Secular Meditation and Addictions Treatment
Today we have ample research evidence (NIH, NIDA, SAMHSA, etc.) that mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and mind training all have some effectiveness in improving addiction disorders. In recent meta-analyses the primary effect was through improved emotion regulations, whereas there was a more direct positive impact on chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. Regardless of the pathway for effects, meditative interventions (when implemented by well-experienced psychotherapists-mindfulness practitioners) are effective in improving addictive conditions and habits. G. Alan Marlatt (now deceased) was a leading researcher and clinician in this area. Here are some of his ideas about how/why mindfulness and meditation may be helpful in addictions. Since meditation is the core practice, I will use that term here. Here is a list.
- Regular meditation practice helps train the mind to relax.
- The relaxation response (noted in H. Benson’s 1975 publication) is a well-known physiological hypometabolic state that initiates inner calmness and reduced stress reactivity.
- A balanced lifestyle that includes meditation and exercise may well be a highly effective intervention in all types of addiction.
- These intervention skill-practices, along with a positive therapeutic alliance (acceptance, compassion, kindness) also improve outcomes.
- In the United States addiction is seen as a mind-based disorder, thus interventions that train the mind into calmness are helpful and empowering.
- Since it is impossible to prevent all suffering, people with addictions have become attached to a self-medicating behavioral pattern that bring them short-term relief from pain.
- We humans think that “getting high” or “getting low” will improve our moods, thus allowing greater coping or happiness. However, the opposite is true. We suffer more!
- Vipassana meditation, The Buddha’s first recommended meditation experience, is the most common form of meditation used in addictions treatment.
- Regular mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and walking practices – along with regular exercise – should be part of all addiction treatments.
- Mindfulness meditation, as used in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, places greater emphasis on our relational reality with our thoughts than on the content of those thoughts.
- Such interventions as breath-focused awareness and urge surfing have been used often in addictions treatments.
- The Middle Way concept is also important – somewhere between self-indulgence and self-mortification – it helps to balance realities into the middle core of emotional experiences.
- Harm reduction strategies may be viewed as a middle way perspective in mindfulness-based interventions. Client learn to accept impermanence of both joy and suffering.
- More advanced mindfulness approaches may utilize the in-built compassion of the Eight-Fold Path. Although greater clinician expertise will be required here.
- Meeting people with addictions where they are fits well into stages of change, stages of substance abuse treatment, and Eight-Fold Path interventions.
As you can see from the above information, there are ample opportunities to use mindfulness-based clinical interventions in various forms of addictions.
For more information refer to Marlatt, G. A. (2002). Buddhist philosophy and the treatment of addictive behavior. Cognitive and Behavioral Practices, 9, 44-50. There are other, more current version of this information available from other sources.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness