Meditation for Addiction Recovery
Meditation for addiction recovery is often promoted by support groups and treatment centres alike. Over the past decade, numerous scientific studies have taken place, researching the benefits of meditation in attaining and maintaining a healthy recovery from addiction.
When we think of meditation, we may think of a scenario where we are trying to create complete stillness and quiet within the mind. Whilst this is true for some forms of meditation, there are many different types that offer different benefits, especially for those in addiction recovery. These help us build a unique and personalised skill set that can be accessed anytime and anywhere.
For those in recovery from addiction, building a set of meditative tools can be invaluable - life-saving even.
Regular meditation can even prevent from acting on reactive emotions, assisting in the prevention of addiction relapse.
The great thing about meditation is there is no right way or wrong way to do it. Finding a type of meditation that you are comfortable with and motivated to continue, really helps you to transcend into a life beyond addiction.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a form of focused contemplation, whereby the brain is trained through practicing various meditation techniques. Think of it as a type of exercise for the brain, or brain ‘fitness’ if you will.
Whilst detoxification, medication and nutrition can help to improve physical wellbeing this is only merely the very start. Addiction recovery involves many evidence-based treatments that target the mind, one of which is meditation.
When we want to improve our physical health, we become mindful of what we eat and the amount of exercise we engage in. Our brain controls everything, so getting our brains into a state of wellness makes a lot of sense.
When first learning to meditate it can be frustrating as the mind wanders. This can cause us to become acutely aware of our ability, or lack of ability to concentrate. This is where self-compassion and persistence pay off. Whilst in active addiction a lot of damage is caused to the brain, both structurally and on a cellular level. It can naturally take time to get the addicted brain back into a healthy state of recovery 1
Becoming aware, however, of how random and out of control our thought processes are, provides a valuable starting point from which we can aim to improve. In time and with consistency, the benefits of meditation will soon become very apparent.
The value of meditation for addiction recovery
The popular 12 step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous incorporates meditation as a way of providing structure, direction and learning. Other 12 Step programmes, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous also advocate meditation as a valuable tool to connect with oneself and evolve spiritually 2
Moreover, the value of meditation is apparent in drug and alcohol detox clinics and treatment centres around the world. Patients are taught simple forms of meditation as a way of providing a natural sense of inner peace (something that is sorely lacking in active addiction).
Looking back at some of the causes as why we used alcohol and drugs, it is obvious at times we turn to substances to quieten a racing mind. Sometimes we ‘used’ to switch off emotionally and find oblivion in drug-induced sleep.
Let’s face it, Addiction is the ultimate checking-out of life process. Of course, the effects of emotional numbness were only very temporary. As soon as the drugs wore off, the racing mind would return with a vengeance.
Therefore, coming into recovery, there is a great need to find a healthier and more beneficial alternative to finding some peace and stillness within - this is where meditation truly comes into its own.
The benefits of meditation for addiction recovery
Addiction and substance abuse is closely linked to stress. Stress is also found to be a common trigger for relapse. One of the main proven benefits of meditation is that it helps to reduce stress levels and emotional reactivity 2,3
Scientifically proven benefits of meditation for addiction recovery include:
- Reduces stress
- Decreases levels of anxiety
- Reduces symptoms of depression
- Promotes emotional health and well-being
- Increases concentration levels
- Brings awareness of possible triggers for relapse
- Reduces drug and alcohol cravings
- Reduces impulsivity
- Encourages self-awareness, self-healing and self-forgiveness
- Can assist in developing kindness and compassion towards others and to oneself
- Assists with control over emotions and helps prevent strong emotional reactivity
- Quietens an overactive or overstimulated mind
- Encourages creativity
- Promotes relaxation of the body
- Improves quality & quantity of sleep
- Promotes self-care and self-love
- Helps to manage chronic pain
- Reduces blood pressure 3,4,5
Mindfulness meditation in particular is greatly beneficial to those in addiction recovery. It is also a very simple and accessible form of meditation that anyone can learn. Mindfulness meditation helps to train the brain and assist in the overall healing process from active addiction. 4,5
What is the best meditation for addiction?
Different types of meditation suit different people. It is whatever meditation you personally connect with and find helpful in your addiction recovery. Many, who are new to meditation benefit from guided meditation, whereby you are talked through a series of visuals that help you to relax.
Mindfulness is often taught in treatment centres as it fosters a sense of awareness and shows you how to disconnect from unhelpful thoughts. This can be very useful in learning impulse control and in reducing unnecessary stress.
