In the past, we’ve explored ways that Mindfulness-Based Stress Relief (MBSR) can help treat PTSD, depression, and other stress-related ailments such as high blood pressure, sleep issues, and much more. But new research is showing that MBSR techniques are promising tools for preventing relapse in drug and alcohol addiction. If prescription drugs and other traditional treatment pathways such as clinical therapy and Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous are not feeling like enough, then Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) could be for you.
What is MBRP?
MBRP is based on mindfulness practices that work to short-circuit triggers for addictive behavior, specifically negative emotions, cravings and lack of impulse control. There’s evidence that not only can MBRP help curb actions and responses in people struggling with addiction, but it can also impact the actual structure of the brain.
An eight-week program developed at the University of Washington (which we also offer here at the Stress Management and Prevention Center), combines meditation and cognitive and behavioral exercises to implement into daily life. MBSR places emphasis on recognizing thoughts and feelings, and exploring them in-depth to learn how to accept them and act accordingly to prevent harmful behaviors.
So, in a nutshell, MBRP gives you valuable mental and emotional exercises to change your daily habits, to recognize the inner tendencies toward drug and alcohol abuse, and to be empowered to make better choices.
How It Works
MBRP basically changes the way we respond to discomfort. When we get stressed (or lonely, or bored), we have feelings of discomfort, tension, tightness, pain, and restlessness. Each of us has our own response to these sensations. Maybe we eat unhealthy foods, maybe we smoke a cigarette, maybe we soothe our feelings with drugs and alcohol. Whatever the case, this response has to do with turning away from the feelings of stress and seeking something out that will make us feel better as quickly as possible.
However, what we choose as a band-aid for these feelings is not always the healthiest for us. Our cognitive brain (the prefrontal cortex) knows this fact, but in times of stress, it is the first area of the brain to shut down. Mindfulness practices encourage us to take a moment and observe our stressful feelings and to be curious about them, causing our cognitive brain to fire back up again.
Then, with MBRP, we slowly teach our brains the following response: rather than turning away from our thoughts and feelings and making them want to go away as quickly as possible, we go through a simple process:
1. Recognize triggers for these feelings
2. Recognize when the thoughts and feelings are arising
3. Sit with the discomfort
4. Observe and explore these thoughts and sensations
5. Take steps to consciously let go of them
Over time, we begin to see how these actions actually help us feel better for much longer than our band-aid responses, and how they redirect our thoughts and feelings to something beneficial rather than harmful. This modality of treatment essentially gives us the power of choice when it comes to unhealthy, addictive behaviors.
MBRP and A.A. or N.A.
Whether classic modes of treatment like A.A. or N.A. have been working for you, or if you’ve found that they fall short in helping you prevent relapse, MBRP could be an amazing supplement or alternative. While the A.A. and N.A. models focus on giving your addiction over to a higher power (which can be hugely beneficial in some cases), MBRP lets you have the power as well.
Through recognizing that you are human, you make mistakes, and that we are all struggling with some sort of stress coping mechanisms, MBRP cultivates self-love and the ability to be in charge of our emotions, our thoughts and our actions to live a healthier lifestyle, one day, one thought, one feeling at a time. Studies have shown that mindfulness has helped many people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to find a lower risk of relapse and lasting recovery.
MBRP and Prescription Drugs
While pharmaceuticals such as fluoxetine (Prozac) are being prescribed to help treat anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders, which are seen as a trigger for addictive behaviors and relapses, research is showing that this could be just another band-aid for deeper issues. Antidepressants like fluoxetine are given in these cases because it inhibits serotonin uptake in the brain, which in theory should help control your mood. The idea here is that if mood is controlled, then fewer negative thoughts and feelings will arise, therefore addictive tendencies will be curbed.
However, mixing fluoxetine and other antidepressants with alcohol has been found to have some very undesirable effects. Since these drugs and alcohol have similar side effects, consuming them together compounds the effects, leading to symptoms such as:
*fatigue and weakness
*feelings of hopelessness
In short, if you don’t actually suffer from clinical depression or if the antidepressants fail to curb addictive behaviors, you could very well create a vicious cycle of depression and relapse.
Since pharmaceuticals are designed only to treat symptoms and not causes of ailments such as anxiety, depression and addiction, MBRP is proving to be a much healthier, safer alternative. Training the brain in a self-loving, empowering way and giving the power of choice back to the sufferer is a much more humane way to deal with these issues and help prevent them from returning in a lasting way.
While traditional modes of treating and dealing with addiction may or may not be working for you long-term, consider MBRP as a complementary or alternative resource. Contact us today to see how our offerings can help. We would love to be a stepping stone on your path to lasting recovery, power over your addiction, and a happy, healthy life!