Overcoming Addiction through Mindfulness and Psychotherapy

It’s not just the drugs you take, but what you experience too that can rewire your brain, causing your brain to crave an experience in the same way it can be taught to crave a drug. These ‘non-substance’ addictions are called process disorders and they can be very difficult to treat.

An article published online in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, shows that it is not only addictive substances, but addictive behaviors too, that rewire the brain. The “incentive sensitization” theory is a promising model for understanding the mechanisms underlying addiction, and is supported in animal and human studies. Behavioral addictions like gambling, food, and sex can change your brain, making it hypersensitive to the rewards of these behaviors. Written into the brain’s system of incentives and motivations, addiction treatment (and ultimately recovery) overrides the conditioned response of addiction – of doing the same behavior over and over again despite the consequences. One combination of therapies that has had good results changing the incentive system in the brain is mindfulness combined with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Mindfulness practice helps us develop the capacity to see clearly exactly what we are attached to so that we can let go of it and end our suffering. The hidden areas of resistance that emerge into our awareness can be noted and examined later so that we can make the conscious choice to reject them, to behave differently. With regard to addiction treatment, individuals learn to pay careful attention to their cravings, so that they can see how they are made up of thoughts and body sensations, not actual need. As a result, individuals notice cravings as they arise, see how they change from moment to moment, then stay with them and ride out the cravings instead of acting on them. Cravings are generally short-lived. The success of working through them makes it easier and easier to work through future cravings with less resistance, helping to prevent relapse.

Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) is a new behavioral based treatment that integrates elements from mindfulness training, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and positive psychology to help successfully treat both substance abuse and process disorders. This non-pharmacologic intervention is also recognized as effective to help interrupt the cycle of substance use escalation.

Evidence supports the positive results of treating addiction with mindful recovery practices. If you struggle with addiction, consider discussing these proven therapy options with a professional. Break the addiction habit through mindfulness and psychotherapy.


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