As addiction continues to plague our society, alternative and holistic approaches to recovery have continued to gain popularity. Among these, mindfulness has emerged as a powerful tool in the prevention of relapse for those seeking a path to long-term sobriety. In this article, we will delve into the importance of mindfulness in addiction recovery and relapse prevention, as well as explore the science supporting the incorporation of this practice into traditional treatment modalities.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves intentionally bringing awareness to one’s present experience without judgment, allowing for greater self-compassion and a more balanced emotional state. It involves cultivating a non-reactive state of mind, enabling individuals to observe their thoughts and feelings as transient mental events rather than defining personal truths (1).
Relevance of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery
Mindfulness has a myriad of applications in addiction recovery. For one, it addresses the underlying causes of addictive behavior through promoting psychological development, emotional regulation, and overall well-being (2). This is achieved by increasing awareness and understanding of the internal cues that trigger cravings and addictive behaviors, and subsequently equipping individuals with better skills to deal with these triggers (2). Furthermore, mindfulness also combats the negative rumination and self-judgment commonly experienced by those in recovery, replacing it with self-compassion and acceptance (3).
Notably, mindfulness-based approaches have led to improved outcomes for a variety of substance use disorders. A meta-analysis of 25 studies found that mindfulness-based interventions were effective in reducing substance use, cravings, and psychological stress among individuals with substance use disorders (4). Additionally, a 2014 study on individuals in long-term recovery demonstrated that those who engaged in mindful practices such as meditation and yoga had significantly reduced rates of relapse, increased quality of life, and greater psychological well-being in comparison to those who did not engage in these practices (5).
The Role of Mindfulness in Relapse Prevention
Mindfulness is particularly effective in relapse prevention due to its impact on various psychological factors that contribute to this often-overlooked stage of the recovery process. Through consistent practice, mindfulness fosters the development of healthier coping strategies, greater emotional intelligence, and improved self-regulation, all essential components in preventing relapse (6).
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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (7), substance use relapse rates are comparable to those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, with rates ranging from 40% to 60%. With such a significant likelihood of relapse, incorporating mindfulness practices into recovery programs is crucial for long-term success. One intervention that combines mindfulness with traditional relapse prevention techniques is Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), which has shown promise in reducing the risk of relapse (8).
A study comparing MBRP to traditional relapse prevention (TRP) and treatment as usual (TAU) in individuals with substance use disorders found that MBRP demonstrated significantly lower relapse rates at a 12-month follow-up (47%) compared to TRP (58%) and TAU (64%) (9). Furthermore, participants who received MBRP treatment reported lower levels of craving and improved overall quality of life. These findings support the potential for mindfulness-based approaches as integral for long-term recovery and relapse prevention.
Mindfulness holds great promise as both a facilitator of addiction recovery and an essential tool in relapse prevention. By cultivating self-compassion, emotional regulation, and healthier coping strategies, individuals can better navigate the challenges associated with recovery and decrease their risk of relapse. As addiction continues to pose a significant public health crisis, incorporating mindfulness into treatment modalities is vital for improving recovery outcomes and fostering long-term sobriety.
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Delacourt.
- Witkiewitz, K., Marlatt, G. A., & Walker, D. (2005). Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(3), 211-228.
- Hayes, S. C., Luoma, J. B., Bond, F. W., Masuda, A., & Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Model, processes and outcomes. Behavior Research and Therapy, 44(1), 1-25.
- Li, W., Howard, M. O., Garland, E. L., McGovern, P., & Lazar, M. (2017). Mindfulness treatment for substance misuse: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 75, 62-96.
- The Haven at Pismo. (2014, October 8). Recent Study Confirms Mindfulness’ Role in Long Term Recovery. The Haven at Pismo Counseling and Recovery. Retrieved from https://thehavenatpismo.com/recent-study-confirms-mindfulness-role/
- Peters, J. R., Erisman, S. M., Upton, B. T., Baer, R. A., & Roemer, L. (2011). A Preliminary Investigation of the Relationships between Dispositional Mindfulness and Impulsivity. Mindfulness, 2(4), 228-235.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/download/675/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition.pdf?v=74dad6036c5a6a5f5ee0794148093775
- Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2014). Are mindfulness-based interventions effective for substance use disorders? A systematic review of the evidence. Substance Use & Misuse, 49(5), 492-512.
- Bowen, S., Witkiewitz, K., Clifasefi, S. L., Grow, J., Chawla, N., Hsu, S. H., … & Larimer, M. E. (2014). Relative efficacy of mindfulness-based relapse prevention, standard relapse prevention, and treatment as usual for substance use disorders: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(5), 547-556.