Mindfulness in Opioid Addiction Recovery

Medical treatments like methadone and buprenorphine can help many people overcome opioid addiction. Medication, however, is only a part of the recovery process. Most patients need to find effective ways to change their habits, and realize why they are there in the first place, before they can feel free from their addictions.

Mindfulness offers a way for patients to learn more about their thought processes so they can recognize triggers that may lead to relapse. While it probably won’t cure addiction on its own, it can make a great addition to your recovery.

What Is Mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”

Although researchers like Kabat-Zinn have used the scientific method to prove mindfulness’s effectiveness, the practice has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The earliest forms of mindfulness come from Buddhist meditation practices.

Don’t let the religious aspect keep you from trying this practice, though. You can practice mindfulness without any religious connections.

How to Practice Mindfulness

People can practice mindfulness in a variety of ways. People who experience chronic pain, for instance, often use body scan meditation to identify areas of pain and live within the moment instead of projecting the pain into the future.

Other forms of mindfulness practice include:

  • Seated meditation that asks you to focus on your breathing.
  • Observing-thought meditation, where you acknowledge thoughts that arise in your mind and let them go without judgment.
  • Walking meditation that lets you pay careful attention to the details of your surroundings.
  • Eating meditation that requires you to pay close attention to the tastes, textures and other sensations that you experience while eating a meal slowly.

How Can Mindfulness Help With Opioid Addiction?

During the 1970s, many people thought that mindfulness meditation was little more than a New Age activity without merit. Medical research, however, shows that mindfulness offers numerous benefits, many of which can help with opioid addiction.

It’s no secret that pharmaceutical companies played prominent roles in fueling the opioid crisis. During the 1980s, companies told doctors that opioid medications offered safe ways to manage long-term pain. Today, several states are suing the companies for contributing to the crisis.

Some people addicted to opioids worry that chronic pain< will pressure them into breaking their sobriety. Studies show that a three-week course of mindfulness meditation can help reduce chronic pain. By lowering the amount of pain that people experience, they will have fewer reasons to use drugs.

Patients don’t have to experience chronic pain to benefit from mindfulness, though. Since mindfulness encourages people to pay attention to their thoughts, it can train them to recognize temptation. A certain thought, if left unchecked, can become a distraction and hard to ignore. Learning how to recognize the thought as the origin of drug-use, however, often helps people break this cycle. Through mindfulness, people in outpatient programs can stop thoughts from controlling their actions.

Since there are several types of mindfulness practices, people recovering from an opioid addiction should explore several styles to decide which ones work well for them. Combining the right form of mindfulness with other aspects of outpatient addiction treatment can improve a person’s chance of long-term recovery.

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