Using mindful meditation has shown to exercise neural systems in the brain associated with decision making, planning and behavior. Mindfulness ultimately changes the brain and strengthens it via the neural connections in a similar way that physical exercise strengthens muscles.
Certain mindfulness techniques (there are many) are effective in addiction recovery because it teaches how to react to cravings differently that you did in the past. Observing, rather than reacting in a panic or trying to fight or suppress cravings, is most effective. Mindfulness teaches to observe the craving from a third person perspective by standing out of the cravings path, analyzing it as a separate entity, changing the relationship you have with it until it diminishes.
This practice has been shown to improve recovery in addicts1 because it not only diminishes cravings, but also negative emotional states. Anxiety, depression, feeling tense and irritability are common emotions that addicts experience during recovery and drive an addict to use, slip or relapse.2 While mindfulness meditation has shown to improve all of the above mentioned emotional states.3
Mindfulness has been shown to greatly improve compulsive disorders as well.4 Addiction is a compulsive behavior. An addict will have obsessive thoughts about using and then feel a desire to act out on them. Simply put, the obsessive part is being preoccupied on the thoughts of using, while the compulsive side is to take the action.
Moreover, mindful meditation has shown to improve nearly every notable psychological deficit caused by addiction. In one study, it was shown to change the brain long-term threw neuroplasiticty.5 Neuroplasticity, or the brains ability to change, increases.6
Researchers have discovered that the more one “mindfully meditates” the thicker the brain region of the frontal and temporal lobes get!7 Remember, this is the part of the brain engaged in controlling behaviors, decisions and emotions, the very area that keeps our pleasure seeking limbic system in check!
Moreover, the emotional improvement through minduflness has been examined in brain imaging studies and showed that it actually reduced the activity in the amygdala, which is part of limbic system responsible for fear and anxiety. This is manifested by improved sleep, decreased stress and running thoughts and a decrease of anxiety.8
When the activity of the amygdala is reduced, it affects the parasypathetic nervous system and counteracts stress and anxiety responses in the body through the lowering of cortisol and adrenaline in the blood stream.
There is no doubt that mindfulness can be greatly beneficial for addiction recovery, as well as any other physical or mental health issue.
You don’t have to be meditating to be practicing the principles of mindfulness. Cravings can hit at almost any time of the day, but when they do, mindfulness can help you to observe the craving until it fades, then redirect your attention onto your breath or other activity.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere. It is a practice you take with you. If you want great benefits from mindfulness, you should live in a mindful way. It no longer becomes a practice that you set some time aside for, but a way of living.