How Meditation Affects the Addicted Brain
National attention turning to the opioid crisis is bringing about more studies on the effectiveness of various treatments for addiction – including mindfulness meditation.
And in the midst of this research, there’s been some positive news – meditation can help with overcoming addiction. And it can also help with the long recovery process that follows.
Not An Easy Task
Anyone who has ever had to overcome addiction can attest that the problem doesn’t diminish after those immediate withdraw symptoms have subsided.
Instead, it’s a lifelong endeavor to foster and maintain every day, to avoid sliding back into addictive patterns.
Keep in mind when it comes to addiction, an individual’s brain literally changes as the disease progresses. And it can take a long time to get the brain back to working “normally” again.
But the great news is scientists have identified multiple ways meditation can help with this long road to recovery.
Here are a few key things meditation can do when it comes to changing the addicted brain.
Meditation Provides Instant Gratification
A key aspect of addiction is instant gratification, or actively searching for that “feel good” high again and again.
Meditation mimics this motion by stimulating the brain’s primary happiness center, the prefrontal cortex.
This not only provides a similar “high” reward: it remains continually active, effectively avoiding the “crash” when this area of the brain isn’t stimulated.
Meditation Provides a Chemical Fix
In a study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found that when an addict fulfills their fix, their brain produces high amounts of the brain chemical dopamine. This is what creates that momentary feeling of euphoria.
During the subsequent crash, dopamine levels drastically sink. This drop in levels in turn sets off the brain’s craving for more of the chemical, resulting in a vicious cycle.
But in a similar study at the John F. Kennedy Institute, researchers discovered that mindfulness meditation boosts the production levels of dopamine by 65%. In addition, because the brain is also regulating this chemical at healthy levels, there is no crash.
Meditation Removes the Stress
Anxiety and stress plays a huge role in addiction; they are the key contributors to relapse.
When our central nervous system is in “fight or flight” mode, our brains are wired to address the problem immediately. Unfortunately, the result may include reaching for that artificial substance.
But meditation transforms the central nervous system and brain. It shifts our body chemistry out of survival mode, allowing us to operate with reduced stress levels.
As such, it’s less likely for people to self-medicate, as the underlying triggers are no longer as present.
Simply put, when it comes to overcoming addiction in all forms, mindfulness meditation is an invaluable tool for the short term, as well as the long term.
From overcoming cravings, to reducing the stress underlying the addiction, meditation is a valuable resource for folks who are working towards a lifelong recovery.
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