by John Jacobs, Ph.D., Stress Management Specialist

Meditation for Addiction Recovery

As mentioned in another article, Stress Management in Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation, the technique for eliciting the relaxation response – an essential element in stress management – is a simple, basic meditation technique.

There are two basic types of meditation: concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation:

* Both have as one of their benefits eliciting a relaxed state
* Both have awareness of the breath as a foundational element of the technique and process
* Both are helpful in drug and alcohol rehabilitation and recovery.

The essential difference between the two types or classifications of meditation is, with concentration meditation, you focus your mind on a single object like the breath, an image, or a sound… something to anchor the mind on and to keep it on, to the exclusion of anything else that enters consciousness. When the mind wanders from the object of focus, it’s just gently brought back to the object. What this does is it intercepts the internal chatter of the mind, eventually slowing it down more and more, which helps to calm the mind… to slow it down.

With mindfulness meditation, a calm and concentrated mind is still needed. Initially, in the process, one can calm and concentrate the mind by focusing on the breath, either as its touch feels at the nasal area (the coolness of the breath as you inhale, the warmth of the breath as you exhale), or as the sensation of the rising and falling of the belly as you inhale and exhale.

Once the mind is calm and concentrated, its awareness is “spread out” to everything that enters consciousness, e.g., bodily sensations, sounds, smells, images, thoughts, etc. Whereas concentration meditation focused on the breath and a sound to the exclusion of all else that arises in consciousness, awareness in mindfulness meditation is inclusive of all that arises in consciousness.

In mindfulness meditation, one just notices, just witnesses, just observes, the stream of all that arises in consciousness: sense perceptions (of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch), bodily sensations, and thoughts. Through this process of mindfulness, one learns to experience experiences in a calm and non-reactive manner having:

a) trained the mind to be more non-reactive to phenomena that arise in consciousness; and,
b) gained a level of insight into, and understanding of, the nature of the mind and reality as a whole.

In contrasting the two types of meditation, we can use an analogy: for concentration meditation, the mind’s focus and awareness is like that of a focused camera lens, zooming in on a single object; with mindfulness meditation, the lens is akin to a wide angle lens, taking in the panorama of phenomenon.

Many stressors we encounter in life are from the external environment. And, we can change our external environment only so much to reduce stressors. However, we can change our mind’s response to these stressors, and even our body’s physiological processes that occur in response to stressors. In other words, we have a means to change our internal environment through the meditation practices discussed above, while having limited means to change our external environment.

(Please note: Some research has shown that meditation is contraindicated for those with severe depression or other serious mental disorders, e.g., psychosis.)

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For Addiction Rehabilitation & Recovery

OK, so let’s start to put this all together in terms of addiction treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery…

Stress in life is one major reason why people turn to alcohol and drugs (sometimes that stressor is simply boredom, and using alcohol and other drugs is for some a way of seeking out an “altered” state of mind to relieve that boredom). Why some people end up becoming addicts is another topic for discussion. The point for this present discussion is the fact that drugs and alcohol are used to relieve stress, whether caused by current problems related to job, relationships, finances, self-image, etc., or caused by unresolved issues from childhood, or caused by past traumas.

One needs a healthy alternative for managing stress and coping with issues – an alternative to drinking and drugging. Frequently practicing meditation (optimally, daily), is one such healthy alternative to use of alcohol and/or drugs. Of course, there are other tools and means for stress management, e.g., eating a nutritious diet and exercise. These may be the three most important ones to incorporate into your life in order to remain healthy and manage stress. I’ll go as far as to say that meditation may be the most important for managing stress and keeping the mind balanced (although that’s no reason to neglect the other two). Meditation also has some deeper psychological benefits, the discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article.

For continued reading, please see, Mindfulness and Recovery.