Alcohol and Meditation
Like other forms of addiction, addiction to alcohol causes great harm to those who are dependent and everyone connected to them. While there are many possible definitions of addiction and alcoholism, one that may sound familiar comes from Alcoholics Anonymous. It proposes that alcoholism is a threefold disease comprised of a physical allergy that triggers craving; a mental obsession that robs addicts of their will to resist their substance of choice; and a spiritual malady that often includes feelings of disconnectedness and discontent.
There are many practices and applications of meditation to stop drinking. Meditation teaches us that we don’t have to react to dispiriting thoughts and cravings. We learn that we have choices, and can choose to remain in the present moment while acknowledging the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that habitually trigger maladjusted behavior. We learn that letting go and self-acceptance are possible, and that they are enough.
Addiction and control
For many people who are hooked on alcohol or other substances, partaking lures them into feeling that they are more in control of situations and better able to function. In fact, the opposite is true: addicts become a slave to their cravings. Day in, day out, their main focus is acquiring and consuming the substance they are addicted to. This dependency compromises their well-being and adds to the very discomfort they were hoping to escape. Alcoholics tend to be caught in a web of denial and remain impervious to advice, even when those who are close to them try to help.
Only the addict can truly regain control of his or her situation by choosing recovery over the temporary relief of escape. The recovery process is more or less involved depending on the type of addiction. While a few people are able to “kick the habit” and detox on their own, most others will benefit from the support provided by fellow addicts in recovery and therapy.
The therapeutic benefits of mindfulness
Many people ask how can alcohol addicts benefit from meditation? In recent years, the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness meditation practice have been clearly documented. Many well-conducted programs and studies show that meditation can help people react to stress and discomfort in mindful ways. People in recovery now have access to mindfulness-based relapse prevention, mindful eating programs, mindfulness-based smoking cessation therapy, and many others. With the help of mindfulness-based therapies, people with addictive tendencies find that they are better able to tolerate and work with undesirable thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. For example, a study carried out by British researchers concluded that sitting mindfully just 11 minutes a day significantly helped at-risk drinkers reduce their alcohol consumption!
It’s important to note that there is a full spectrum of addictive behaviors – from being unable to resist a tweet or a cupcake to ending up on the streets hooked on opioids. We all have our triggers and our mechanisms for dealing with them. It may take more than mindfulness to recover, especially in the beginning. The deeper and more destructive the habit, the more crucial it is to get professional help.
The 2018 article Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research published in the review Addition Science & Clinical Practice provides a comprehensive look at the current science of addiction, recovery and mindfulness-based treatment methods. The authors point out that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing became the therapeutic pillars of addiction treatment before neuroscience was able to map out the physiological processes of addiction with the accuracy that is possible today.
According to the authors, “A growing body of controlled research studies demonstrates that MBIs may produce significant clinical benefits for users of a panoply of addictive substances, including alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opioids.” The term MBI refers to mindfulness-based interventions such as the mindfulness-based relapse prevention program mentioned above and mindfulness-oriented recovery enhancement. The authors later state that “A considerable body of findings has amassed supporting the capacity of MBIs to reduce substance use and attenuate factors promoting substance use, such as craving and stress.”
When peers walk the talk together
A great example of a mindfulness-based recovery program is offered by the peer-led, non-profit organization Refuge Recovery. On their flyer, the group defines itself as “a community of people who are using the practices of mindfulness, compassion, forgiveness and generosity to heal the pain and suffering that addiction has caused in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. The path of practice that we follow is called the Four Noble Truths of Refuge Recovery.”
Four Truths of Refuge Recovery
Based on the Four Noble Truths that underlie all forms of Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice, in this context the four are defined as:
· Addiction creates suffering
· The cause of addiction is repetitive craving.
· Recovery is possible.
· The path to recovery is available.
Their website abounds in free-access materials available for consultation and download. Peer-led meetings begin with 20 minutes of meditation. Ethical conduct and sobriety are among Refuge Recovery’s core principles, and the practice of mindfulness is a cornerstone of the program.