Mindfulness-Based Treatment of Addiction

Discover the Role of Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment

Effective addiction treatment informed on biobehavioral research and neuroscience.


Mindfulness-Based Treatment of Addiction

Discover the Role of Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment

Effective addiction treatment informed on biobehavioral research and neuroscience.

The information presented on this page is a general overview and is offered here as a comprehensive resource. At Ampelis Recovery, our programs are customized and tailored to the individual’s needs. Specific details below that cover treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols used for our clients.

If you would like to learn more about Ampelis Recovery and our customized programs for professional men, please do not hesitate to reach out.


What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of being actively aware of one’s thoughts and breathing. You achieve mindfulness through meditation and conscious thought. With practice, the effectiveness of mindfulness increases, as does the length of mindfulness sessions. Mindfulness helps with many medical problems, including addiction.

First, we explore the history of mindfulness. Then we look at research and testing that documents the effectiveness of mindfulness. Lastly, we apply aspects of mindfulness to recovery from addiction.

Ancient History of Mindfulness

Early practices of mindfulness are in most major religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.1 However, scholars attribute the connotations and traditions of mindfulness in eastern and western cultures directly to Hinduism. Hinduism uses mindfulness to achieve mental clarity by controlling the flow of one’s thoughts.

Hindu Mindfulness

Hinduism uses mindfulness to contemplate actions and events. This differs from Buddhism, in which mindfulness focuses on breathing and clearing your mind of anything else. Like Buddhism, Hinduism attempts to find inner peace and joy through meditation and conscientiousness.

Buddhist Mindfulness

Buddhism, a religion based around letting go of material things and limitations, created many of the forms we use in therapy and treatment today. Buddhists believe that through meditation, one can find inner peace and joy.

The Buddha, named after Buddhism’s creator, Siddhartha Guatama, represents a human being experiencing total bliss and contentment through mindfulness. Despite being a small part of the overall system, Buddha and mindfulness are the most universally borrowed from the religions’ practices.2 Buddist’s practice mindfulness through meditation, being conscientious of their feelings and thoughts and living a relatively minimalist life.

Mindfulness and Yoga

Yoga, a practice shared between Hinduism and Buddhism, lends itself to the goal of mindfulness. Yoga stresses the importance of not only physical health and breathing but also inner tranquility.3

Learn More About Healing the Brain

Modern History

How Mindfulness Moved from East to West

Mindfulness’s move from the east to the west begins in the 1960s with Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn attended a lecture by Japanese Zen practitioner Phillip Kapleau. Inspired by Kapleau’s teaching, Kabat-Zinn studied mindfulness across the globe for several years.4 He eventually brought mindfulness and Buddhist practices to the western medical community.

Kabat-Zinn achieved his goal by starting the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts. His work’s primary focus was teaching others about the principles of mindfulness that fit the western worldview.

Mindfulness in Positive Psychology

Positive psychology, the practice of mentally focusing on positive feelings, thoughts, etc., employs mindfulness to increase and sustain happiness. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help with physical pain, addiction, mental anguish, depression, and anxiety.5

Neurocognitive Plasticity During Recovery

Neurocognitive Plasticity

Neuroimaging data shows how mindfulness changes the structure of the brain. This includes functional parts of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampal area. These two parts regulate mood, memory, and focus.6

Addiction Uses Neuroplasticity Against You

The dopamine released from substance abuse, particularly in individuals prone to addiction, can produce drug-induced behavioral changes.7 The excessive dopamine rewires the brain to prioritize drugs as essential.

Neuroplasticity Helps You Heal

Just as addiction uses neuroplasticity against you, addiction treatment can use it to heal you. The brain changes when learning, having new experiences, or processing information. The higher the brain plasticity, the easier it is to adapt and think.8 Practicing mindfulness enhances specific brain regions that contribute to the overall plasticity, such as attention control, alertness, and the ability to refocus. These specific changes can create neural pathways to bypass areas damaged by addiction.

Mechanisms for Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment

Strengthening Cognitive Control Networks

Cognitive control is an umbrella term for several cognitive functions such as decision making, attention, and behavior. These processes are often second to emotional urges. Mindfulness enhances control over emotion and, as such, strengthens cognitive control.9

Correcting Hijacked Reward Learning

Addiction rewires the reward center of the brain. This change is the root cause of drug cravings.10 Mindfulness helps revert the brain by breaking the connection between automatic responses, i.e., cravings and the corresponding action, substance abuse.11

Improving Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is a combination of the day-to-day skills we need to function. Time management, self-control, and awareness are examples of executive functioning. Mindfulness improves these functions over time.12

Mindfulness Qualities that Help with Addiction

Trait Mindfulness Reduces Substance Use and Cravings

Trait mindfulness refers to individual factors that, in this case, can lead to addictions.13 Being conscious of the effect of certain thoughts and stimuli and how they affect you as an individual can reduce cravings.

