How increased mindfulness can decrease relapse risk

Do you sometimes hear an inner voice that tries to convince you to drink or use drugs during sobriety?  The voice might say,  “I can have just one drink,” or “I’ll never be able to stay clean, so I might as well use”?   This inner voice can make you have increased cravings and cause a relapse.

I’ve worked with clients   who are dealing with addictions as well as  co-occurring concerns such as depression  or anxiety.  Relapses are common within the process of recovery,  however, learning techniques that help  redirect thoughts and increase internal awareness can be  helpful in  minimizing  the possibility of future relapses.

How Does Mindfulness Help Prevent Relapse?

Mindfulness practice  helps to increase awareness of thoughts, sensations, and feelings from moment to moment by instructing you  to simply observe what occurs in each moment within the self without judgment.   This helps you to   learn to recognize triggers or cravings associated with certain emotions, thoughts, or sensations that may lead to drug or alcohol use. This increased awareness of what is occurring internally in a moment leads to an increased capacity to intervene during that day.

Increased mindfulness practice, helps you to  begin to detect thoughts, feelings, and triggers that may lead to relapse early enough to prevent yourself from acting on them. Mindfulness helps you to learn to detach from thoughts by first simply recognizing the thought, without judging it, and then redirecting attention to the present moment or to your breath.

Redirecting your thoughts to today, where you are sober, instead of spending time worrying about whether you will be able to remain sober or thinking about  regrets from when you were using drugs or drinking heavily, can help relieve the pressure of negative emotional experiences that may  put  your sobriety at risk.   Mindfulness can  also help you interrupt the thought processes that often leads to drug- or alcohol-seeking behavior.

Other benefits of mindfulness related to addiction and recovery include a reduction in negative thoughts and feelings associated with the past or future. For some, the mind going to the past or the future often  jeopardizes existing sobriety. With mindfulness practice, you can learn to increase the amount of time you spend being in the present moment, which reduces the amount of time you spend thinking about your past or future.   Increased mindfulness helps you to  learn to train yourself to pick up on important cues that might go unrecognized. When you become more mindful of your internal and external state, you will find it easier to recognize moment-to-moment happenings in your life.  Mindfulness  also celebrates with awareness each moment and day you have successfully abstained and helps you learn to reduce harsh self-judgments that do not serve you in your continued  recovery.

When your friend is using drugs

Finding out that your friend  is using drugs can be very troubling because you might feel unable to help them however there are ways you can be supportive and helpful and hopefully your friend will get the help they need to move onto the road to recovery.

Many times our friends won’t appreciate our advice  especially if they are using drugs however telling  the truth to help someone close to you is part of being a real friend, even when it’s hard to do.

  • Find out if your friend is experimenting with drugs, or if he may be addicted. If your friend is addicted they will need extra support.
  • Understand that addiction is a brain disease. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone with cancer to be able to heal herself without the help of a doctor, the right treatment, and support from family and friends, you can’t expect your friend to heal herself from addiction without support and help.
  • Know that it is never easy for anyone to admit that they have a drug problem. Try  to be patient and not give up easily.
  • Listen. If he talks to you, just be there for him. Admitting a problem and talking to someone about it  is very hard,  listen to what he has to say about his drug use without making judgments.
  • Encourage. If you and your friend are under 18, suggest that she talk to an adult she trusts – a coach or teacher, a school counselor, a relative, or a doctor.
  • Inform. When he’s ready to make a change and seek treatment, help him find a doctor, therapist, support group, or treatment program.
  • Support. Don’t give up on your friend, even if she isn’t ready to get help. Keep reaching out. Encourage them to get treatment, and support them along the way – that’s the best way to help someone you care about who is struggling with addiction.
  • It’s tough having a friend with addiction issues, it’s important to get support for yourself  if you need it.

When the people we care about make bad choices, it can be frustrating, confusing, and  depressing.  Remember  we should be there for our friends, and offer support as they journey onto recovery.