Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
~ The 11th Step in AA
The holidays are stressful and a time when many will over-use and abuse alcohol and other psychotropic chemicals. These times may present challenges for those of us who are committed to sobriety and they can be a risk for relapse. Understanding and applying the unique faculty of consciousness, mindfulness, may be extremely helpful during these celebratory times.
Mindfulness is Another Tool for Addiction Recovery
Mindfulness is not a cognitive faculty (thinking), nor is it emotional, sensory, or behavioral. Mindfulness is separate faculty of consciousness that is largely conferred by our prefrontal cortex or 1/6th of our brain, the part of our anatomy which mostly distinguishes us from animals. Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. By focusing on the breath, the idea is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is moment to moment, and so help with pain, both physical and emotional.” In this series of articles on mindfulness, research is presented on many kinds of physical and psychological ailments and how mindfulness practice relieves them. I teach mindfulness to augment positive outcomes in my medical practice and have found it to be an extremely powerful intervention.
Substance use disorders are probably the number one cause of death and disability in the world, as they cause many mental or physical disorders. Tobacco abuse alone causes the lion’s share of cancer and heart disease which are recognized the number one and number two causes of death. The incidence of breast cancer has a linear relationship to drinks per day. Fentanyl addiction (an opioid) was killing up to 300 young people per day. 50% of suicides may be completed with the use of prescribed psychotropic medication. I can go on and on with the stats, but the main question is; Why are drugs and alcohol so alluring and what can we do about it? A book I wrote 20 years ago, End Your Addiction Now, provides neurotransmitter help to offset the cravings for substances.
How Does Mindfulness Practice Help with Substance Abuse?
Drugs and alcohol anaesthetize our sympathetic, fight/flight, autonomic suffering. They numb all kinds of pain and suffering. In AA, the acronym “HALT,” which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, is used to warn against relapse. Mindfulness practice also handles mind/body discomfort, without using a brain and body damaging, addictive, and spirituality-killing psychotropic chemical.
Mindfulness is spirituality-enhancing, and it relieves us of emotional and physical pain too. What a good deal! Our fight/flight stress is calmed without the need of a chemical to do it. This may be why the 11th Step of the spiritual Twelve Step path (quote above) brings “meditation” into the picture. Mindfulness works. Therefore, it is in our self-interest to handle emotional disturbances and physical pain with mindfulness instead of with addictions and numbing, harmful chemicals. This is true for everyone, whether you abuse chemicals or not.
A “meditation” promoted by AA is the link below. Our culture is rooted in a Judeo-Christian ethos, so for those who are reading this and follow a monotheistic spiritual path, this guided meditation may help to quiet your autonomic distress as we approach the often-chaotic holidays and seek to remember what this time of joy and gratitude is supposed to be all about. For those who follow the spiritual 12-step path of sobriety, this AA meditation may also give you the inner strength to keep following the light.
Charles Gant MD, PhD, was a valued physician, author and teacher and practiced Integrative and Functional Medicine for over three decades. He was a valued member of NIHA's team and cherished by his colleagues and patients. Dr. Charles Gant, JR. Obituary