Being aware of which common thought patterns eventually lead to or intensify substance cravings helps overcome them.13

Capacity to Remain Nonreactive to Distress

Trait mindfulness leads to the ability to be nonreactive to stressful situations. By understanding, being aware of, and remaining non-judgmental to automatic reactions, individuals gain greater control over their emotions.13 This change, combined with other mindfulness practices, reduces overall stress and impulsive urges.

Building Bodily Self-Awareness

Bodily self-awareness is an advanced form of mindfulness. The focus is on breathing, mantras, and bodily awareness. This includes understanding how your body reacts to certain stimuli as they occur and being in tune with any aches, illness, etc. In terms of addiction, it refers to the increased focus on meeting your body’s health needs, which dramatically increases your capacity for physical self-care. 14

Recognizing Emotional States

Recognizing emotional states, or being in tune with emotions, helps process them better. Mindfulness encourages present-moment awareness of emotional states and changes. Over time, it is easier to monitor and control those changes without being overwhelmed by them. Being aware of emotional changes will not stop them from occurring but can limit the negative impact.15 

Awareness of Automatic Response Patterns or Habits

Automatic responses, the reactions that are both specific to an individual and out of their control, contribute to addictions. By becoming aware of automatic responses through mindfulness, an individual can change their thought process and, as such, the outcome.15

Practice of Mindfulness

Focused Attention

One of the many benefits of mindfulness is an increased attention span. Mindfulness places importance on keeping your thoughts in the present. A task is easier said than done; through practice, an individual becomes better at focusing on mindfulness and any task at hand. Because of this, mindfulness treats ADD and ADHD.

Open Monitoring

Open monitoring is a form of meditation that focuses on feelings and thoughts as they arise. In this way, mindfulness takes an approach more akin to its roots in Hinduism. It has no overall goal other than to be constantly aware of one’s mental state. To practice open monitoring, clients must clear their minds of distractions and allow their thoughts to flow naturally with no set focus.16

Neuropsychological Models Mapping Mindfulness

From a neuropsychological standpoint, mindfulness splits into a map of the following concepts.

Sustained Attention

Sustained attention, different from focused attention in that it occurs over a more extended period of time, is the basis for effective mindfulness.17  Sustained attention improves in small increments. You commonly practice by focusing on a mantra, specific idea, or natural breathing. Through this focus, it is possible to block out unwanted mental stimulation.

Attentional Re-Orienting

Attentional re-orienting is the ability to shift one’s primary focus to a specific idea consciously. Studies have shown that meditation, even for a short period, improves attention immediately. However, having a specific idea, like a mantra, to focus on improves long-term concentration and increases the overall efficacy of attentional re-orienting. 18

Conflict Monitoring

Attention monitoring is your brain’s ability to decide which stimuli are the most important, i.e., requires the most or immediate attention. Conflict monitoring is the intentional practice of realizing when the brain changes the primary focus and why. Conflict monitoring goes hand in hand with attentional re-orienting.

Working Memory

Working memory is the memory used to remember everyday tasks, steps, or information. Remembering how to put something back together as you are doing it is an example of working memory. Mindfulness increases working memory by bettering the ability to ignore distractions.19

Inhibitory Control

Inhibitory control, one’s ability to control impulses, is enhanced by mindfulness. Inhibitory control issues often coincide with addiction. Mindfulness reduces drug cravings by allowing for greater control over impulses.20

Emotional Control

Mindfulness improves emotional control and emotional intelligence.21 Additionally, people with more control over their emotions and a more positive outlook are known to lead happier, more fulfilling lives. 21

Reducing Stress Reactivity and Increasing Stress Recovery

Mindfulness reduces stress by allowing for conscientious consideration of its cause and outcome. The result is shorter periods of stress and quicker recovery time.22

Proof for the Effectiveness of Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment

Decades of research have shown the connection between mindfulness and reduced substance cravings.23 Additionally, if the root cause of the addiction is a mental disorder, mindfulness is still applicable. It reduces the effects of stress and provides healthy coping mechanisms to deal with negative thoughts and events.

Mindfulness is one of the oldest self-help practices still in effect today, which is for a good reason. Learn how Ampelis Recovery heals your addiction and how mindfulness fits into its healing program.


    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480633
    2. https://www.butler.edu/cfv/buddhism#:~:text=Nirvana%20is%20the%20term%20used,cycle%20of%20rebirth%20and%20suffering
    3. https://web.archive.org/web/20181002171906/https://www.csicop.org/si/show/the_mindfulness_movement
    4. https://www.trvst.world/inspiration/history-of-mindfulness
    5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171985/
    6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471247
    7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424849/
    8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2999838
    9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6641506
    10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549070
    11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5907295/
    12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7142723
    13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4195279/
    14. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190416141909.htm 
    15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303604
    16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171985/
    17. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312816948_Focused_and_Sustained_Attention#:~:text=as%20underlying%20processes.-,Focused%20attention%20refers%20to%20being%20able%20to%20actively%20focus%20on,time%20(Cohen%2C%202014)%20
    18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471247
    19. https://dominatethegre.s3.amazonaws.com/Mindfulness-Improves-GRE-Focus-Mrazek-et-al.-2013.pdf
    20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5784955
    21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337506
    22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142584
    23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5907295/ 

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