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Is Meditation the Best Medication for Opiate Addiction?

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Author: Justin Mckibben

Mindfulness and meditation is an amazing resource for healing on a holistic level, especially for those struggling with substance abuse. Even basic meditation techniques can have a strong enough influence to ease severe pain in arthritis and asthma patients. Meditation reduces anxiety and other symptoms of depression, and it actually improves heart health.

Meditation is such a powerful resource that some speculate it works far better than conventional methods such as medication and psychotherapy for many, if not all of these conditions. So it is no surprise that a new study has found that mindfulness and meditation can be the catalyst behind re-creating happiness in the lives of opioid drug addicts.

The Meaning of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not as intense and unachievable as some may think, but it is not always so cut and dry. It involves a person taking time to relax, and to become aware and in tune with the present moment. To be connected with the here and now. Simple aspects of a moment are part of the awareness, such as:

  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • Surrounding environment

Meditation and mindfulness come from a sense of calm when a person is focusing on their emotions and thoughts.

By considering the things we think about and our emotions in the context of the present, people become better able to achieve wellness. This is possible because mindfulness requires that we approach our emotions and out thoughts without judgment. Without the concept of objective opinions and staying in the moment, meditation helps us find happiness in the present moment.

According to a recent study, this kind of present moment thinking without judging our thoughts or feelings as ‘right or wrong’ is exactly what people in the grips of opioid drug addiction need.

Opiates and Dopamine

Whether abusing heroin, oxycodone or some other morphine-derived drug, many opiate addicted individuals often experience a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine during use as the drug binds to opioid-sensitive receptors in the brain. This causes a high full of pleasure caused by dopamine, and the brain translates that pleasure with whatever environment it occurs in, so opiate drug abuse conditions the mind to rely on the drug.

Thus, the brain develops a craving for those feelings again, and with continued use of opiates the individual experiences a weaker effect from the dopamine. As a result people typically seek higher doses of the drug, and those who start out with oxycodone and other prescriptions typically move on to heroin for a stronger dose. Based on this fact it is easy to see how the vicious cycle of addition creates itself.

Meditation is the Best Medication

One associate professor at the University Of Utah College Of Social Work named Eric Garland stated in a press release that the desensitization of opioid drug users can actually be reversed through mindfulness, and that it may even be able to keep them off the drugs.

“These findings are scientifically important because one of the major theories about how and why addiction occurs asserts that over time drug abusers become dulled to the experience of joy in everyday life, and this pushes them to use higher and higher doses of drugs to feel happiness.”

Garland and his team determined that the intervention program Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) was able to reduce cravings for opioid drugs in patients with a history of abuse.

Chronic pain patients taking these drugs underwent an 8 week intervention, during which time they were taught a “mindful savoring practice” that encouraged them to focus attention on different materials or concepts such as:

  • Beautiful scenes of nature
  • A sunset
  • A connection with a love one

These 3 are all considered pleasant experiences which were used to help calm the mind. During meditation, the patients were asked to focus and appreciate the present moment, which involved taking in the smells, textures, and colors of a bouquet of flowers.

As the study continued researchers found through EEG scans that by pushing patients to find happiness in their day-to-day activities that their brains activated at a higher rate to such events. As to be expected the more activity they showed, the less likely they were to crave opiates. Researchers involved in the process insist that this shows scientifically the strength of meditation in changing the lives and the quality of life for opiate addicts.

Millions of Americans actively abuse opiates, whether in the form of prescriptions or heroin, and overdose deaths have more than quadrupled in the last 15 years, which supports what many have begun to suggest is an opiate epidemic. For people to want to recover, there has to be a possibility of happiness! No one who wants to recover wants to believe there is little or no possibility of living a full and exuberant life without dependence on drugs. The truth is, happiness is one of recovery’s greatest gifts.

Many people should take heed to the therapeutic values of mindfulness and meditation. Even most recovery oriented programs, 12 Step groups, and other fellowships have a strong belief in the power and the usefulness of meditation. And if the only thing keeping you from being happy is taking the time to be calm and present to appreciate the moment, then some meditation is the best medication for you.

Many people may not know what it means to be present and aware in the moment, and how mindfulness can ultimately fuel their happiness, especially battling with drugs and alcohol. There are always amazing people ready to help you on that path. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.


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