Meditation for substance use disorders has been shown to decrease cravings, promote relaxation and reduce drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Can meditation cure addiction?
There is no ‘cure’ for addiction. As a highly complex biological disease of the brain, that causes structural changes to the brain's reward centre as well as numerous other areas of the brain, addiction can only be treated and managed.
However, the symptoms associated with addiction can be significantly reduced with the regular practice of meditation. This is great news, as meditation is proven to be a useful tool in preventing addiction relapse! 6
Research supports that practising regular meditation can help to curb substance cravings and food disorders, reduce impulsive behaviours and bring about a greater awareness of potential relapse triggers. These benefits of mediation are all extremely helpful to a person recovering from addiction, even in the early days of substance dependence detoxification 7
How often should I meditate?
There is an old Zen saying - ‘ You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day - unless you are too busy, Then you should sit for an hour’. This suggests that the busier we are the more we need some time out to relax.
Of course, fitting meditation into a busy day can be challenging, especially if you struggle to find alone time within a chaotic home. This is where meditation's flexibility and benefits are great enough that it should be considered a priority.
Starting off with small amounts of time with a simple form of meditation is often the best way. Once you manage to master 5 to 10 minutes a day consistently, you can then increase the timeframe as you see fit.
Often throughout the day when feeling stressed or under pressure, it is of great benefit just to take a couple of minutes to focus on the breath and remind yourself that ‘you are enough’. In this respect, you can press the ‘pause’ button and restart your day at any point.
When you choose to meditate is up to you, but starting the day off with meditation helps to quieten the mind and prepare for the day ahead. Taking some quiet time to meditate in the evenings, just before bed, can also assist with clearing the mind, relaxing the body, and thus enabling better quality sleep. 
Different types of meditation
Experimenting with different types of meditation allows you to choose a form of meditation that you are most comfortable with. Most people will find a form that suits them but also experiment with other forms of meditation depending on their individual needs.
The 10 most common types of meditation are:
- mindfulness meditation
- contemplative meditation
- spiritual meditation
- focused meditation
- movement meditation
- mantra meditation
- transcendental meditation
- progressive relaxation
- loving-kindness meditation
- Guided meditation
Not all types of meditation are right for everyone. The various different meditation types require different practises skills, and different mindsets. This is why it is important to keep an open mind and experiment in order to find what works for you.
Meditation as an alternative to opioid pain relief
Chronic pain can lead to developing an addiction. Pharmaceutical drugs commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain are usually highly addictive. Addictive drugs for chronic or severe pain include opioids, benzodiazepines and gabapentinoids 10
In addiction recovery, there is a great need to be very mindful of the use of prescription drugs, especially those that can lead to drug dependence and drug addiction. This is not to say that they can’t be used, but there is always a risk to consider, especially if you are prescribed your past ‘drug of choice’ or something very similar.
Wherever possible, it can be a life-saving decision to look into healthy alternatives to addictive prescription pain relief.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be an effective alternative to opioid medications. It works by altering the person's perception of pain and helping to self-regulate their individual experience of pain. Effective pain management can be achieved using a present-centred and acceptance-based mindfulness meditation 11
Simple forms of meditation to try
When it comes to enhancing your recovery from addiction, meditation is scientifically proven to be a very valuable asset.
If you are new to meditation and are curious about which form of meditation to try, we have found the following types to be very effective in addiction recovery.
Types of meditation to enhance addiction recovery
There are many types of meditation for addiction recovery that you can explore. Be sure to try out different forms, as they can be quite different from one another.
Mindfulness meditation involves sitting quietly and observing what you are experiencing in your thoughts, feelings and senses. This practice brings a person into the present moment and grounds them in their own body, disconnecting from the chaos of the outside world by simply observing without any judgement. Mindfulness has proven to be so effective in achieving overall well-being that the NHS recommend it for the treatment of various ailments including chronic pain, anxiety and depression 12
Contemplative mediation involves relaxing whilst quietly contemplating a subject of focus. An example of this would be sitting quietly in the morning and considering the day ahead, or reflecting on the day that has just passed. In this way you can achieve a greater awareness of behaviours, emotions, direction and learning.
