Mindfulness based relapse prevention

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention: Sustainable Recovery

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The Complete Guide to Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention: Tools for Sustaining Recovery

Maybe you’re just beginning your recovery journey, or maybe you’ve been on this journey for years. In either case, the thought of a relapse is terrifying. You know you have worked long and hard hours in your recovery journey, but the fear of a relapse feels overwhelming. What if we told you there was a way that you could greatly reduce your chances of a relapse? Well, good news, there is! With mindfulness-based relapse prevention, the odds of a relapse decrease drastically. At Centered Recovery, we believe in this whole-heartedly. Our team is dedicated to supporting you in your journey of recovery, especially helping you avoid a relapse. Spend a few minutes with us as we dive into what mindfulness-based relapse prevention looks like!

What Is Mindfulness?

When we think of mindfulness, what comes to mind? Is it a sunrise yoga session on the beach?Sitting listening to the sound of rain? Meditating? Praying? Writing in a journal? Whatever you like to do to practice mindfulness, the primary goal is always the same. It’s not so much about the activity, as it is the intention behind it. 

The purpose of mindfulness is to first, pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and environment. Once you’ve slowed down enough to be aware of the present, it’s then important to not judge any experience you are having. Instead of becoming wrapped in the cycle of unhealthy thoughts, mindfulness practices help you to focus on the current moment. When we learn to observe our thoughts or feelings and simply let them be, we are breaking the cycle of habitual behaviors. 

Becoming aware of how we are experiencing the world around us is the first step in understanding how we can regulate and control our emotions. Research has shown that mindfulness leads to many benefits, such as reducing anxiety or depression. 

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How do Mindfulness and Addiction Recovery Relate? 

There are a variety of ways that mindfulness and addiction recovery relate and overlap with each other. These practices can greatly help in the process of recovering from addictive behaviors as well as maintaining long-term sobriety. 

Awareness of Triggers and Cravings

When practicing mindfulness, we learn to be more aware of our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. When we can do this without judgment or any negative reaction, we have a greater awareness of ourselves. Because we have a higher level of awareness, it becomes easier to recognize triggers or cravings that may come up. With the help of mindfulness practices, we can create space between our urges and what we do after. Eventually, our impulsivity reduces, which helps in relapse prevention. 

Emotional Regulation

It’s common that we turn to our addictions when our emotions or daily stresses become overwhelming. Mindfulness practices are helpful in allowing you to learn how to regulate your emotions as they come up. When we allow ourselves to have emotions without judgment of them, we eventually learn to be less reactive. This is a huge first step in relapse prevention. If we can regulate our emotions well, we are less likely to want to turn to substances or behaviors as a way to cope. 

Enhancing Self-Compassion and Acceptance

When we are journeying through recovery, it’s likely that many emotions will come up. Maybe we feel guilty, shameful, or critical of ourselves for having an addiction. Maybe we struggle to feel compassionate towards ourselves. While these feelings are common, it’s essential that we learn to create a supportive inner world for ourselves. Mindfulness practices encourage a compassionate approach to ourselves, which is another essential skill in relapse prevention.

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All About Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, or MBRP, is an evidence-based treatment program that uses traditional therapeutic strategies and mindfulness practices in the treatment of addiction. The skills learned through mindfulness based relapse prevention can help you learn to sit in uncomfortable experiences, rather than trying to run to a quick fix. The program is rooted in many foundational principles, and we will spend the next few minutes discussing what that realistically looks like. 

Becoming Aware of Your Triggers and Cravings

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention focuses on the importance of knowing what triggers or cravings could lead your back towards a relapse. When we become triggered, and we don’t have the skills to work through that, it becomes a recipe for disaster. Mindfulness practices allow you to be aware of these triggers, which gives you more space to use effective coping strategies. 

Non-Judgemental Attitude

This is a big one. In order to heal and reach long-term sobriety, we have to approach ourselves without judgment. When triggers or emotions are brought to light, and we don’t like them, we tend to judge them and try to numb them. Through mindfulness practices, we can learn to sit with them free of judgment, helping us overall in relapse prevention. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies

A part of this relapse prevention program is the use of cognitive-behavioral strategies in addition to mindfulness practices. These strategies may include identifying high-stress situations, developing coping skills for those situations, as well as creating a personalized relapse prevention plan. Because both of these treatment approaches are proven to be effective, using them together can be all the more impactful!

Regular Practice and Integration

An essential part of this relapse prevention program is consistent effort towards the practices. Ideally, mindfulness practices would be integrated in daily life. This can be formally, such as through guided meditation, or informally, such as mindful walking. In order to fully learn the skills needed, the practice needs to be done often to sustain recovery. 

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Common Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Methods 

Urge Surfing

Some urges serve us well. We get the urge to eat when we’re hungry. We get the urge to drink water when we are thirsty. This is our body’s way of telling us that we are deprived of something. Our body’s are very intelligent in this way, but sometimes they work against us. When it comes to addictive urges, our body’s aren’t serving us well anymore. While food and water are required for us to live, our addictive urges aren’t necessary for survival. 

