Teaching Mindfulness as a Treatment Strategy in Addiction By Dr. William Leach

Drug use has been shown to cause reversible damage to the prefrontal cortex and limbic systems of the brain (among many other areas), dis-enabling the individual’s ability to regulate both self-control and emotion respectively. Because of this finding, leading edge scientific evidence based addiction treatment programs are adopting methods to target this damage. Many addiction centers have implemented mindfulness education programs. With its origins in Eastern self-awareness training and meditation, mindfulness teaches individuals to pay attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. Mindfulness is practicing living in the waking meditative state. Living in the present mindful moment is where all peace, happiness, harmony, cooperation, sharing and reverence for life reside. Mindfulness practice essentially reinforces the natural condition: that of living as a human being in contrast to living as a human doing (where humans spend most of their time). Adopting and following mindfulness practice has demonstrated results in activating the prefrontal cortex and stimulating the growth of the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory and learning. Furthermore, research has shown that mindfulness practice is associated with fostering the development of the areas of the brain that enable a person to show empathy.

Humans with the structural brain disease of addiction often have difficulty believing that they are able to change and have a lack of awareness of both their present condition and their associated mal-adaptive behaviors. Research on mindfulness meditation indicates that temperament or character qualities, once viewed as unchangeable, can be altered significantly. Mindfulness assists the human by fostering the growth of their personal self-awareness (elsewhere commonly referred to as “recovery”). Increasing clarity and decision-making ability follow. Mindfulness training facilitates a person’s ability to see options in a more objective fashion. Incorporating these effective mindfulness skills and effectively drawing upon the support of self-aware others will propel the individual into ongoing lifelong self-awareness. Abstinence from the addictive substance (or process) and practiced lifelong self-awareness is the “cure” for addiction.

About the author: Based in North Central Florida, Dr. William Leach operates a comprehensive practice in addiction medicine. Dr. Leach teaches mediation, mindfulness and self-awareness training to patients. He completed his Clinical Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida McKnight Brain Research Institute. He is also specialty certified in addiction by the American Board of Addiction Medicine.