Olivia Kibaba
April 24, 2024

Mindfulness in Recovery: Cultivating Inner Peace After Addiction

Addiction is a disease of the brain. It changes how you perceive the world, how you respond to stress, and how you navigate life's challenges. Even in recovery, the neural pathways affected by addiction can continue to influence thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This is why cultivating mindfulness in recovery from addiction is so crucial.

Mindfulness goes beyond coping; it helps you see the world differently, grow, flourish, and live a more fulfilling life. Many people who practice mindfulness report improved self-esteem, greater enthusiasm for life, and an increased ability to relax. Studies have also established a compelling link between mindfulness meditation and measurable changes in key brain regions associated with memory, learning, and emotion regulation.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about being fully present and engaged in the here and now rather than getting caught up in worries about the past or future. It involves bringing focused attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and acceptance. When you practice mindfulness, you pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.

The essence of mindfulness lies in its non-reactive and non-judgmental stance towards your internal experiences. Instead of getting swept away by your thoughts and emotions, mindfulness encourages you to observe them with a sense of curiosity and compassion. This way, you gain a greater understanding of yourself and the world around you, leading to increased self-awareness, emotional resilience, and overall well-being.


How it Works

Addiction hijacks the brain's reward system. Substance use triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward, reinforcing the desire to seek out and use substances. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to counteract these effects by modulating activity in the brain's reward circuitry. Studies using neuroimaging techniques have shown that mindfulness practices can:

  • Increase activity in areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and cognitive control, such as the prefrontal cortex
  • Decreasing activity in regions associated with craving and reward, like the amygdala

Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been found to increase gray matter density in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as self-control, decision-making, and impulse regulation. This enhanced prefrontal control over the brain's reward circuitry may help those in recovery exert greater control over cravings and impulses. This makes meditation an essential relapse prevention tool.

Benefits of Mindfulness in Recovery

People who practice and learn how to apply mindfulness techniques in their recovery journey often experience numerous benefits that contribute to their overall well-being and sustained sobriety. Some of the benefits include:

Teaches Acceptance and Letting Go of the Past

Addiction leaves behind a trail of regrets, guilt, and shame, trapping you in a cycle of self-blame and rumination. Mindfulness offers a way out of this mental prison by teaching you the art of acceptance and letting go. When you bring awareness to your thoughts and feelings without judgment, you learn to make peace with your past and embrace the present moment with an open heart.

Helps to Regulate Your Emotions


Substance use disorders are caused by dysregulation of neural processes. But, evidence shows that mindfulness can target these neurocognitive mechanisms to produce therapeutic effects on SUDs and promote recovery. Studies also show that mindfulness can improve mental health and help individuals overcome withdrawal symptoms.

The emotional regulation skill empowers you to respond to situations with clarity and composure rather than reacting impulsively or being controlled by your emotions. This can be instrumental, especially for those who abuse pain medication to numb their feelings.

Helps you to Manage Triggers and Cravings

Mindfulness equips you with effective tools for managing difficult emotions, like anger, anxiety and depression, which are common triggers for substance use. Practicing mindfulness allows you to observe the sensations, emotions and thoughts that arise in response to triggers without automatically reacting to them. In doing so, you get to pause and consciously choose how to respond rather than be driven by unconscious impulses. With mindfulness, you can develop greater self-control and resilience against cravings, ultimately supporting your journey towards lasting recovery.

Mindfulness Techniques

Let's explore a range of mindfulness techniques to use in recovery:

Mindfulness Meditation

This technique involves sitting still and focusing your attention on your breath, bodily sensations, or a specific object. The goal is to cultivate present-moment awareness and develop a non-judgmental attitude toward your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness meditation helps enhance emotional regulation, reduce stress, and promote a sense of inner peace. Studies also show that mindfulness meditation reduces pain reports among those with chronic pain and other health conditions.


Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises are simple yet powerful mindfulness techniques. It involves taking slow, deep breaths and paying focus on the sensations of your breath as it moves in and out of your body. This technique can calm your nervous system, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation. You can practice them anywhere and anytime, which makes them a convenient tool for managing stress and cravings in recovery.

Body Scan

Body scan involves you paying systematic attention to different areas of your body. You can start from the head and move gradually to the toe or vice versa. As you scan through each body part, you observe any sensations, tensions, or discomfort without trying to change them. This technique can reduce stress, promote relaxation, and help you increase body awareness. 

Mindful Walking

As the name suggests, this technique involves walking slowly and deliberately while focusing your attention on the sensations of each step and the movement of your body. As you walk, you can become aware of how your feet make contact with the ground. You also become in tune with the rhythm of your breath, and the sights and sounds around you. Mindful walking can help stay in the moment - it can therefore reduce rumination and promote a sense of calmness.

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is when you focus on your eating experience. You smell the aroma of the food, touch its texture and savor the taste as it enters your mouth. When you eat slowly and feel each bite without distraction, you cultivate a greater appreciation for food and become more aligned with your body's hunger and fullness cues. Mindful eating can help prevent overeating, promote healthy eating habits, and deepen your connection to the present moment.

Mindfulness-Based Counseling Option

If you, a family member, or loved one is having a hard time implementing mindfulness in recovery or would like more advice on mindfulness strategies, you might benefit from seeing a therapist. A licensed therapist can help you develop personalized mindfulness techniques to match your needs. They can also offer additional support to help you manage cravings and triggers. In the event of a relapse, your therapist may recommend treatment in an inpatient drug rehab – though there are outpatient options, too.

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