Addiction has been a topic of many scientific studies and discussions for well over 400 years. The use of substances to have been used in religious ceremonies, in battle, medicinally and recreationally for centuries (1). While experts don’t always agree on the best method for recovering from addiction, most agree the first step is becoming aware of the problem.
Mindfulness can be defined as “the quality of being conscious or aware”. Mindfulness-based treatment programs aim to help our clients take that first step towards a healthy, substance-free life. They do this by helping them become more aware of their body, mind, and spirit.
Mindfulness practices have been used for centuries for improved mental and physical health. Modern medicine shows that the brain can be flexible and that mindfulness can change pathways in a person’s brain (2). These changes can result in more healthy habits, help users understand moods and emotions, and improve mental and physical health overall. So what does this mean for addiction?
Addiction is a physical and chemical dependence to substances that may be harmful to a person’s health. Not all substances are harmful, in fact, many provide relief from physical ailments and are prescribed every day to grateful patients.
The habit of addiction is far more important than the substance used in the act, something that is often overlooked. If a substance is removed from a person’s reach without addressing the habit, they will likely just find a substitute. Mindfulness can be used to address addiction, using “attention of focus” (3) to see that addictions often are well-worn habits. These habits are created in response to things like fear, stress, boredom, apathy, and grief. With time, we can change the pathways in the brain to overrule that craving and find healthy ways to enjoy life.
Experts often say that the answer is continuing to wage a “war on drugs”, but this has little impact because it overlooks a key element in the cycle of addiction—the people using them. Rather than trying to wage war on the hundreds of substances that can be abused, we should be helping the population who is crying out for help and desperately using anything to escape whatever reality they are dealing with. By helping people see that they hold the key to their own mind, one that can be used for self-observation, optimism, and ultimate well-being rather than abuse and destruction, we can end the war and actually make a difference.
Everyone knows that the first step towards fixing a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. But awareness is not just the first step, it’s the whole staircase to a new beginning.