You may remember Ricky Williams, the former running back who went public about his social anxiety disorder and subsequent marijuana usage. Do you know what he is doing now? Meditating. People struggle with various forms of addiction and spend millions of dollars trying to deal them. Most addictions stem from an emotional cause, the lack of ability to cope with the cause, and the subsequent reaction. Whether it’s an addiction to gambling, shopping, food, drugs, alcohol or sex, mindfulness meditation can help curb impulses.
Williams has said that he combated the urge to smoke by meditating instead. And those urges tend to begin in the amygdala, the brain’s fight-or-flight center. Research shows that while meditating, the amygdala relaxes, as does the prefrontal cortex, which regulates inhibition. Being relaxed reduces emotional-based triggers, and allows the meditator to be at peace and not feel the desire to escape, or to seek out the substance of choice. As the meditator learns their thoughts and emotions, they will be better able to control them, which in turn can control cravings and urges. A continued practice of mindfulness meditation can help addicts learn what they are attached to so they can let it go and learn to reject the impulses.
Alcoholics were better able to battle the bottle with mindfulness meditation according to a pilot study at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The 16-week study found that the participants who used mindfulness meditation gained skills to reduce stress, were better able to cope with cravings and found group support through the training.
Aleksandra Zgierska, the lead author of the study, is conducting further research on meditation for addiction recovery. She said, “People have been using mindfulness meditation techniques for thousands of years, including for addiction. It’s just new to research.”
Several doctors compiled a review of 24 studies where they compared meditation to other recovery options including psychotherapy, group therapy, 12-step programs, prescription treatments and relaxation training. They found that meditation was more effective than the other treatments alone. Furthermore, the analysis showed that by incorporating meditation into an existing treatment program, participants were able to reduce their use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs during the study.
Other neuroscientists found a shift in the brain’s activity from the right frontal cortex to the left after eight weeks of meditation. The findings indicate a reduction in the effects of stress, depression and anxiety, as well as less activity in the amygdala and suggest that subjects were calmer and happier than before beginning meditation.
People who are happier and calmer tend to not seek out vices or escapism. Once an addict begins a meditation practice, he/she will learn to temper themselves, set boundaries and become better able to recognize dangerous mindsets. By breaking the pattern of urges, wiping away negative emotions and replacing them with peace, addicts can slowly detox and allow themselves to withdrawal from whatever is plaguing them. Meanwhile, meditation aids the transformation of perception and shift in focus, so reactions to triggers are reshaped and the reliance on a particular thing disappears. Meditation for addiction recovery opens the pathways to the mind, emotions and will allow the addict to begin healing themselves, instead of hurting, because they, too, deserve to be happy.
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