Treatment that addresses both the mental and physical needs of clients is vital to successful recovery. The process starts during an initial detox phase, but until the effects of all mind and mood-altering substances are removed, some aspects of recovery cannot be explored. Having a clear mind is vital in treatment because it is what allows someone to be present and active in their own recovery.
With the absence of drugs and alcohol, a person can begin exploring the underlying causes of the development of their addiction. For many, there are emotional reasons that fuel substance abuse. Unresolved trauma, mental health disorders, or an inability to cope with stressors can often be found at the root of addiction. Substance abuse develops as a result of looking for an escape or seeking a form of self-medication. It is an attempt to dissuade negative emotions, but in reality, it often exacerbates them and worsens a person’s overall quality of life.
Addressing these aspects of mental health is a critical component of treatment. The practice of mindfulness is a useful tool that can help create space to work through challenging thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more self-aware about your feelings, your surroundings, and how your responses to what is going on around you can drive action. Mindfulness requires a bit of discipline to master, but there are exercises that can be used to help you practice. Holistic treatment encompasses all aspects of the individual, mind, body, and spirit.
Mindfulness focuses on several aspects of thoughts and behaviors. Rather than cruising through situations without thinking about what is happening and how you are responding to it, mindfulness encourages you to take a step back and become more self-aware. Some skills explored in mindfulness practice include:
- Becoming more observant by paying attention to the details
- Learning how to express what you see and feel through words rather than actions
- Letting your guard down and participating in activities without hesitation
- Becoming more accepting of situations rather than passing judgement
- Focusing on one thing at a time without allowing distractions or other thoughts the ability to take over
- Becoming more effective in your actions and not second-guessing yourself
While these may seem like simple tasks, the process of actually slowing down, taking in your surroundings, and not allowing other thoughts to take over can be difficult. For this reason, practicing mindfulness through exercise can help you master the process and apply it to more complicated situations. For example, rather than rushing through activities or thoughts, take time to slow down and consider how they impact your senses. When eating a meal, how does it look, smell, taste, or feel? When dealing with difficult memories that provoke a reaction, take a step back to analyze why it makes you feel the way you do and how it makes you act out.
Applying mindfulness to addiction treatment works because it encourages clients to explore and better understand why they react to specific situations in certain ways. It helps a person become more self-aware about triggers, stressors, and other factors that provoke substance abuse. Mindfulness encourages a person to reflect and consider what provokes these reactions so that they are better able to cope with them in the future. By analyzing these reactions objectively, they are able to separate their emotional attachment to them and find they are better able to let them go, rather than allowing them to continue maintaining control.
Mindfulness not only helps increase self-awareness about triggers, but it also helps a person develop the coping skills necessary to minimize the risk of relapse in the future. The following aspects of mindfulness are commonly used to help evoke change:
- Acceptance of the present
- Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional needs
- The importance of social support
- How thoughts alone can provoke relapse
- Running on auto-pilot and the risk for relapse
- Understanding triggers, cravings, and stressors
- Mindfulness in both small, daily situations, and significant, high-risk situations
Mindfulness, coupled with traditional treatment methods, can help prepare a person to cope with the triggers and stressors that may threaten their sobriety in the future. While mindfulness alone cannot treat addiction, it can be a powerful tool to aid in the quality of treatment. Not only does it help improve the recovery experience, but it can help a person connect more with their surroundings. By slowing down and taking in the moment, a person can better appreciate experiences they may otherwise take for granted. While addiction is fueled by constantly seeking out your next fix, mindfulness instead encourages you to enjoy the pleasures you can find in everyday life. These aspects of mindfulness can help many overcome the barriers and obstacles in recovery that may be difficult to surmount with more traditional approaches to treatment.