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Recovering from Opiate Addiction: Learning to Boost Pleasure

By Cheryl Steinberg

If you are recovering from an addiction to opiates, the bad news is that you will most likely experience cravings and you’ll find it difficult to experience pleasure in the little things – an ability that people who don’t suffer from addiction possess.

Now for the good news. You can absolutely reduce your cravings and the method by which you can accomplish this just so happens to knock out the second drawback listed above. In a nutshell: by learning to enjoy other aspects of their lives, you can avoid cravings and find your joy.

Sounds like it’s easier said than done, right? However, the truth is that you have all the tools within you to accomplish boosting your ability to experience pleasure after being in active addiction to opiates. And, it’s something that will serve you in all aspects of your life. And – yes, another “and” – for many in recovery, it’s already a part of – or goal of – their recovery program.

Recovering from Opiate Addiction: Learning to Boost Pleasure

The key finding in a new study that was published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine by Eric L. Garland, associate professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work, revealed this very solution. Garland and colleagues studied how an intervention program called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) could positively impact chronic pain patients who were prescribed opiate painkillers by decreasing their desire for those drugs.

The MORE intervention focuses on helping people to rediscover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in everyday their everyday lives by embracing pleasures – and even pain – without turning to substance use as a coping mechanism. MORE integrates the latest research on addiction, cognitive neuroscience, positive psychology and mindfulness. The participants in Garland’s study were instructed on applying mindfulness-oriented techniques over the course of eight weeks in order to alleviate pain and craving while at the same time strengthening positive emotions and the sense of reward and meaning in life.

Here’s an example from the study to give you a better idea of what the instruction taught: in order to enhance their sense of reward in life, the study’s participants were taught a “mindful savoring practice,” in which they focused their attention on pleasant experiences such as a beautiful scene in nature, like a sunset, or else a feeling of connection with a loved one. Then, in a meditation session, the participants were taught to focus their awareness on the colors, textures, and scents of a bouquet of fresh flowers and to appreciate the sense of joy arising from the experience.

The participants also had daily homework, which involved practicing the same meditation technique as a way to enjoy other pleasant life experiences.

The new research shows that, after a sample of chronic pain patients misusing opioids completed MORE, their EEGs exhibited an increase in brain activation to natural, healthy pleasures. Furthermore, the more their brains became active in response to natural healthy pleasures, the less the patients craved opioids.

“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,” said Garland.

“This study suggests that this process can be reversed. We can teach people to use mindfulness to appreciate and enjoy life more, and by doing that, they may feel less of a need for addictive drugs. It’s a powerful finding.”

Garland, who developed MORE intervention, said that his method is also being tested for application with people who want to lose weight or quit smoking.

Have you tried to quit using opiates or other substances but found that the cravings were too powerful and seemingly impossible to overcome? Palm Partners offers a safe and comfortable medical detox as well as cutting edge therapies, including meditation and mindfulness, it helping clients to overcome this very difficult situation. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

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