Can Increased Mindfulness Decrease the Likelihood of Relapse?

Person with long hair and bangs wearing hood holds mug close to face and looks out window on rainy dayDo you often hear an inner voice that attempts to convince you to drink or use drugs during sobriety? This voice might say, “I can have just one drink,” or “I’ll never be able to stay clean, so I might as well use”? What if you could learn to clear your mind of these thoughts after they occurred or shorten the amount of time spent on such thoughts? Could this help reduce your chances of a relapse or prevent a craving?

As an addiction expert in Los Angeles, I’ve worked with clients from across the country who are dealing with alcohol and drug addictions or co-occurring concerns such as depression or trauma in rehab settings in Malibu. In my work, I’ve found that relapses are common within the recovery process. However, learning techniques that help nonjudgmentally redirect thoughts and increase internal awareness can help minimize the possibility of future relapses.

How Does Mindfulness Help Prevent Relapse?

Mindfulness practice increases awareness of thoughts, sensations, and feelings from moment to moment by instructing individuals to simply observe what occurs in each moment within the self, without judgment. By doing so, people can learn to recognize triggers or cravings associated with certain emotions, thoughts, or sensations that may lead to drug or alcohol use. This increased awareness of what is occurring internally in a moment can lead to an increased capacity to intervene appropriately during that day. Intervention might differ from person to person, day to day, but it could include scheduling an emergency therapy session, attending a meeting, calling a member of your support system, or any other behaviors that can help manage recovery in an adaptive way.

With increased mindfulness practice, you can begin to detect thoughts, feelings, and triggers that typically lead to relapse early enough to prevent yourself from acting on them. Take the thoughts, “I’ll never stay clean,” or “I can probably have just one drink,” for example. Mindfulness helps people learn to detach from these thoughts by first simply recognizing the thought, without judging it, and then redirecting attention to the present moment or to their breath.

Redirecting your thoughts to today, where you are sober, rather than spending time worrying about whether you will be able to remain sober or fixating on regrets from a time when you were using drugs or drinking heavily, can help relieve the pressure of negative emotional experiences that can put sobriety at risk.

With increased mindfulness, it is also possible to learn to redirect attention to the present moment when you become aware of the fact that your mind is having thoughts of using or making plans to use. Mindfulness can help you interrupt the thought processes that often justify or lead to drug- or alcohol-seeking actions.

Other benefits of mindfulness related to addiction and recovery include a reduction in negative thoughts and feelings associated with the past or future. For some, the mind going to the past or the future is the exact trigger that jeopardizes existing sobriety. Redirecting your thoughts to today, where you are sober, rather than spending time worrying about whether you will be able to remain sober or fixating on regrets from a time when you were using drugs or drinking heavily, can help relieve the pressure of negative emotional experiences that can put sobriety at risk. With continued mindfulness practice, you can learn to increase the amount of time you spend being in the present moment, which reduces the amount of time you spend in your past or future.

Relapse can occur quickly, without insight as to what exactly happened to bring it about. Slowing down the process of relapse includes learning ways to recognize these triggers as soon as possible. Increased mindfulness helps people learn to train themselves to pick up on important cues that might otherwise go unrecognized. When you become more mindful of your internal and external state, you may find it easier to recognize moment-to-moment happenings in your life, and many people find this helps them avoid relapsing.

Mindfulness also offers other benefits: The practice celebrates with awareness each moment and day you have successfully abstained and helps you learn to reduce harsh self-judgments that do not serve your recovery.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Robert

    June 30th, 2017 at 6:27 AM

    I wonder if there are programs fro addicts that help to teach them mindfulness techniques and how to utilize those if they feel like they are being talked into making a poor choice? I know that there are programs that stress many different mantras and tools for helping them to overcome those thoughts and desires, so it seems like adding this would be the next logical step for those who are in the business of helping addicts achieve and maintain sobriety.

  • Urvi Natha, Psy.D.

    June 30th, 2017 at 1:00 PM

    Yes I believe some places have already began incorporating aspects of mindfulness as a tool including my outpatient practice. Some have reached out to me and have asked to link them to my resource page at so that individuals who are looking for a 12 step alternative can find them. I plan to add those programs in order to help each client find the right fit for them.

  • Dream. Set. Make.

    June 30th, 2017 at 2:02 PM

    Bringing mindfulness into our lives is so important, especially when facing an addiction of any kind. It’s interesting that you point out the inner voice above that says “just one drink won’t hurt.” There’s another, competing inner voice that tells us the truth, too. The voice that’s kind, loving and empowering is the one in our corner. We wrote a little something about it here: Thanks so much for this article and bringing attention to how mindfulness can help heal. It’s important work you’re doing!

  • Robert

    July 3rd, 2017 at 2:18 PM

    That’s great to hear. I know that we might be afraid of the things we don’t know, but we have to be willing to take that next step forward and this might be it.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.