Another example would be to sit quietly and read out aloud spiritual text, focusing on the sound and the meaning of the words and how they make you feel. By practising these simple techniques you are turning contemplation into contemplative meditation 13
Movement meditation offers numerous benefits to a person recovering from addiction. In this form of meditation, mindfulness meets movement. Perfect examples of movement meditation would be Yoga or Tia Chi, both of which offer an abundance of spiritual, physical, mental and emotional benefits 14
Progressive relaxation meditation
Progressive relaxation meditation is particularly beneficial for when you are feeling anxious or tense. It can also assist you in relaxing before going to sleep. There are many guided meditations available on YouTube that focus on progressive relaxation. The practice involves lying down quietly in a comfortable place and focusing on bodily sensations.
Starting from the feet and working upwards, consciously tensing each muscle, holding for a few seconds, then letting go. Afterwards, you can scan your body for any areas that remain tense and use the practice again. This practice progressively relaxes the body and the mind. Many detox clinics use this form of meditation to help patients to relax 15
How to practice loving-kindness meditation
Loving-kindness meditation is a form of meditation that encourages social connectedness and positivity. The practice involves sitting quietly and repeating some phrases that encourage self-love, self-esteem, self-worth and self-acceptance. Examples of such phrases would be - ‘I am worthy of love and kindness’, or ‘I am perfectly imperfect’. Whilst saying the phrases, imagine you are in a state of physical and mental wellness. Loving-kindness meditation can be practised alone or with others 16
How to practice spiritual meditation
Spiritual meditation can particularly appeal to those that are following a 12 Step programme. This form of meditation is designed to help you to connect with the spirit, a God, or the universe; encouraging and gaining greater awareness and understanding. There are many different ways in which a person can practice spiritual meditation, some may sit quietly and pray or ask questions to a higher power or the universe, and then wait patiently for the answers to be generated within. Spiritual meditation encourages spiritual growth, connectivity, and inner peace 17
A final word on meditation. As you can see, there are numerous benefits to be gained from learning and practising meditation for achieving and maintaining healthy addiction recovery. The biggest benefit is that meditation can help prevent addiction relapse.
All forms of meditation can be practised alone or with others. Finding a meditation class can be really beneficial, especially if you are just starting out or want to try a new type of meditation.
The benefits of attending meditation classes include:
- Connecting with like-minded others
- Learning a meditation practice
- Motivation to attend and complete a course of meditation classes
- Motivation to continue the practice at home
- Learning different techniques of meditation
- Attending a class where time is set aside and a calming environment is provided, to encourage the practice of meditation
- Reap all of the benefits that meditation has to offer
Meditation classes are an investment, not only in your recovery but also in your overall well-being. They can be a great place to connect with others who are on a similar path and help you find ’inner peace’, something previously elusive before recovery from addiction.
Learn Meditation techniques with Recoverlution
At Recoverlution we really appreciate the healing powers that meditation harnesses. We, therefore, have numerous meditation techniques that are free for you to explore within our Knowledge hub. We also have meditation teachers and classes that you can access by subscribing to our Wellness hub, along with many other proven techniques of enhancing your well-being.
- The Neurobiology of substance use, misuse and addiction - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424849/
- The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems Alexandre B. Laudet, PhD, Keith Morgen, PhD, and William L. White, MA- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1526775/
- Meditation programmes for psychological stress and well-being - a systematic review and meta-analysis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24395196/
- Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5907295/
- A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation -https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889159112004758
- A translational neuroscience perspective on mindfulness meditation as a prevention strategy - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27012254/
- Drug misuse and dependence. UK guidelines on clinical management https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/673978/clinical_guidelines_2017.pdf
- Can meditation treat insomnia? https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment/meditation
- Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: a mechanistic account - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4941786/
- Addressing the Opioid Epidemic. Nelson LS, Juurlink DN, Perrone J JAMA. 2015 Oct 13; 314(14):1453-4.
- Mindfulness-based pain relief - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4941786/
- NHS Mindfulness https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/tips-and-support/mindfulness/
- How to practice contemplative meditation for reflection https://www.thedailymeditation.com/contemplation
- Meditative movement for anxiety and depression https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3721087/
- Progressive muscle relaxation https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/-/media/CCI/Mental-Health-Professionals/Panic/Panic---Information-Sheets/Panic-Information-Sheet---05---Progressive-Muscle-Relaxation.pdf
- Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness - https://contextualscience.org/system/files/Hutcherson,2008.pdf
- Kadri N, et al. (2020). Impact of spiritual meditation on drug addiction recovery and wellbeing: A systematic review.