Using Mindfulness Practice to Prevent Relapse
Table of Contents
- Using Mindfulness Practice to Prevent Relapse
- What is Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention?
- Who Uses Mindfulness Practices?
- The Benefits of Mindfulness for People in Recovery
- What are Some Tips for Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention?
- Is MBRP Research and Evidence-Based?
- Can I Combine Mindfulness With 12-Step Program Work?
- Relapse Prevention Planning Using Mindfulness Practices
- Chronic Relapse and Using MBRP
- Long Term Recovery Improvement with MBRP
- Medically Reviewed By
Mindfulness is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to relapse prevention. Mindfulness based relapse prevention can be applied to any compulsive behavior whether it be drugs, alcohol, gambling, or even relationships.
According to an article from the National Library of Medicine, mindfulness is defined as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
The goal of mindfulness-based relapse prevention is to train people to recognize early warning signs of relapse. Whether these warning signs are internal or external cues, being able to recognize them and in turn combat them in some way, is the goal. Using these techniques to thwart relapse whether from taking drugs or alcohol or acting out in some other compulsive behavior is the purpose of this entire modality.
What is Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention?
Mindfulness based relapse prevention focuses on utilizing aspects of both mindfulness based stress reduction and mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression. These are combined with aspects of traditional relapse prevention in order to reduce the rate of relapse.
First, the afflicted person works to recognize high-risk situations and early warning signs for relapse. Mindfulness based relapse prevention practices will help raise awareness of these situations, and when coupled with coping skills, the mindfulness based relapse prevention practices can help a person make better behavioral decisions.
The study goes on to explain, “Theoretical foundations for the integration of mindfulness with traditional cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention suggest that mindfulness may help develop a detached and de-centered relationship to thoughts and feelings, preventing an escalation of thought patterns that may lead to relapse.
In simpler terms, if a person can recognize where these emotions are coming from without the emotions overpowering their decision-making abilities, they can make better decisions and hopefully avoid a relapse.
Who Uses Mindfulness Practices?
Mindfulness practices can be utilized by every person on this planet. As far as who uses mindfulness practices for mindfulness based relapse prevention, it can be anyone from someone suffering from a substance use disorder to a person needing help with anger management. Mindfulness meditation is a huge part of many recovering addicts’ and alcoholics’, whether 12-step based or through other programs of recovery.
Step 11 reads, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
As part of that meditation, many people use mindfulness practices in order to gain insight into their spirituality and align themselves with the will of their Higher Power.
People of the Buddhist and Hindu religions are also some of those who use mindfulness practices as part of their religion. People who practice Yoga among many other spiritual practices have utilized mindfulness for thousands of years.
The efficacy of mindfulness practices has been proven for many years, and it only makes sense that at some point in time mindfulness based relapse prevention would begin to emerge as a way for people to curb their compulsive behaviors and get a grip on their lives once and for all.
The Benefits of Mindfulness for People in Recovery
The many benefits of mindfulness for people in recovery are still being explored to this day. Some of these include allowing for a person to experience less intense emotions, and this lessens their chances of allowing these emotions to send them into a relapse.
It is because of these extreme emotions that many people relapse with alcohol or other drugs. Because substances are their only coping tools when it comes to negative emotions.
Mindfulness based relapse prevention enables a person to expand their coping mechanisms. Firstly, by decreasing the amount in which emotions are felt, and then by giving the person alternative ways in which to deal with these emotions.
As more benefits of mindfulness for people in recovery are discovered, it becomes more and more apparent that the application of this modality can only bring about more recovery, and should be at least a portion of any person’s recovery program.
What are Some Tips for Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention?
A major tip for mindfulness based relapse prevention is practicing mindfulness meditation. Some of these meditation subjects include auto-pilot and the way in which emotions may lead to relapse beyond the individual’s control, integrating mindfulness into daily lives, and what role emotions play in the relapse process.
When a person begins to step back and take their time recognizing where these emotions come from, sitting with these emotions until they begin to subside, and behaving differently in response to these emotions, they begin to create new neural pathways that break addictive habits and create new ways in which a person responds to stimuli.
Once the person consistently rejects the immediate urge to relapse in whatever their compulsive behavior may be, such as using, drinking, or gambling, they become that much less likely to relapse the next time those emotions emerge. It is in this way that mindfulness based relapse prevention provides a very ‘real world’ application to stopping the relapse process from happening again.
Is MBRP Research and Evidence-Based?
MBRP is a modality that is well researched and evidence-based. With many studies published on the National Library of Medicine website, research into MBRP is not only pervasive but seems to have efficacy that is measurable.
With relapse being an overwhelmingly common outcome for all substance use disorder treatments, new modalities are constantly being researched in a frantic search for anything that may yield better results than other treatments utilized in the past. That is where MSRB has emerged as a relatively new, state of the art treatment modality that is showing some promise.
In another study published on the National Library of Medicine website, MSRB and cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention showed much greater effectiveness than other traditional treatment modalities. The study concludes, “Compared with TAU [traditional treatment], participants assigned to MBRP and RP [relapse prevention] reported significantly lower risk of relapse to substance use and heavy drinking and, among those who used substances, significantly fewer days of substance use and heavy drinking at the 6-month follow-up.
