it will also help to treat their mental health as well.
These types of relapse prevention programs are modeled after mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression and stress reduction but they focus mainly on addicts finding ways to avoid relapsing. The programs work to tack the main roots of addiction by targeting negative emotions and cravings which can be two of the strongest predictors of relapse.
Mindfulness-based relapse prevention programs or MBRPs have been adopted by treatment centers, prisons, and Veterans Affairs centers across the country. The facilities that have incorporated a mindfulness program have already seen positive results that indicate more lasting recovery for patients.
Preventing Relapse through Training
A recent study focusing on MBRPs showed that compared with more traditional types of relapse prevention, those in mindfulness programs for substance abuse and heavy drinking experienced a significantly lower risk of relapse. The study, published in the JAMA Psychiatry, also found that the people who did relapse reported significantly fewer days of substance abuse and heavy drinking at six month and one year follow-ups.
The kinds of changes that mindfulness meditation can create can actually be seen on a neurological level. Previous research has shown that mindfulness training affects areas of the brain associated with craving, negative affect and relapse. Because of the results already achieved in this new treatment, researchers are optimistic about MBRPs potential to change the landscape of addiction recovery.
Since the program is based on cognitive therapy for depression, it contains elements of both cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation. Each session includes a meditation practice as well as a practice with different cognitive and behavioral skills like being more aware of problematic thoughts, writing them down and becoming familiar with them.
This can help build awareness about negative thoughts that arise which could be detrimental to recovery. Mindfulness helps patients recognize thoughts and cognitive therapy helps them use applied skills to handle them effectively. Much of the program is group-based with meetings of 8-15 people for two hours every week. It was originally thought to become an aftercare treatment program for recovery because it is meant to help addicts feel that they are in better control of their emotions. It can help them train their mind and change mental processes that are problematic for them.
The relapse program has an eight week structure that is similar to cognitive therapy programs. The difference is that it focuses on the patterns and cycles that typically lead to relapse along with reactive and impulsive behaviors. Results have shown that the program helps reduce physical and mental cravings as well as the tendency to self-medicate when emotions arise.