According to Government figures around 23 million Americans suffer from
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.