Mindfulness for Addiction Treatment
Addiction can be defined in many ways. The American Psychiatric Association states, “Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a complex condition in which there is the uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences.”1 When there is an intense focus on a specific substance(s) a person’s quality of life is affected. Significant consequences can include loss of health, financial instability, and/or relationship issues. SUD can affect brain function and alter behaviors, leading to a cycle of misuse. The cycle of misuse results in using additional substances, to deal with the strong emotional and psychological effects caused by the substance(s).2
Stress and emotional upheaval are two of the most difficult obstacles for people in recovery. As a person in long-term recovery from substance misuse,3 I have struggled with an exceptionally high level of emotional volatility. As a highly sensitive person, substances initially seemed to relieve this emotional rollercoaster. However, even if drugs momentarily numbed my emotions, the feelings always came back with a vengeance - bringing with them more stress and the additional consequences of addictive behavior.
Recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is difficult, and the complexity of addiction is compounded by dealing with higher levels of stress and emotions. However, recovery is possible. Recovery takes determination and a multifaceted approach. There is no one method that works best for all people. Organizations that support people seeking recovery (such as addiction treatment centers, halfway houses, mental health providers, 12-step fellowships, and churches) continue to look for thoughtful routines that provide recovery benefits. Mindfulness is a technique that has been gaining traction within the addiction treatment field and shows promise as another modality to support the recovery process.
Mindfulness-based interventions have been used successfully within the medical field since 1979 when Jon Kabat-Zinn and associates introduced the practice at the Stress Reduction Clinic a the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Since then more than 25,000 people have taken the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course.4 MBSR is an evidence-based approach to dealing with stress. MBSR has been used successfully to manage a range of ailments including anxiety, chronic pain, major depression, mood disorders, and hypertension.5 While MBSR has been successful in supporting a wide range of medical issues, the duration of the training, and the cost to become an instructor, have historically made this method unavailable for many addiction recovery professionals - until now.
Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training (MRFT) is an 8-module intensive course available at a reasonable price. The Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training (MRFT) objective, offered by Mindful Recovery Coach, is two-fold: 1) to help addiction recovery professionals (therapists, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, recovery coaches, peer recovery specialists, etc) establish a personal mindfulness practice, and 2) to offer addiction recovery professionals an easy way to facilitate Mindful Recovery Groups. MRFT offers a facilitator handbook that includes a 10 lesson curriculum. This curriculum guides participants through mindfulness practices and provides neuroscience information related to addiction and recovery.
When I ask people who work in addiction treatment, “What keeps you up at night?” I generally get two answers: 1) “I never feel like I am doing enough,” and 2) “I worry about providing for my family.”
However, when asked about what kind of self-care people practice, the answer is often, “That is something I know I need to do, but I don’t.”
To consider why addiction treatment centers and addiction recovery professionals should implement mindfulness training, let’s look at why the two objectives of the Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training are so important. Within the addiction treatment field, burnout of addiction recovery professionals is high. Recovery professionals worry that taking time to care for themselves will make them less productive; or, they believe self-care will take too much time away from their work for others. The issues just mentioned, along with other stressors, wear addiction recovery professionals down.
Addiction treatment centers can be proactive in supporting the sustainability of their staff by providing mindfulness training. Mindfulness can be incorporated into daily life and can be effective even if practiced for 1-3 minutes a day. Not only will addiction recovery professionals be more engaged in their work, but the training can also help staff deal with the emotional exhaustion experienced while helping others. When considering financial costs, providing this support for recovery staff makes complete sense. Shane McFeely and Ben Wigert wrote, “The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary -- and that's a conservative estimate.”6 Addiction treatment centers are not only losing valuable trained staff but also losing an immense amount of money every time an employee leaves. By providing Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training, addiction treatments centers are affirming their commitment to supporting the well-being of their staff.
In the Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training (MRFT), participants learn mindfulness practices like awareness of the breath, ways of dealing with inner self-judgement, generating compassion, practicing gratitude, mindfulness of emotions, and much more. Starting with a weekly practice of 5 minutes, participants begin to extend their ability to focus and relax. By the end of the course, participants’ understanding evolves from a one-time “self-care” stint to an integrated, sustainable sense of well-being. Building on one’s sense of well-being through an established practice, participants learn how to teach other people how to practice mindfulness.
As the Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training (MRFT) participants learn and establish personal mindfulness practices, the program moves into developing group facilitation skills. Translating one’s personal experience with mindfulness into leading a Mindful Recovery Group can be challenging. The MRFT includes a curriculum that is easy to follow. Using 10 lessons, the facilitator leads the group through mindfulness practices, provides information about the brain, and organizes discussions that reinforce the recovery process. The Mindful Recovery Facilitator handbook also includes a wealth of information about ways to effectively lead Mindful Recovery Groups in any setting.
In summary, mindfulness is an effective technique used in the recovery process from Substance Use Disorder (SUD). It works well with other modalities of treatment and addresses the main problems and obstacles that people in recovery encounter; namely, stress and emotional turmoil. Mindfulness training can provide the person in recovery with essential tools. Recovery-related professionals can be instrumental in creating this foundation by leading Mindful Recovery Groups. Participants taking the Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training to develop important facilitation skills, and they establish personal mindfulness practices, which can help deal with their own work-related stress issues. The Mindful Recovery Facilitator Training program helps two important concerns in the treatment of addiction: the longevity of recovery-related professionals in the workplace, and providing skills to help people sustain recovery from drug addiction.
1 American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.) What is a substance use disorder? Retrieved May 31, 2021 from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
2 American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.) What is a substance use disorder? Retrieved May 31, 2021 from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
3 As of January 3, 2021 I have 14 years of recovery from substance use disorder
4 UMass Memorial Medical Center (2021). Mbsr 8-week online event. Retrieved May 31, 2021 from https://www.ummhealth.org/umass-memorial-medical-center/services-treatments/center-for-mindfulness/mindfulness-programs/mbsr-8-week-online-live
5 UMass Memorial Medical Center (2021). Faq’s. Retrieved May 31, 2021 from https://www.ummhealth.org/umass-memorial-medical-center/services-treatments/center-for-mindfulness/faqs.
6 McFeely, S., Wigert, B. (2019, March 13). This fixable problem costs u.s.businesses $1 trillion. Gallup. Retrieved June 1, 2021 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/247391/fixable-problem-costs-businesses-trillion.aspx#:~:text=The%20cost%20of%20replacing%20an,to%20%242.6%20million%20per%20year.