A Moment of Clarity: Mindfulness and Alcohol Addiction Recovery

By Beth Miller

We all want to escape sometimes. Life’s pressures, its disappointments, its frustrations—these challenges can become overwhelming and the stresses of the world can, at times, seem poised to engulf us. In moments like these, a drink to settle the nerves or stiffen the spine may seem like the reasonable—perhaps the only—choice. So, what can we do to support alcohol addiction recovery?

Research has shown, though, that efforts to avoid, deny, or numb the negative feelings that accompany being human in a sometimes inhumane world compound the pain rather than alleviate it. However, those who learn to face life’s unavoidable discomforts, its certain sorrows, have less need to turn to destructive habits of evasion as a coping mechanism. One of most effective strategies for doing this, as a study published by The National Institutes of Health has shown, is in the practice of mindfulness: “Mindfulness encourages awareness and acceptance of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they arise, and recognition of their impermanence. Mindfulness practitioners are taught to acknowledge and accept their experiences rather than to modify or suppress them” (Marcus & Zgierska, 2009, p. 263).

“Avoidance coping plays a key role in stress generation.”

For this reason, mindfulness is increasingly heralded as a potent weapon in the battle against substance abuse. Alcohol addiction is strongly correlated with stress, anxiety, and depression; addicts turn to their substance of choice to erase a reality they eschew, to escape a pain they feel they cannot endure. At the core of this coping strategy is a profound sense of helplessness. The addict finds herself trapped in a situation she feels she can neither change nor tolerate and so turns to substances which will, if only temporarily, blind her to the circumstances she cannot otherwise dispel.

“Mindfulness, on the contrary, approaches negative circumstances from a position of strength.”

Through mindful meditation, the individual learns to withstand discomfiture, rather than attempting to evade it. Each encounter with that undesirable thing that he once would have fled—that circumstance or memory, that fear or anxiety–is a new lesson in strength. He learns to redefine himself not as the one who runs, but as the one who stands. Mindful meditation teaches practitioners to face life’s challenges not as prey for them but as a power more than equal to them.

Taming anxiety with focused breathing

Mindful meditation helps people internalize the impermanence of life’s challenges in a more thoughtful and accepting way, thereby decreasing the need for unhelpful responses (Image source: Pixabay)

At the heart of this is the reality that even the most searing of these moments is also inevitably fleeting. There will be an end. Pain, worry, and fear do pass, but the human endures. Mindful meditation helps its students internalize the impermanence of life’s challenges and, in the process, enables them to make conscious and healthy choices about who they want to be when they emerge on the other side. Do they want merely to prolong pain by fleeing to the bottom of a bottle in the futile attempt to avoid it? Or do they want to face the pain in the moment that it comes, buttressed by the promise of another tomorrow and their faith in their own ability to withstand until the new day comes?

Mindful meditation is a profound tool for coping with substance abuse, offering empowerment and perspective where addiction yields only weakness and despair. For more information, please visit Open Forest’s resources on mindfulness at https://openforest.net/categories/mindfulness/


Marcus, M. T., & Zgierska, A. (2009). Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorders: Part 1 (Editorial). Substance Abuse : Official Publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse30(4), 263. http://doi.org/10.1080/08897070903250027


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Latest update: February 13, 2017
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