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Treatment for Addiction

How meditation for addiction can help reduce cravings

Addiction affects us in more subtle, psychological ways than we may be aware of. Aside from the extreme cases that we hear about – cravings can creep in all over the place. As well as helping us understand our desires, practicing mindfulness can help us to alter the relationship between craving and behaviour, making it a powerful tool in treatment for addiction.   

Why do we want naughty things?

Basically, because our ancestors who wanted “naughty things” were more likely to survive and reproduce in a harsh environment !   

For example, take food. Fatty, sugary food tastes great… mmmmm… donut… oh sorry, where was I? High calorie food packs in loads of energy.  Our ancestors who loved wooly mammoth fat were more likely to survive in harsh times when famine came,  as they had excess energy stores. They survived, reproduced and spread their fat and sugar loving genes down to us.  

Sex, one of humankind’s greatest pleasures. Those who enjoyed it most were more likely to be at it, have babies, and spread their sex loving genes down to us. As for booze, cigarettes and drugs, they typically hijack our natural pleasure-and-reward system that made it more likely that we'd survive and reproduce.

So how can mindfulness help as a Treatment for Addiction? 

treatment for AddictionAlthough a seemingly simple technique, mindfulness operates on a number of levels, 

  • it makes us more able to notice cravings before they take a hold of us
  • it strengthens our muscles of attention making it easier for us to let go of sticky thoughts of chocolate cake, cigarettes, or cognac if we need to.
  • it makes us more able to experience cravings without having to react to them 
  • it makes us more able to cope with stress, which makes us less likely to turn to pleasure as a crutch in the first place.


This therefore makes meditation for addiction an attractive option for many the people out there with cravings they want to banish from their everyday life.

Researchers from Yale recently found that a 4-week mindfulness training programme was more effective as a treatment for addiction for smoking than the American Lung Association's ‘gold standard’ treatment. Over a period of 4 weeks, on average, people saw a 90% reduction in the number of cigarettes they smoked-from 18/day to 2/day and 35% of smokers quit completely! In a four-month follow-up over 30% maintained their abstinence. 1

Neuroscientists found that after just five 20 minute sessions of a mindfulness meditation technique, people had increased blood flow to an area of the brain vital to self-control, the anterior cingulate cortex.   After 11 hours of practice, they found actual physical changes in the brain around this area. By the time you’ve finished Take 20  you’ll have done more than 11 hours of practice and are likely to have physically changed your brain for the better!  2

Although rigorous research on the use of meditation for addiction relief is still in its infancy, the results show great promise for binge eating disorder, cigarette addiction and alcohol relapse prevention. It has even reduced marijuana and crack consumption in trained prison inmates! 3,4,5

So if you ever find yourself indulging a little more than you’d like, give mindfulness a whirl… download our meditation app and start getting some Headspace today.

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1. Mindfulness Training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 119(1-2):72-80

2. Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(35), 15649-15652

3. An Exploratory Study of a Meditation-based Intervention for Binge Eating Disorder. Journal of Health Psychology, 4(3), 357-363

4. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders. 19(3), 211-228

5.Mindfulness meditation and substance use in an incarcerated population. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 20(3), 343-347

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