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Addictions and Mindfulness Recovery

Pink Skirt

The Covid-19 pandemic changed our lives in ways we didn't anticipate.

Children kept home from school may spend copious hours per day online gaming as a way to socialize and connect with peers.

Online learning puts kids in their rooms in front of screens which becomes comfortable, safe and an opportunity to stray online and stay there.

Many women and some men turned up their at home drinking, often to daily and in larger amounts than before the pandemic, some not having to formally dress or leave the house, getting to work at home during a hangover or while nursing a beverage.  The long term pattern of these new behaviors left a permanent mark on many.

If you feel yourself thinking about alcohol, craving that first drink or feeling low an hour or two before your first evening drink, it may be time to pull back and seek sobriety coaching, for your physical, mental health and the sake of your relationships. 

With the growing amount of research on yoga and meditation, scientists have begun to articulate theories on why these practices might specifically help people in recovery from addictive substances. The documented benefits of meditation dovetail nicely with the challenges of addiction.

Treatment - Why Yoga Therapy and Meditation Might Help

Basically, addiction has two components: the physiological and mental cravings for a substance, and the ability of the individual to tolerate, rather than acting on, those sensations. 

Meditation and yoga have the potential to provide relief from both of these factors, by offering tools to down-regulate the stress response system and by increasing our capacity to observe our experiences with a greater sense of equanimity.

Why Yoga Therapy Is a Powerful Tool in Recovery

Substance use disorder is an ever-increasing national and worldwide problem, in fact, Covid-19 pandemic brought isolation and increased alcohol abuse and dependency rates, specifically in women.

 A recent study showed that nearly 27 million people on the planet suffer from alcohol and drug problems, including both illegal and legal drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Over the last century, tobacco use in particular has claimed more than 100 million lives, with millions still smoking each year. Relapse rates are equally shocking—as high as 80 to 95 percent over a 12-month period.

These are humbling statistics that healthcare providers, legislators, and individuals are faced with addressing, as we collectively navigate the challenges of addiction. Yoga and meditation, with their stress-reducing effects and ability to provide people with tools for self-regulation and self-management, are potentially useful practices to navigate the painful and often deadly waters of addiction.

The Eastern perspective on addiction is that it’s not a separate ailment, but rather a condition on the continuum of human suffering. Rolf Gates, master yoga teacher, addictions counselor, and author of Meditations from the Mat, puts it this way: “In the Western medical model, addiction is treated as something outside of the ordinary. In the Eastern approach to suffering, attachment to the pleasant and aversion to the unpleasant is seen as a constant, and so addiction is just an extreme manifestation of an ordinary attachment to the pleasant and aversion to the unpleasant.”

The difference in perspective, however, doesn’t change the structure of the approach to healing. “The Western approach to addiction generally falls into what is called cognitive behavioral therapy,” Rolf adds, “which focuses one’s attention on the problem and supports a person in the practice of new behaviors. A yoga or meditation teacher draws one’s attention to the cause of suffering and supports the student in practicing new behaviors. As a result, the Eastern and Western approaches to treatment are almost identical.”

Whether it’s found through therapy, the Twelve Steps, a bodymind approach, or a combination of all three, the experience of spiritual well-being seems to be the key to helping many people break the cycle of addiction in their lives. “A longing for something lurks at the bottom of the issue of addiction,” Aruni says, echoing Kevin’s observation. “Aren’t all addicts seekers, wanting something extraordinary, something magical, to soothe them?” And what better magic to add to the path of clean living than yoga and meditation?

Types of Addictions

There are many forms of addictive and compulsive behaviors, all of which may impact individual and social functioning including:

  • Alcohol or substance 

  • Gambling​

  • Social Media

  • Shopping

  • Work

  • Pornography

  • The Internet

  • Food/binge or restricted eating

  • Sex

  • Cutting

  • Spiritual Obsession

  • Idolizing

  • Video Games, etc.

All such behaviors in which there is an unsuccessful desire to reduce or stop, that may result in symptoms of guilt, shame, fear, hopelessness, failure, rejection, anxiety or humiliation can benefit greatly from treatment.

Nicole Story, M.Ed, Ed.S, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed mental health counselor. With over 20 years of clinical experience, she has served as the Clinical Director of a local adolescent inpatient addiction/dual diagnosis program, detox and outpatient programs; and as a Qualified Clinical Supervisor for addictions therapist interns at the Naval Hospital Jacksonville, River Region and Breakthroughs.

Alcoholics Anonymous (3rd edition). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services (1976).

Another Chance: Hope and Help for the Alcoholic Family (2nd edition). By Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse. Science and Behavior Books (1989).

Facing Shame: Families in Recovery. By Merle E. Fossum & Marilyn J. Mason, W. W. Norton (1986).

Organizations and Internet Sites

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Site devoted to information about 12-step recovery from alcoholism.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Site provides information about 12-step recovery from drugs other than alcohol.

Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA)

Provides information about couples in which one or both partners are in recovery from addiction to alcohol, drugs, and other potentially destructive behaviors.

This text was adapted from an article by William Fals-Stewart, PhD.

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