Cognitive-behavioral RP showed an advantage over MBRP in time to first drug use. At the 12-month follow-up, MBRP participants reported significantly fewer days of substance use and significantly decreased heavy drinking compared with RP and TAU.
As confirmed through the vast number of peer-reviewed studies and research papers, MSRB is research and evidence-based. The more these modalities are studied, the more we will understand what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, it is only a matter of time before science can perfect the art of substance abuse treatment, and provide healing for everyone who is afflicted.
Can I Combine Mindfulness With 12-Step Program Work?
It can be extremely advantageous to combine different treatment modalities with 12-step work in order to provide the best possible chance of recovery. No aspects of mindfulness based relapse prevention contradict 12 step program work. If anything, the two can feed off of each other and work in conjunction with one another.
Being a set of 12 suggestions, with many different ways for them to be worked, the 12 steps can be worked in combination with any other treatment modality. Contradictions within the 12 steps as a spiritual set of guidelines with any other science-based treatments are hard, if not impossible to come by.
The 12 step program is so open-ended, and only has a goal of providing a spiritual experience powerful enough to create a psychic change. The fact that it is not strictly science-based makes it a perfect program to work in conjunction with other evidence-based treatment modalities.
Relapse Prevention Planning Using Mindfulness Practices
Relapse prevention planning using mindfulness practices involves creating plans for specific events in preparation for when they arise. It becomes important to ask oneself questions such as ‘what to do when urges arise’ and ‘what is the best way to fight the urge.’
Mindfulness based relapse prevention teaches us to take a step back and truly be present in each moment; to feel everything that arises as the urges come up. It allows the person to recognize all the possible outcomes of a situation in which they maintain some sort of control. It helps the person come up with ways to react to triggers in a positive way rather than letting them take over and cause the person to relapse.
Urge Surfing and Mindfulness Practices
One technique used in mindfulness based relapse prevention practices is called ‘urge surfing’. Urge surfing involves learning to ride the wave of craving rather than succumbing to the craving and relapsing. Another aspect of urge surfing involves understanding that all of a person’s emotions need to be positive. There will always be times that emotions will be difficult and there is no need to fix this. The proper response is taking a moment and responding with intention rather than reacting emotionally.
There are a few different steps outlined to help with understanding how to practice mindfulness based relapse prevention techniques. The first of these steps is to recognize the craving as it arises. Next, it is important to feel the sensations of the craving and to label the emotions of the craving as they arise. After this, imagine the craving as a wave that will roll in, peak, and then roll out.
After it peaks, imagine the wave of your craving rolling back out to sea. As it begins to leave, focus on breathing, doing some kind of breathing exercise such as circular breathing. The most important thing during this time is understanding that you don’t control it, let it leave in its own time as you focus on your breathing. As the craving leaves completely, it will continue to become easier to practice these mindfulness techniques each and every time.
The bottom line is that mindfulness based relapse prevention practices can be utilized by anyone, but are most effective for those who are more motivated to change. Learning to ‘ride the wave’ of cravings and be completely present in them will help immensely in how the addict reacts to cravings in the future.
Chronic Relapse and Using MBRP
When it comes to a chronic relapse situation and using MBRP, it may be that MBRP isn’t the right modality for every person with a substance abuse issue. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ treatment for every person with addiction issues. What works for person A may do nothing for person B.
It is important to understand someone’s individual needs which can absolutely dictate which modality may prove most effective for them.
In my personal experience with mindfulness based practices, I found them to be extremely effective for my anxiety. I was able to use mindfulness practices to thwart panic attacks and help when I was experiencing generalized anxiety. It also proved most effective in the beginning of my recovery when the cravings were overwhelmingly powerful. Breathing exercises helped me through some of the toughest times in the beginning.
However, working in a 12-step program was what made the biggest difference for me, and I credit Alcoholics Anonymous with my sustained recovery to this day. I still use mindfulness practices when I am having severe anxiety, as well as when I meditate as part of the 12 step program. It has truly been a combination of everything I have learned pieced together that has allowed me to live this life that is better than anything I could have ever imagined.
Long Term Recovery Improvement with MBRP
All of the studies point to the fact that there can be long term recovery improvement with MBRP. Using mindfulness practices can be effective in almost every aspect of life. Learning to live with feelings, whether they be positive or negative, can prove to be an exceptionally effective way to make rational decisions in the face of overwhelming emotions.
Finding specific mindfulness practices that are effective with different aspects of a person’s life is the key. Just as I have found them to be extremely beneficial for my anxiety, which is of course related to my addiction, there may be certain parts of a person’s life that can be improved with mindfulness based relapse prevention practices.
Cookie-cutter approaches rarely -if ever work. Creating an individualized treatment plan will make an invaluable difference in a recovered person’s life, as it did for me and countless other people who have found a new way to live without the incredibly detrimental influence of alcohol, drugs, and other compulsive behaviors.
Rachael Goldstein has been a freelance writer for more than 10 years, having written for Find Addiction Rehabs for the past two years. She specializes in writing about the law, mental health, psychology, and addiction. She is the owner and author of the website www.addicted-to-sobriety.com. Rachael is also a licensed attorney in the state of Pennsylvania.