The efficacy of mindfulness therapy for addiction treatment

Mindfulness therapy practices, such as gentle Hatha yoga and mindful breathing, are increasingly integrated into the treatment of addictions. But is mindfulness meditation effective for addicts in recovery? Explore how mindfulness therapy works to treat addiction, here.

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Mindfulness is the practice of awareness. In addiction treatment, the practice of mindfulness helps you pay attention to cravings and leads you to realize which thoughts, emotions and body sensations “constitute” your cravings. Besides craving and impulse control, mindfulness therapy can also help in many other aspects of addiction and recovery.

In this article we provide information about the use of mindfulness therapy as a part of addiction treatment. We will also explain the expected outcomes and benefits of mindfulness meditation. At the end, we invite you to share personal experiences and questions about mediation in addiction recovery. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate questions with a prompt and personal reply!

What is mindfulness therapy?

There are many underlying emotions and thoughts that lead to and emerge from addiction. Learning how to ackowlege and accept them is a healthy step, as opposed to modifying, suppressing, or ignoring them. How can mindfulness therapy help? Mindfulness therapy, or mindfulness meditation, is a technique that aims to help you reframe thinking patterns. In effect, you learn to replace substance use with healthy coping skills.

In other words, mindfulness can be understood as a mental attitude towards the thoughts, sensations, and emotions that arise from an experience. Mindfulness training should help you become dis-identified with that experience. This doesn’t suggest ambivalence or aversion to an experience, but rather the acceptance and nonjudgment of experience.

Mindfulness can be practiced:

1. Formally via meditation – by sitting in a meditative posture, focusing on an object, on your breath or body, or focusing on the present moment.

2. Informally when doing most daily activities – developing the above qualities while brushing your teeth, walking in meditation, talking with friends, or even when in verbal conflict.

What is the outcome of mindfulness therapy?

The primary goals of mindfulness therapy used in the treatment of addiction include:

1. To help people tolerate uncomfortable states, such as cravings and obsessive urges.
2. To be able to experience difficult emotions, such anger or fear, without automatically reacting.

The focus of mindfulness meditation is to help you become aware of all incoming thoughts and feelings, accept them, but not attach or react to them. Similar to Cognitive Behavior Therapy, the expected outcomes of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are:

  • to interrupt the automatic processes (impulse)
  • to teach participants to focus less on reacting to incoming stimuli
  • to accept and observe experiences without judgment.

This mindfulness practice allows you to notice when automatic processes are occurring and to alter your impulsive reaction to be more of a reflection.

What are the benefits of mindfulness therapy?

When addiction develops, your full attention is focused on obtaining and using your drug of choice. Your body is on constant alert looking for the drug, pill, or drink, and your mind is always focused on the future:

“When can I use again?”

When thinking focuses on future events, the present moment is a state of agitation. Rather than deal with the present moment, NOW becomes the time that needs to pass until your addiction can be fed again.

Practicing mindfulness helps you increase the ability to accept and tolerate the present moment, thus you become able to make the needed positive changes in your life. Also, by learning how to deal with uncomfortable feelings, you can successfully switch off the auto pilot that leads to relapse. With time and dedication, practicing mindfulness meditation will help improve your physical and psychological state of being.

Benefits of mindfulness techniques on physical health:

  • alleviates gastrointestinal tract difficulties
  • boost the immune system
  • improves sleep
  • lowers blood pressure
  • manages chronic pain
  • relieves stress
  • reduces high levels of anxiety

Benefits of mindfulness techniques on psychological health include mental states during which you:

  • become self-aware
  • change judgmental thoughts
  • control and overcome cravings
  • control emotions coming from troubled experiences
  • deal with stress better
  • develop compassion for others
  • experience unpleasant emotions safely
  • feel calmness and peacefulness
  • feel more connected with people
  • grow awareness of previously avoided experiences
  • increase self-acceptance

What is mindfulness therapy like?

Mindfulness therapy is usually a short term, group-based, psychoeducational intervention that combines traditional Cognitive-Behavioral Relapse Prevention strategies with meditation training and mindful movement. Courses can last for a few months, and usually last for around an hour, or so.

In the Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) model, mindful movement includes light stretching exercises and other basic, gentle movements. Each movement is guided with physical safety and respect for the body. People are instructed to stay with the movement as it is happening, to observe the physical sensations of moving and stretching, and to also notice their striving, thoughts, and judgments related to their body.

MBRP is made effective but simple, so anyone can join! Formal asanas (yoga poses or postures) are NOT taught, firstly because instructors are typically not trained in yoga, but also because clients recovering from addiction often have physical limitations.

Does mindfulness therapy work to treat addiction?


Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs are now used as an adjunctive treatment for a range of addictions from alcohol to cocaine to nicotine.

Basically, mindfulness therapy satisfies that critical need for stress management techniques into inpatient and outpatient treatment. However, several web and app-based options for practicing mindfulness are currently being developed and tested. One is Craving to Quit developed at Yale University that hopes to deliver mindfulness training in an online community.

How effective is mindfulness therapy for addiction?

Mindfulness therapy can effectively help people in addiction recovery.

Studies have shown that participants who received mindfulnes therapy as a part of their treatment program, experienced greater decreases in craving, and greater increases in acceptance and acting with awareness, compared to those who received usual treatment only.

Mindfulness therapy and the treatment of addiction

The greatest benefits of mindfulness therapy in addiction treatment are associated with the management of cravings and relapse prevention. Many addicts will confirm that resisting the urges and controling the needs to use again when encountered with a disturbing experience or a life crisis can be difficult.

Mindfulnes therapy helps addiction recoverers be aware of the occurence of these emotions and sensations, acknowledge them, and then watch them dissapear. So, by teaching you how to deal with cravings in a new way, mindfulness therapy will allow you to have increased control over your thoughts and actions regarding addictive behaviors.

The efficacy of mindfulness therapy for addiction treatment questions

Do you still have question about the efficacy of mindfulness therapy for addiction treatment? Please post them in the comments section below and we will get back to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NCBI: Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorders
NCBI: A Narrative Review of Yoga and Mindfulness as Complementary Therapies for Addiction
Book: Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents by Sam Himelstein and Stephen Saul
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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