Meditation For Alcohol Recovery
Author: William Henken
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What Is Meditation?
Meditation is an ancient spiritual technique passed down through the ages that’s been practiced by those interested in transforming their consciousness and gaining new states of clarity and calm for over 2,500 years.
There are many forms of meditation. One of the simplest, and perhaps the best for beginners, is breath-focused meditation. Other varieties include visualization meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and transcendental meditation.
Those who struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol may benefit from meditating. Studies have shown there’s a quantifiable benefit to the practice and that it helps to both reduce cravings and lead to fewer units of alcohol consumed.
As a result, both people who consider themselves spiritual and those who may view themselves as more pragmatic can stand to benefit from meditating.
How Does One Meditate?
As outlined, there’s more than one way to meditate. It’s important to realize that meditation is not the same thing as relaxing. However, one study that compared 2 groups (one that learned meditation and the other that learned relaxation methods) found that those who relaxed did not gain the same benefit as the meditators. Four approaches are summarized below.
Breath-based meditation is practicing rhythmic breathing to achieve a relaxed and meditative state. Breath-based meditation has been demonstrated to have a range of benefits, including decreasing alcohol craving and consumption. Instructions on how to practice include:
- Sit in a chair where the body is supported and the spine is straight.
- Focus the attention on the breath.
- Bring awareness to thoughts that “interfere” with the breathing-focus.
- Repeat this process (some like to set a timer, potentially on a smartphone that has been put in airplane mode so no other phone noises will occur during meditation).
It may be good to start slowly with this practice so that it can become a habit; benefits of meditation grow exponentially over time. A study published in the International Journal Of Neuropsychopharmacology showed that as few as 11 minutes a day have significant impacts and can help those who drink a lot of alcohol drink less. It may be good to start at 5 minutes on day 1 of practice and then increase by a single minute every day. Within a week, the new meditator would be at the threshold that experts have concluded is beneficial and suitable to prolonged practice.
Additionally, meditation apps (many of which are free) can keep a log of continued practice. Viewing the progress made can encourage the continuity of the habit.
Loving-kindness meditation, practiced by Buddhists (among others), is a different kind of sustained focus. Rather than sharpening awareness by looking to the breath, the practitioner focuses on feelings of warmth and affection and the intention of compassion. A mantra such as “I love myself, I love my friends, I love strangers, I love the world,” may be repeated. If one does not feel authentic in saying this mentally, stay with a mantra and/or feeling that does seem authentic.
This could be something as simple as “I’d like to love more,” or even “love loves me.” In this approach, whatever feels good, safe, and steady is the right target to pursue.
Visualization meditation, which can be guided with the aid of a video or tape can also be an effective way to change the brain. The visualizer might imagine themselves in a fantastical or serene environment (popular choices might include the beach, a forest, or a temple).
While visualizing, focus on specific sights, sounds, sensations, scents, and tastes. This will make the experience more real and therefore also more rewarding. If someone living with an alcohol addiction struggles with daydreaming about alcohol, or if anyone struggles with recurring mental images or thoughts, visualization can be one way to journey to somewhere nicer instead.
Transcendental Meditation is the repetition of a mantra, which in and of itself does not have meaning, over and over in the mind. For example, one might (internally) chant the sound “la-riiiiing” as many times as the session allows for. That particular mantra has been chosen arbitrarily, but it meets 2 important criteria: it’s not already a word, so the mind won’t bring additional associations with it, and it allows the meditator to draw out several parts of the word (one could focus on accentuating the “la,” the “ri,” or the “ng” sounds) in order to more effectively get “lost” within internal sound.
According to a study published in Alcohol Health & Research World, “groups reported statistically significant decreases (25-33%) in their use of wine and beer in the first 3 months of [transcendental] meditation.”
How Can Meditating Help With Alcohol Use Disorder?
There are a few reasons meditation helps with addiction generally and an alcohol use disorder specifically.
According to Mindworks, a nonprofit authority on the practice, “With the help of mindfulness-based therapies [like meditation], people with addictive tendencies find that they are better able to tolerate and work with undesirable thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.”
Keri Wiginton, a multimedia journalist focuses on health, contributed her story in a piece to The Washington Post. Wiginton said that, after she began meditating, “Paying close attention to my alcohol cravings was like taking the red pill in ‘The Matrix.’ I could see my actions from the outside, which made my nightly habit far easier to stop.”
It’s easy to see how the habit of becoming aware of thought, acknowledging it with gratitude, and refocusing on a desired goal can help with cutting back on (or cutting out entirely) drinking.
It’s also been demonstrated effective through studies that go beyond these anecdotes; one study found that drinkers consumed an average of 3 fewer drinks than their normal amount over a 7-day period after beginning a meditation regimen.
What Resources Are Available?
As aforementioned, meditation smartphone apps for timing and tracking sessions along with internet videos that take the listener through a guided meditation could be good for beginner and/or DIY meditators. Furthermore, support groups could be invaluable.
But ultimately, if drinking has reached the point of concern, a different kind of approach may be best. Spending time at an inpatient and/or outpatient center could be the most effective approach. For more information and to find a treatment center near you, contact a treatment provider.
Author: William Henken | Last Edited: May 10, 2022
Medical Reviewer: David Hampton