By Ioana Cozma

Updated: 31 July 2023 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair

Meditation in addiction recovery can be an effective tool in fighting withdrawal symptoms. This guide investigates meditation benefits, different types, and ways to incorporate it effectively into the recovery process.

Meditation and Recovery

Can meditation help with addiction recovery?

Recent research endorses that neural dysregulation behind reward learning and executive functioning may promote substance use disorders (SUDs).[1]

Legal or illegal drugs facilitate the neural release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which triggers a feeling of reward. Long-term SUD leads to the brain associating substance use with reward.

Meditation in recovery can help people unlearn these neurocognitive mechanisms and learn better ways to handle their emotions. Therefore, they may be more successful at preventing relapse.

Moreover, many substance use disorders trigger acute withdrawal symptoms, and controlling them prevents relapse. Some of the techniques in behavioral therapy to assist in managing these distressing symptoms, include involve medication, patience, and strengthening cognitive control.[2]

Meditation may help individuals increase their patience levels and cognitive control, improving the effects of medication to manage their symptoms and facilitating their recovery treatment.

The benefits of meditation

Meditation in recovery may decrease cravings and withdrawal symptoms, such as pain, lower health levels, and some mental health symptoms.

Recovery meditation helps individuals with SUD learn to regulate their emotions so they can withdraw from dangerous substances safely.[3]

Other sources specify that mindfulness meditation can dramatically reduce stress levels because it teaches individuals to master their emotions; being less reactive to environmental factors and unplanned circumstances.

The result of lower stress levels is a decrease in:

The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) notes the benefits of recovery meditation for decreasing chronic pain and increasing the participants’ self-esteem among veterans.

VA’s studies show that addiction meditation allows people to accept and respond in a less reactive way to pain, thus decreasing the urge to abuse certain substances.[4]

Teaching people to respond less reactively can apparently modify the brain’s functioning and structure.[5] This has a slew of benefits apart from pain reduction:

  • Decreased levels of anxiety and depression

  • Lower blood pressure levels

  • Higher sleep quality

  • Decreased PTSD[5]

Other sources indicate that meditation can alleviate ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.[6]

All these affections can result from prolonged substance disorder and may be felt more acutely during withdrawal. Recovery meditation alleviates these symptoms and, thus, prevents relapses and facilitates addiction recovery.

What types of meditation can help with addiction recovery

Meditation in recovery comes in different shapes.

The most researched type of recovery meditation is mindfulness.

This practice is a valuable addiction recovery tool because people learn to focus on the present moment.

Learning to observe physical and mental sensations without trying judgment or control produces greater self-awareness and emotional regulation.

The result is twofold. People who practice meditation for at least eight weeks are shown to receive more enjoyment from their daily activities, thus restructuring their reward response. Their executive brain function also improves, thus decreasing their automatic responses.[1]

These newfound abilities decrease cravings and help individuals manage their substance use behaviors.

Other types of meditation include:

  • Spiritual meditation: Helps individuals focus on their connection with a higher power or the universe.[6]

  • Metta meditation: Allows people with SUD to cultivate empathy for everyone, including dysfunctional people and situations. Therefore, they are less likely to relapse during difficult everyday events.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Helps people in recovery manage their pain and promote calmness.

  • Mantra-based meditation: May alleviate negative thought patterns, according to some research. Transcendental meditation is a type of mantra meditation with the purpose of transcending objective reality.[7]

Incorporating meditation into recovery

To incorporate meditation in your addiction therapy:

  1. Choose a meditation technique you resonate with.

  2. Set aside a consistent time each day to practice. Increase the duration gradually.

  3. Find a quiet space with no distractions.

  4. Ensure you are comfortable.

  5. Practice meditation regularly to rewire your brain and reap all its benefits.

The effects of formal meditation can be enhanced when incorporating its principles into the daily routine. That means paying attention to the present moment, practicing mindful empathy, and staying connected to the higher power you believe in.

Where to find meditation help for recovery

People interested in recovery meditation can try:

  • Online meditation apps

  • Local meditation centers with group classes and workshops

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs in your local hospital, clinic, or community center

  • Therapists

  • Yoga studios