How to Use Mindfulness to Overcome Unhealthy Addiction

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Brené Brown

If you work out, you may think your glutes or biceps are your most powerful asset. I may have even agreed with you a decade ago. Today, I know the truth.

By far, the mind is your most powerful tool. I credit mindfulness for my recovery from addiction, and recovery is no small task. Addiction is a beast, but I proved that my mind was stronger. You may not believe this yet, but yours is too.

How I Used Mindfulness to Overcome Addiction

I was always one of those people who thought meditation and yoga were fancy new-aged fluff. But when I began learning about the science behind addiction, I saw things from a different perspective.

I firmly believe that this perspective is what changed everything. Ultimately, mindfulness gave me strength and power over my addiction, but I would have never gotten there if I wasn’t open to learning.

When you look at the facts, there are strong reasons why mindfulness works against addiction. It’s not hocus pocus after all. It’s science.

The science of addiction

Addiction starts with stimuli. You find something external that makes you feel good, if only for a moment. When you feel bad, you want to feel good again. So you return to the stimulus.

You do this again and again. But you may not realize what’s going on behind the scenes.

Biologically, we’re wired to like things that help us survive. It’s what keeps us going as a species. The brain naturally creates a chemical called dopamine that makes us feel good when we do certain things. Procreation and eating are two good examples of survival mechanisms that come with a sense of joy.

Pleasure is then stimulated by other neurotransmitters in hedonic hotspots of the brain. Addictive substances work by flooding these neurotransmitters with dopamine. Drugs or alcohol hijack your reward system and trigger the part of the brain responsible for cravings.

The more dopamine your brain gets artificially, the less it produces naturally. Over time, the brain relies on the artificial flood of dopamine.

Different drugs flood the reward system in different ways, but the result is the same: Addiction.

The science of mindfulness in recovery

Imagine you are in recovery and you just learned everything I’ve outlined above. Wouldn’t it be great if you could flip a switch and start producing more dopamine naturally?

Research shows that you can boost your brain’s dopamine levels with mindful meditation.

Meditation is the cornerstone of any mindful practice, and I’ve found it to be highly effective in recovery.

A 2002 Brain Research study found that people who were in a conscious state of meditation saw a 65% increase in dopamine. Mindfulness has also been associated with favorable recovery results in various studies, including:

A 2012 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology study found that a mindfulness-based treatment helped patients cope with the type of depression that’s common in recovery.

A 2014 JAMA Psychiatry study of 286 patients found that mindfulness-based treatment was more effective in recovery than a 12-step treatment program.

How to start practicing mindfulness

If you’re looking to use mindfulness to help with recovery, my best advice is to seek a mindfulness-based rehabilitation program. If you’re already in a rehab program or have completed one, you can start a mindfulness practice at home.

Here are a few ways you can learn about mindfulness:

  • Look for a local meditation group, mindfulness retreat center or Buddhist temple. You don’t have to be Buddhist to join a meditation practice. By joining a group, you’ll get direct guidance and support that can help you along the way.
  • Use UCLA’s free guided meditation program. There are many like this on the web, so you may find another guided meditation that you like better. It’s all about what works for you.
  • Read more about mindfulness. The following books offer a good place to start:
  • The Power of Off by Nancy Colier
  • Start Here by Eric Langshur and Nate Klemp
  • Cure by Joe Marchant

Mindfulness has been proven to work well in recovery, and I’m living proof that it does work. But the dopamine increase and stress-busting benefits could work well for anyone.


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