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Mindfulness plays a significant role in addiction treatment and recovery. It aids in improving mental health and overall wellbeing. Likewise, it can be practiced through a variety of activities found in addiction recovery programs. This article will highlight how mindfulness encourages an individual to be in the moment and how it can help them identify what triggers their impulse to use substances.

What Is Mindfulness?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), mindfulness is the practice of “maintaining attention or awareness on the present moment without making judgments.” It is generally considered to be a low-risk practice that can be performed at home. 

Additionally, the NCCIH explains that mindfulness has been popularized in recent years. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of adults who engaged in mantra-based meditation, mindfulness meditation, or spiritual mediation tripled, going from four percent to 14%. Meanwhile, the number of school-aged children practicing these techniques increased nine times to 5.4% in the same period.

Does Mindfulness Improve Mental Health?

Mindfulness practices serve to alleviate stress as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. It does this by encouraging self-regulation processes in the body. Just as with substance use, repetition of the actions of maintaining presence and focus, along with non-judgment, serves to create a habit by activating the brain’s reward circuit. Unlike substance use, mindfulness is a healthy reward and benefits the body rather than harming it. 

The Relationship Between Mindfulness and Addiction Recovery

In addition to the mental health benefits discussed, mindfulness has been found to alleviate cravings in addiction recovery, coming out slightly ahead of other therapeutic approaches in a 2018 study. A 2017 study found withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder (AUD) were also alleviated.

However, mindfulness has an even greater role to play in addiction recovery; it helps get those with substance use disorder (SUD) back in their bodies, back in the present moment and experience life as it unfolds. Through mindfulness practice, emotions that are often avoided through substance use can be faced. Since mindfulness teaches non-judgment, practitioners benefit from learning to notice their feelings without being swept away by them. Instead, they can simply classify whatever bubbles up during their practice as a thought and allow themselves the freedom to move on from it. 

Sitting with thoughts in non-judgment creates space between thoughts and reactions to thoughts. Over time and through continued practice, mindfulness allows the practitioner to experience emotions in real time without becoming reactive. That reactivity is the piece that frequently drives addiction. 

Mindfulness Practices: Getting Started

There are many types of mindfulness practices. Finding the right one may be a case of trial and error. In order to get started, first consider any past or present hobbies. Are they an activity in which your mind can wander? If so, the activity may be one you can bring mindfulness to. 

Here are some examples of mindfulness-based therapies you might find in a recovery center:

Art Therapy

Painting, crocheting, knitting, sculpting, or other creative activities offer plenty of opportunities for mindfulness. Creative practices can be steeped in expression. Focusing on the act of containing a feeling through craft gives you time to practice not judging what you are expressing. 

Exercise Therapy

Cycling, running, and rowing all require the strength of mind to pursue and continue. Since they utilize repetitive activities, mindfulness is key to their success. When it comes to choosing a physical endeavor, start small. Make the activity one you can stick to. For example, if you want to start running daily, begin by walking for even five minutes at a time. This will help you gain and maintain the consistency that will support building a longer practice.

Outdoor Therapy

When outdoors, focus on being outdoors. Whether hiking, sailing, or simply walking through a neighborhood, notice how one’s body feels and any thoughts or emotions that come up during the activity and face them without judgment. Notice the sights and smells around you. Experience where you are with all your senses. This floods your body with information about the present moment.


Staying in one space and maintaining attention to the present moment is perhaps the most challenging mindfulness activity. While meditation can happen with movement or through any of the above, it is most known as being a seated practice during which one holds still. To try meditation at home, set a timer for three minutes. Sit comfortably with your eyes open or closed in a distraction-free environment. For those three minutes, notice your thoughts each time your mind wanders, then gently bring your mind back to the present. Also, it can be helpful to have an object to focus your sight on during this practice.

Mindfulness is the act of maintaining attention to the present moment. It is a proven practice for addiction recovery, as it alleviates symptoms of withdrawal and cravings and teaches you to stay in your body without judging your thoughts. Mindfulness can be practiced through a variety of activities, such as art therapy, exercise, outdoor therapy, or meditation. All of these modalities are offered at West Coast Recovery Centers as part of our addiction recovery programming. If you or someone you love is experiencing addiction or substance use disorder and would like to learn more about the natural ways mindfulness can support your recovery, call West Coast Recovery Centers at (760) 492-6509 today. We are ready to help you.

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