Mindfulness as a New Treatment for Substance Dependency

According to Government figures around 23 million Americans suffer from
substance dependency.

Addictions to alcohol, drugs and other habit-forming substances are difficult to overcome due to the reward-based learning center in our brain. While this developed to aid survival, tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs all target the mesolimbic pathway, triggering the release of feel-good dopamine, which reinforces these habits. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one strategy used to change behaviors, but it works through our prefrontal cortex, which fatigues under stress, so has limited success in managing addictions. Thankfully, mindfulness works through another mechanism and shows potential as a treatment.

*Evidence for mindfulness-based addiction therapies*

Mindfulness is a Buddhist principle that encourages us to become more aware of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations. This is helpful in addiction therapy, as it enables addicts to appreciate cravings and notice how they alter with time. Rather than acting on a craving, individuals are able to ride out cravings, adopting a more positive behavior. Paying close attention also allows those dependent on substances to better appreciate their behaviors and the downsides of their habits, so they no longer appeal. This isn’t just based on theory though, as there is good evidence that being mindful helps during smoking cessation and recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse.

Indeed, a randomized controlled trial found mindfulness twice as effective for giving up tobacco as the best available treatment. By targeting the addictive loop, mindfulness disrupts it, breaking down the association between craving and behavior, and the desire to act on these.

*Accessing mindfulness therapy*

Although further research is necessary, a clear mechanistic link makes mindfulness a promising treatment for relapse prevention. Therapists are now trained in its use for addiction recovery, and the value of internet and app-based mindfulness is also under  exploration, with clinical trials underway.

5 Strategies to Let Go of Negative Thinking

Many people get stuck in negative thoughts, rumination and worry.  When we think angry, anxious and bitter thoughts, we may find ourselves acting in ways that only make our problems worse.  For example, you may find yourself in a pattern of self-recrimination, repetitive conflict or unhealthy eating in reaction to negative thinking.

Each of us makes sense of the world through our past experiences, internal expectations and beliefs about the world.  We think about the events that occur in our lives and interpret their meaning based on our history, past learning and our own personal tendencies.  Sometimes our thoughts about our lives serve us well.  They help us maintain our moral compass, weather adversity, form strong relationships and find happiness.

When your thinking is making your life worse, rather than better, shifting how you view events in your life can have a big impact on changing how you feel.

Strategies to improve how you feel by changing how you think:

  1. Don’t approach interactions with the goal of explaining or convincing someone of your point-of-view.  When you disagree with someone, instead of attempting to prove your viewpoint as “right,” attempt to see how both viewpoints may exist and hold truth.
  2. Try to find commonalities in seeming opposites. Although some things may appear to be mutually exclusive, search for how they are in fact a part of a whole.  This might mean that you are both materialistic (interested in having new things) and at the same time concerned for the environment.  It could mean that you are light hearted and serious, forgiving and angry, doing your best and needing to do better.  On the surface these may appear to contradictory, but they are all part of a whole.

Key words:  DBT skills, dialectical behavior therapy, dialectical thinking, absolute truth, negative thoughts, rigid thoughts

  1. Give up on a search for one final indisputable truth.  Think of all the times in history when we believed we knew the truth—that the world was flat, that Vikings wore horns on their helmets, that Crisco was a healthy alternative to butter, that women don’t have the intellectual capacity to vote, that the earth was the center of the universe.  Acknowledge that our sense of “truth” evolves over time.  Allow yourself to loosen your hold on any “truths” that may change with time and circumstances.
  2. Let go of extreme language.  The words that we use have an impact on how we feel.  Using words such as never, always, must, should, shouldn’t, fair, unfair, ideal –increases the emotional intensity of your thoughts and narrows your attention, making it more likely that you will have faulty or exaggerated views. Think, instead in terms of sometimes, often, helpful, unhelpful, effective, mistake, and interest.  Allow yourself to think about what works, rather than how things “should be.”
  3. Remember that all interactions occur in a social world.  We have personal control over what we do, but we are influenced by our past experiences and our current life circumstances.  Someone who grew up in poverty might have very different views of money, for example, than someone who grew up with great wealth.  Each person’s view developed based on these very different experiences are neither right nor wrong.  Rather they are different based on each person’s history.  When you interact with others, don’t assume that their social context and therefore their beliefs developed in the same way that yours did.  Focus on accepting that despite our ability to think and act rationally, we are all influenced by our environments.  When you interpret someone’s behavior remember that it occurs in a context and that you can never fully know that context.  Although it’s different from yours, other viewpoints can hold personal truth.

If you feel stuck in a narrow set of beliefs or expectations, find yourself in repetitive patterns of conflict with others or find that you are stressed, anxious or fearful much of the time, changing your thoughts might have a big impact on changing how you feel.

 

Meditation can Change Minds

Richard Davidson, a top brain scientist, has conducted research on how meditation can change the way our brains function.

“Our data shows mental practice can induce long-lasting changes in the brain,” said Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Just as an injured brain can adapt by mapping out new neuron pathways to accomplish tasks, “brain circuits (for) regulation of emotion and attention are malleable by the environment and are potential targets of training,” he said.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery, Davidson showed that compassion meditation, even in short-term practitioners, induced significant changes in patterns of functional activity in the brain.

For the full article go to: http://www.canada.com/Meditation+change+minds/2054371/story.html

For the journal article go to:  http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/pubs/2008/buddha_brain_IEEE.pdf

Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness

A 2003 study found changes in brain and immune function after a short program in mindfulness meditation. The findings suggest that mindfulness changes brain and immune functionin positive ways. The authors, RICHARD J. DAVIDSON, PHD, JON KABAT-ZINN, PHD, JESSICA SCHUMACHER, MS, MELISSA ROSENKRANZ, BA, DANIEL MULLER, MD, PHD, SAKI F. SANTORELLI, EDD, FERRIS URBANOWSKI, MA, ANNE HARRINGTON, PHD, KATHERINE BONUS, MA, AND JOHN F. SHERIDAN, PHD, performed a randomized, controlled study on the effects on brain and immune function of a clinical training program in mindfulness meditation. They found significant increases in left-sided anterior activation, a pattern previously associated with positive affect, in the meditators compared with the nonmeditators. They also found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group. Finally, the magnitude of increase in left-sided activation predicted the magnitude of antibody titer rise to the vaccine.

Follow this link for the full article:
http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/pubs/2003/alterations_by_mindfulness.pdf