Addiction is a physical disease, but it is also an illness of the mind and spirit. Eastern cultures have meditated for thousands of years, but only recently has western culture begun to embrace meditation as a complementary therapy in the treatment of addiction.
Because of its healing effects, meditation can be a powerful tool in addiction recovery. These effects are magnified in wilderness therapy, where participants can get their personal rhythms (such as breathing and heartbeat) in tune with the rhythms of nature.
After numbing their feelings with drugs and alcohol, young people can use meditation as a gentle way to clear their minds. Individuals in recovery use meditation to sit in silence, focus on body sensations and thoughts, and begin experiencing their emotions in a non-threatening way.
For individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, temptations to use are inevitable. Meditation is one way to gain awareness of these thoughts, accept them without feelings of guilt or shame, and learn how to cope in healthier ways.
By building a stronger awareness of themselves and their environment, people in recovery can realize the impact drugs and alcohol have had on their lives and start to discover their triggers. Meditation breeds an appreciation for the mind and body, which builds motivation to treat oneself with respect rather than polluting the body with chemicals.
For many people, meditation is a deeply spiritual practice. A highly personal and self-directed activity, meditation appeals to a number of individuals as a way to explore their beliefs without any pressure or expectations. Spiritual growth is an essential element of the 12 Steps as a way to combat self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse.
In addition to the emotional and spiritual benefits, meditation has physical benefits, such as lowered heart rate, enhanced energy and mental acuity, and increased blood flow. The slow, steady breathing of meditation can help reduce tension and stress, improve concentration, and reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and anger, providing peace of mind and an overall sense of well-being.
Because many people initially turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, meditation can reduce the negative emotions that lead to drug abuse and help prevent relapse. It can also slow the release of stress-inducing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and increase production of “feel good” hormones such as serotonin and endorphins, providing a natural “high.”
The relief meditation brings can be similar to the effects of certain drugs: loosening of the muscles, relaxed breathing, and a feeling of calmness and well-being. The difference is there are no harmful effects with meditation.
How Meditation Works
There are many different types of meditation, but most involve visualization, breathing and mindfulness exercises. At Four Circles Recovery Center, a wilderness rehab program for young adults in North Carolina, participants can engage in guided meditation, use their personal time in the wilderness for quiet introspection or relax in the meditation garden at base camp. The garden features a labyrinth and provides a serene backdrop for the practice of meditation.
Meditation is just one tool Four Circles uses to promote wellness in mind, body and spirit. Participants also learn to manage drug cravings and work through difficult emotions through journaling, expressive arts, adventure activities, 12-Step meetings, and individual, group and family therapy. By offering a full spectrum of conventional and alternative addiction treatment approaches, Four Circles is able to meet the varying needs of young people who are struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues.
In addition to improving mental health, meditation is a no-cost activity people can engage in anywhere, any time they experience a drug craving or temptation to use. It is a sober activity that can provide a healthy distraction and diminish the desire to use drugs or alcohol.
While conventional addiction treatments work well for some, alternative approaches such as meditation have opened the door to recovery for countless others. When it is made a regular part of your daily life and combined with other treatment approaches, meditation can change the way you think and function. All it takes is 10 to 20 minutes a day.