Is everything from staying sober to soothing anxiety really as easy as being mindful?

Posted on: October 13th, 2017 by sobrietyresources


By David Heitz


The research is churning out at a rapid clip: Being “mindful” can solve lots of problems that even medications cannot.


In the past month alone, studies appearing in peer-reviewed journals have claimed it can help addicts recovering from stimulants stay sober and even do a better job than antidepressants at lifting some people out of depression.


But what is mindfulness, how does it work, and where do you go to learn it? Do things like meditation and yoga really help?


It sure does. Just look at the latest research:


UCLA showed in a recent study that mindfulness – being aware of one’s self and one’s surroundings – helps those with depression and anxiety disorders move past addiction to stimulants.


Those snagged in the grip of cocaine or crystal meth have a better chance of recovery with mindfulness.


“In light of the known associations between stress, negative affect, and relapse, mindfulness strategies hold promise as a means of reducing relapse susceptibility,” reported the authors. (1)


The paper was published in February of this year in the journal Mindfulness.


Anxiety of stimulant withdrawals managed with mindfulness


Although small, the clinical trial of 63 stimulant addicts in recovery showed extremely promising results.


Nearly everyone who received three months of meditation training remained off drugs.


“When stimulant users attempt to quit, some of the most frequent complaints have to do with intolerable feelings of depression, sadness and anxiety, conditions that often lead people to drop out of treatment early,’’ Suzette Glasner, lead author of the study and associate professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said in a UCLA news release.


“Mindfulness practice not only helps them to manage cravings and urges, but also enables them to better cope with the psychological discomfort that can precipitate a relapse.” (2)


Scientifically speaking, the authors referred to mindfulness as “Learning to tolerate discomfort without reacting to it.”


Here’s what mindfulness is in plain language


Mindfulness, simply, is knowing yourself, and being aware of your surroundings. If you can do both, you can achieve true inner peace. With that, urges to drink or use greatly dissipate.


For example, maybe you have PTSD. Maybe when you go to the supermarket you see someone who has hurt you.


Your heart begins to race and you know what may happen next. You don’t want to lose your temper or have a heart attack in the supermarket.


Hopefully you have learned a coping mechanism, also known as a “mantra.” A mantra can be, “Protect me Jesus and keep me safe.”


Or, it can be, “I am stronger than the miserable narcissist who hurt me.”


Whatever works to calm your mind will also reduce your heart rate.


Next, being aware of your surroundings and your feelings, thoughts and emotions, leaving your cart behind and heading for the door is a no-brainer.


Perhaps you are bipolar. Something sends you into a manic spin.


This is tricky. Everyone is different. But often, with the help of a therapist or even on your own after many years of living with the disorder, you will figure out a way to turn things down a notch.


You might feel the electrical impulses begin to shoot up and down your spine. Maybe chamomile tea stops it. Maybe a lavender candle.


Mindfulness won’t work without honesty


If you’re not honest with yourself, it won’t work


The trick is to know you’re cycling up, acknowledge the feeling, and know you must squash it. Then you take whatever your coping mechanism is and indulge in it.


Acknowledging who you are and acknowledging your feelings is a must to maintaining sobriety. Many people cannot do this wearing their heart on their sleeve. Others cannot admit it to themselves without affirmation.


This is why Alcoholics Anonymous is wildly popular and has helped millions and millions of people.


But for many others, it doesn’t work. These people must be able to achieve knowing one’s self via mindfulness.



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Options beyond the 12 steps gravely needed


Psychologists long have been saying mindfulness works in combatting addiction, but it’s an idea that’s gaining traction. Venerable programs such as those in the 12-step tradition have helped millions but are failing many, particularly those addicted to opioids.


There must be alternatives so even more people can be saved.


“If I have a patient who is using drugs or even food to manipulate their moods I first refer them to a nutritionist; a psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist; or a holistic doctor, such as an integrative medical doctor, to break this habit,” wrote psychologist Ronald Alexander in Psychology Today in 2010.


“In addition to this I recommend mindfulness meditation, yoga practice, and regular exercise as they are all excellent to help mood regulation.


“These types of activities lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream, increase your interleukin levels (enhancing your immune system and providing you with greater energy), and streamline your body’s ability to cleanse itself of chemical toxins, such as lactic acid in your muscles and bloodstream, which can affect neurotransmitter receptors and alter your mood (Chopra 1994; Rossi 1993).” (3)


It’s important to note, however, that for those who feel a fight or flight anxiety response – such as people with PTSD – research also shows intense cardiovascular exercise actually can increase cortisol response. A relaxing walk is more appropriate.


Study: Mindfulness better than AA at preventing relapse


In November 2015, a study showed that mindfulness-based relapse prevention actually is more effective than Alcoholics Anonymous.


“The present randomized trial offers evidence that RP and MBRP are beneficial aftercare interventions compared with typical 12-step aftercare treatment,” concluded the authors of the research, published in JAMA.


“In addition, MBRP resulted in significantly less drug use and a lower probability of any heavy drinking than RP at a 12-month follow-up. These findings suggest that MBRP may support longer term sustainability of treatment gains for individuals with substance-use disorders.” (4)


Researchers from the University of Washington Addictive Behaviors Research Center monitored clients from two non-profit recovery centers to arrive at their findings.


“Similar to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for depression, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention is designed as an aftercare program integrating mindfulness practices and principles with cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention,” the center explains on its website.


“Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention is best suited to individuals who have undergone initial treatment and wish to maintain their treatment gains and develop a lifestyle that supports their well-being and recovery.” (5)





  1. Glasner, S. et al. (2016, Aug. 4). Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention for Stimulant-Dependent Adults: A Pilot, Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal Mindfulness. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2017, from


  1. Gordon, D. (2016, Aug. 4). Mindfulness Training Helpful in the Recovery of Adults Addicted to Stimulants. UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2017, from


  1. Alexander, R. et al. (2010, April 16). Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction. Psychology Today. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2017, from


  1. Bowen, et al. (2014, Jan. 21). Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Abuse Disorders. JAMA Psychiatry. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2017, from


  1. Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention. (Bowen, et al. 2010). Retrieved Oct. 8, 2017, from



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