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Using Mindfulness To Battle Addiction

Recently, our local news outlet, The Los Angeles Times, published a lengthy article on addiction and new techniques that are being used to overcome it in the Southland. One particular recovery tool that picked up quite a bit of attention was the practice of mindfulness and using meditation strategies as a way to get clean.

The Times piece specifically honed in on the crippling opioid crisis and its destructive impact on communities where we live. Citing researchers from the journal Science Advances, article writer Melissa Healy zeroed in on eight week courses that have apparently helped dozens of people overcome their dependencies. All focused on mindfulness, these subjects saw great improvement when training through things like breathing techniques, yoga and inward concentration.

“This is basically another potential tool in the toolbox” lead researcher Dr. Cecilia Westbrook told The Times. “Not every patient will be open to it, or have the mental powers to practice these techniques, and making it widely available to people with addiction could be a challenge. But for many, mindfulness training might be part of a powerful cocktail to fight addiction.”

Indeed, all those involved in the study did not call out mindfulness training as the final solution for overcoming addiction. Instead, it is being seen as an accompaniment to techniques like group therapy and detoxing.

For this latest study, subjects went through two months of mindfulness training for roughly three hours each week. Each session involved 15 minutes of meditation, along with a focus on breath control, relaxation and sensory exploration. Those who were newly clean openly experienced jitters, tightness and relapse cravings. The mindfulness, though, helped them to recognize and cope with those emotions.

One particularly interesting technique involved in the training was called “urge surfing,” where subjects broke down their cravings into separate parts and began deconstructing them. Another strategy had them “savoring the pleasure” of everyday items like a flower or a work of art.

Westbrook went on to add that these methods work as a way to retrain the brain and, over time, can yield significant results.

“The idea that … with care and effort you can begin to undo that rewiring that comes with addiction — that is significant,” she explained. “Recovery is much more than relapse prevention. Giving patients a specific set of tools to cultivate meaning in life is just as important.”