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Mindfulness and Meditation During Early Recovery

Written By: Gary Bowers

Article Updated: 11/08/2021

Number of References: 5 Sources

Mindfulness and meditation are changing the way we think about and treat addiction, with many of the leading treatment providers incorporating them as core components of their holistic programming. These practices are beneficial in their own right but are most advantageous when used in conjunction with medical and clinical oversight.

In This Article:

Challenges Faced

Checking into treatment can be a painful and emotional experience. Drug withdrawal causes a variety of different symptoms which are extremely uncomfortable. Virtually every person that enters the doors of a treatment facility is dealing with one or more of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation and/or Irritability
  • Mood Swings

Mindfulness and meditation can be extremely useful tools in addressing these issues when facilities will introduce them during the earliest, most critical moments in the recovery journey. Helping to reduce the uncomfortable psychological symptoms felt during early recovery can improve someone’s chances of successful, long-term sobriety.


Meditation comes in many forms, but at its core, meditation is the practice of focusing on one thing – usually one’s breathing – as a way to ground oneself to the moment, seeking to block out distractions. Becoming more connected with the here and now may help reduce levels of anxiety and fears of the future.

Why it’s Helpful

The act of meditation can bring calm and centeredness to what may ordinarily be a stressful experience. Reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity have very real benefits in a recovery setting. Aside from helping with the psychological symptoms, these reductions in stress responses and vital signs may also improve the subjective experience of physical symptoms during withdrawal as well.

Common Meditation Practices

There is a wide variety of different practices used that vary between different programs. Some of the most commonly used techniques include:

  • Guided Meditation: This type of meditation is led by someone who will lead those in meditation through a series of steps that will assist in blocking out unwanted external distractions. Anxiety is a common issue in early recovery and the calming and relaxing effects of guided meditation can be very soothing.
  • Mantra Meditation: Mantra meditation will focus on one phrase or even just a few words. Mantra meditation is a powerful tool for focusing on intentions and desires. In a treatment setting, this works by remaining connected to recovery and the reasons for getting well.


Mindfulness will share some similar benefits to meditation such as a sense of calm, relaxation and awareness, but where meditation will focus on one thing (such as breathing or a mantra), mindfulness focuses on the moment, and all the emotions, thoughts, senses, feelings and materials points of being. The goal of mindfulness practices is to be less of a slave to these things, and become more of a passive observer without the impulsive need to engage every single thought or feeling that arises.

Why It’s Helpful

Mindfulness is making dramatic and positive waves in the treatment community. Mindfulness works by allowing someone to truly engage and experience life in an observational and non-judgemental way. Studies have shown mindfulness to be an effective tool for treating depressive episodes. Applying this practice to addiction can help break the connections between thoughts and actions, thus relieving cravings and helping to remove the obsession to use drugs.

Mindfulness Practices

Practices may vary, but they tend to have these elements in common:

  • Being Present: Focus on the “right here, right now”. By leaving the past behind, and allowing the future to happen, we are exposed to the truth that this very moment is all we have. This helps ground us in the process of recovery right now.
  • Acceptance: Seeing things for how they really are, and abandoning the thoughts or emotional equity we put into them. Acceptance teaches us that people, places, and things exist independent of our will. For someone in recovery, this level of acceptance can dissolve negative associations with past drug use.
  • Non-Judgement: If one can put aside their judgment, and see things through an open-minded lens, the binary barriers of “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” can give way to a more free-flowing and situational awareness. For someone in a detox center who is dealing with depression, a nonjudgemental perspective on their emotions can help free them from the desire to change their feelings using drugs or alcohol.
  • Non-Attachment: Attachment is connected to control, and desire to control can often lead to unsatisfied wants, failed expectations and rejection. When someone is able to observe their life without attachment, the ups and downs – especially the downs – are seen as transient and ever-changing parts of life.

The Synergy of Mindfulness With Medical Supervision

Addiction is a complex problem that can’t be solved in some singular way. Among many other things, recovery is often the result of hard work, education, willingness, and the support of people along the way.

A well-rounded detox support plan includes:

Medical Supervision: Around-the-clock care at a facility will help to address the health-related needs as they arise. Professional medical support can dramatically improve the safety of the individual.

Medications: The medical staff can prescribe drugs specifically for the symptoms of withdrawal. Medical therapy in this context can be used to treat mental health (anxiety, depression) as well as physical health issues such as high blood pressure, body aches, and nausea.

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