Meditation for alcoholism and addiction recovery
For people struggling with alcoholism or addiction, meditation can be a powerful tool.
Oftentimes with alcoholism or addiction, people turn to substances to numb or tune out painful emotions. Over time, reaching for a substance becomes habitual. Having a regular meditation practice can boost self-awareness and help people slow down so they can weigh the consequences of their decisions before reaching for a substance.
Instead of resisting difficult emotions, people who do meditation for alcoholism and addiction learn to sit with them and work through them, says Patricia Pavlak, a substance abuse counselor at Mirmont Treatment Center, part of Main Line Health.
Here’s what to know about practicing meditation for addiction recovery:
What is meditation?
There is no set way to go about meditation for addiction recovery, and the type of meditation practice that works for one person will vary from what works for another. Though meditation comes in all shapes and forms, the practice is all about slowing down and being present in the moment. Through a meditative practice, people can foster feelings of gratitude and self-acceptance so that the emotions that once felt overwhelming become more manageable.
There are various apps that provide guided meditations, and Pavlak recommends an app called Calm. The app includes many types of meditations, including a daily guided meditation that is approximately 10 minutes. Many guided meditations focus on self-compassion, self-acceptance, and gratitude.
For people feeling physical tension caused by stress, Pavlak recommends doing a body scan. Body scans help you relax different parts of your body, head to toe. Body scans vary in length of time, and several can be found on YouTube.
There are also various ways to do mindful meditations, including yoga or a meditative walk, where you focus on the sights, sounds, and senses around you.
The more you practice meditation and mindfulness to stop drinking alcohol, the more you can slow down and assess how you are feeling.
What are the benefits of meditation for alcoholism?
Meditation helps increase self-awareness and gives people the ability to identify and address how they are feeling.
It can be useful to practice meditation for alcohol cravings, as meditation can help reduce impulsivity by helping to increase our mental clarity, says Pavlak. With alcoholism, substances are used as a way to numb and push away difficult feelings. Meditation, on the other hand, helps people acknowledge challenging emotions and manage them better.
With alcoholism, reaching for a substance can become a habit. Having a regular meditation practice can help interrupt those habitual inclinations. Meditation increases mental clarity and improves our ability to focus. “When we have better mental clarity, that’s when we can make better choices and slow down enough to weigh the consequences of our choices,” Pavlak says.
Meditation can also have a profound impact on mental health by increasing feelings of peace, joy, acceptance, non-judgment, and gratitude.
Tips for starting meditation for alcoholism
Many people who are new to meditation may struggle with the practice and worry they can’t quiet their minds. Below are Pavlak's suggestions for getting started with meditation for alcohol cravings.
According to Pavlak, one of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that you can’t have thoughts during the practice. “Meditation is really not about that at all,” says Pavlak. “We always have thoughts and emotions coming up. Meditation is simply about focusing on our breath and non-judgmentally observing our thoughts and emotions, without getting swept up by them.”
If you’re just starting out, Pavlak recommends trying to sit still for two minutes and focusing on your breath and senses. Try to find three points of contact — such as your feet on the floor, your back against the chair, and your hands on your lap. “That helps you get out of your head and into your body,” says Pavlak. Even a couple minutes of focusing on deep breathing can have benefits.
There are also different affirmations you can say to yourself such as “may I be happy,” “may I be safe,” and “may I be at peace.” As thoughts come up, think about them as clouds going across the sky. “Notice them, but don’t judge them,” says Pavlak.
One of the simplest approaches to meditation is mindfulness, which you can practice throughout the day. For example, when you are brushing your teeth, focus on brushing your teeth and not all of the things you have to accomplish. When you’re in the shower, bring your thoughts to the warm water and when you’re eating, draw your thoughts to the taste and smell of your food. It’s all about being present in each moment, says Pavlak.
If feelings of anxiety or depression come up during meditation, you can talk to a counselor who can help you work through any underlying emotions or trauma, advises Pavlak.
The key is to be patient with yourself. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t expect to have zero thoughts — you will have thoughts. “It’s just about making some time to be quiet and check in with yourself,” Pavlak says.
Mental and emotional well-being are integral to a healthy life. When people suffer with mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse, it significantly impacts all aspects of their lives and their loved ones. Main Line Health offers behavioral health services, from group therapy and individual therapy to 12-step meetings for drug and alcohol addiction. It all begins with a phone call.