Dr. Alan Marlatt and his associates at the University of Washington have been exploring the application of mindfulness and meditation in preventing relapse to alcohol/drugs. He has found that “the heightened state of present-focused awareness that is encouraged by meditation may directly counteract the conditioned automatic response to use alcohol in response to cravings and urges” (Marlatt, 2007).
MBRP helps the recovering alcoholic/addict to recognize (not suppress) the negative emotional states, keeping them at arms’ length. Ironically, trying to suppress negative thoughts results in an increase, rather than a decrease, in negative thoughts (Bowen, 2007). The negative thoughts are identified as “normal thoughts” at various stages of recovery. These negative thoughts are accepted as thoughts that the individual does not have to choose to act on.
An example of a MBRP technique is “urge surfing,” which involves visualizing your “urge” to use (alcohol/drugs) as having a cycle much like a wave. The wave has a crest, it crashes and then rolls to shore and disappears. This technique involves using your breath as a surf board, as you ride out the wave to shore.
My own experience using MBRE
I have specialized in alcohol/drug counseling for more than 30 years, and I am very excited about the many ways meditation and mindfulness can be used as a recovery enhancement for alcohol/drug addiction. In the last two years I have been introducing meditation and mindfulness practices in my two outpatient (alcohol/drug recovery) therapy groups, and have seen firsthand the many benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices in helping my clients to be more aware, compassionate to others and themselves and enjoying life more. I have seen remarkable growth in my group members, especially in their ability to be less reactive and more reflective.
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness include helping the individual to: have a “quality of calm awareness”; be less reactive and more reflective; reduce stress; learn how to enjoy life “in the now”; see the “joy” and “abundance” in his or her own life; have a stronger spiritual well-being; be compassionate to self and others; make connections and have interdependence; feel worthwhile; and no longer need to be in the “land of hungry ghosts.”
Richard Fields, PhD is the author of the college textbook Drugs in Perspective, 7th edition, and Awakening to Mindfulness: 10 Steps for Positive Change. He is a national trainer and consultant in the field of alcohol/drug recovery and mindfulness-based recovery enhancement (MBRE), the owner/director of FACES Conferences (www.facesconferences.com) and has a private counseling practice in Bellevue, Wash.
ReferencesBien, Thomas & Bien, Beverly (2002). Mindfulness Recovery — A Spiritual Path to Healing from Addiction, Wiley, N.Y.
Bien, Thomas & Bien, Beverly (2003). Finding the Center Within — The Healing Way of Mindfulness meditation. Wiley, N.Y.
Bowen, Sarah, Witkiewitz, Katie, Dillworth, Tirara & Marlatt, G. Alan (2007) “The role of Thought suppression in the relationship between mindfulness, meditation, and alcohol use.” Addictive Behaviors 32, 2323-2328.
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Marlatt, G. Alan (2002) “Buddhist Psychology and the Treatment of Addictive Behavior.” Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Practice 9(1) (2002): 44-49.
Marlatt, G. Alan & Chawla, Neharika (2007) “Meditation and Alcohol Use.” Southern Medical Journal. Vol. 100, no. 4.
Salzberg, Sharon (1990) Lovingkindness:The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Shambhala, Boston.