Urge surfing is the practice of imagining our urges as waves in the ocean. Waves rise in the water, crest, and then fall. The same is true of urges. We can ride the waves of our urges, rather than becoming consumed by them. No wave stays forever, and urges are no different! They will pass. Here are a few steps to guide the process of surfing your urges:

  1. Acknowledge that you are feeling an urge. 
  2. Don’t try to suppress that urge or fight it off. 
  3. Observe what you start to feel as you experience the urge. 
  4. Don’t judge what you are starting to feel. 
  5. Accept that the experience of urges is a normal part of your recovery journey. 
  6. Remember that urges don’t last forever!

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

There are a few key components of cognitive-behavioral therapy in relapse prevention. First, the goal will be to essentially reorganize your current thought patterns. To do this, you first have to identify and challenge thoughts that may be unhelpful to you. When we can identify those thoughts, we then have space to bring in more realistic and helpful thinking patterns. Next, now that we’ve focused on our thoughts, we have to tend to our behavior. It’s important that we take part in activities that allow us to challenge negative emotions. By doing so, we limit the chances of a relapse. 

If we can implement strategies, both mentally and physically, that help us manage difficult emotions, we are setting ourselves up for success in relapse prevention!

Dialectical Behavior Therapy 

The goal of this therapeutic approach is to combine cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness practices. There are four main areas that dialectical behavior therapy focuses on building skills in. 


This practice is very similar to what we looked at a few minutes ago. Essentially, we want to build the skill of being fully present in the moment we are in. When we are present, we allow ourselves space to get to know ourselves and our thoughts. Even better, when we approach ourselves without judgment or shame, we reduce our emotional reactivity. All of these skills are essential in relapse prevention!

Distress Tolerance

When we are in moments of distress, it’s natural that we would want to turn to the thing that has “helped” us before. However, in order to break the cycle of relapses, we need to have skills that allow us to manage distress without resorting to our addictions. Maybe we use grounding techniques to keep us in the present. Maybe we use distractions, such as watching our favorite show. Whatever is helpful to you, engaging in healthy activities is vital in coping with distress. 

Emotional Regulation

A major part of relapse prevention is the ability to control our emotions. If we can’t control our emotions when they come to the surface, it’s likely that we will resort to old habits. By recognizing and beginning to understand our emotions, we can reduce our vulnerability to relapse. Similar to distress tolerance, finding habits or activities that help us feel good is an important step to take. 

Interpersonal Effectiveness

In order for us to be at our best, we have to have communication skills that help us maintain relationships that are healthy for us. We have to make and keep personal boundaries that will help us protect our own recovery journeys. Maybe you are surrounded by people that don’t support your recovery the way you need them to. This is a recipe for relapse! Practice making personal boundaries with people or things that aren’t helpful to your recovery. 

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Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Because preventing relapses can be very challenging, you may be wondering how effective this approach is. There is a good amount of research suggesting that yes, this is in fact a very effective treatment approach. Overall, research shows that mindfulness-based relapse prevention is strongly associated with an overall decrease in the frequency and severity of substance use. When compared to standard relapse prevention programs, this approach shows that people have lower rates of relapse overall. This is very promising and exciting! Mindfulness-based relapse prevention increases your awareness, allows you to navigate cravings, and helps decrease reactivity to life’s triggers. 

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention is an effective treatment in both the short and long-term. Maintaining sobriety is a difficult task for many, but mindfulness-based relapse prevention has proven to be effective in helping many achieve this goal. 

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Top Mindfulness-Based Treatment at Centered Recovery 

At Centered Recovery, we utilize holistic methods to improve mental, emotional, and physical functioning through the use of mindfulness-based practices. Here, you will be exposed to various practices such as meditation, sound therapy, art therapy, breathwork, yoga, and more! These practices allow you to approach yourself with more compassion and understanding, which is a key component in the success of relapse prevention. At Centered, you will experience a structured, professionally led program that revolves around accountability and connection with others.

Our holistic approach focuses on guiding you towards a more emotionally and mentally healthy space that is necessary for long-term healing. The unique, intensive program of Centered Recovery can allow you to understand how your patterns of behavior are formed, and how to effectively move past them.

While you are in the driver’s seat controlling your own recovery, Centered is dedicated to fostering an environment of support and communication. Our staff at Centered is dedicated to helping you achieve transformational success by taking some of the pressure off your shoulders. You are not on this journey alone, and we are passionate about helping you succeed!

Contact Centered Recovery Programs Today

Now that you know all about our guided program for recovery, contact us to get started! Centered Recovery Programs, located in the heart of Roswell, Georgia, is a mindfulness-based outpatient drug and alcohol rehab treatment program. When choosing the best drug and alcohol treatment program, keeping all these different aspects in mind is essential. Our staff will always tailor your treatment to your needs and goals for the future! 

Whether you prefer to attend treatment in person or need virtual telehealth services, we can help! Centered Recovery has been providing meaningful, quality care to Georgia residents since 2017, and we have the most Google Reviews of any treatment provider in the state–all five stars!

If you have been considering a guided alcohol and drug rehab, or you have been struggling with mild mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, overwhelming stress, or burnout issues, and would like to understand the difference that a mindfulness-based program can make, please give us a call at 800-556-2966 to speak to one of our Admissions Team counselors today!

Written by Sydney Christiansen, Clinical Intern