Meditation and Addiction

How meditation helps in the battle against addiction

Meditation and addiction

Have you ever heard of “The Return of the Repressed”? This is a Freudian theory that states that when we repress our emotions they do not simply go away. Instead they remain in the unconscious, gaining strength. Later they manifest in a variety of dark and unpleasant ways like anger, hostility, depression, possibly even violence. 

This theory is everywhere, from Edgar Allan Poe to Dracula to most of the horror movies you’ve ever seen. Why? Because it is deep, scary, and something you should seriously consider in your own life.  

Addiction is almost always an attempt to repress, to push our emotions into the subconscious because we do not want to face them. In contrast, meditation brings everything into the light of truth. It helps us see what is going on beneath the surface and heal our pain. It is the antidote to addiction!

Many recent studies have found a strong connection between meditation and addiction recovery. Alcohol, drugs, smoking, and gambling are the big ones. But it can also help with the smaller, every day addictions that many of us have: sugar, television, or work. These addictions can cause surprising amounts of damage, particularly when we are not aware of them.

So, how about you? What are you addicted to? What do you depend on to make you feel all right? And can you be honest enough to admit it and bring it into the light of the conscious mind?

If you want to seriously consider these questions, download the worksheets below. They contain a series of questions to answer and some practices to help you overcome addiction.  

Here are the top 10 ways in which meditation helps you overcome addiction.

1. Meditation helps you confront emotions

Addiction is usually rooted in emotional causes. We bury emotional issues beneath our conscious mind: fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and low self-worth, to name a few.

When we are addicted, we desire things to be different from how they are. We cannot accept our circumstances or ourselves. It is a wish to be free, a wish to be elsewhere. Freud might have even seen it as a wish for annihilation – a death wish.

Taking drugs, drinking, and gambling are attempts to escape the cascade of mental restlessness. The problem is that the escape is only temporary; when we return, the problems are still there. And often they are even worse!

Meditation brings awareness to the underlying problems. It teaches us to confront our emotions rather than bury them or drown them out. This takes courage, but ultimately, it’s the best, and healthiest, option.

Better to confront the beast than let it lurk in your subconscious mind, getting stronger. The hero in the movie always has to confront the monster. How many movies have you seen where the hero hides under his bed and the monster goes away?

Wouldn’t make for much of a movie, would it? Well, it doesn’t make for much of a life either. We have to confront the beast because the alternative is far worse.

2. Meditation helps to rewire your brain

meditation and addiction

We used to think that the brain was unchangeable after we reached our mid-twenties. Luckily, modern research on meditation and neuroplasticity tells a different story. It reveals that we can completely transform the structure and function of our brain in a relatively short time.

Addiction might be in our genes, but if you want to fight it, you can. You just have to rewire your subconscious mind in the right way. We need to create new neural pathways and meditation helps us do this.

If we alter our behavior and practice the new behavior enough, the brain gets accustomed to it. Then it starts to help you out by giving you more of the same.

So, let’s say you start trying to think positively. First of all, it is a big effort. But when you practice often enough, the brain starts to mirror that behavior and find things to be positive about without effort.

I used to drink when going out with friends. Every time, without fail! I never drove, I never had a reason to stay sober, and I never wanted one. The first few times I went out with friends sober, it was unpleasant to say the least. My brain and body didn’t know how to act and did not enjoy it at all. But after a few times, it got better. My brain formed new pathways, and figured out how to enjoy this scenario. Now, I can go out with friends and enjoy it just as much as I used to. In fact, I enjoy it more now, because I am more conscious of my friends and my environment. 

3. Meditation helps you accept yourself as you are

As mentioned earlier, many of us drink as a result of an inability to accept ourselves as we are. We wish that we were different, that we were more fun, interesting, or confident. Instead of accepting ourselves, we use alcohol to temporarily change how we feel or how we seem to others.

Although alcohol might make us feel more confident in the moment, the truth is that it chips away at our real self-confidence.

It says to the subconscious mind, “I can’t handle this situation. I need to change it. I won’t accept it and learn from it. I have to pretend it is different.” Over time, this diminishes your true sense of confidence and self-worth.

When we meditate, we begin to accept ourselves as we are, even if we are shy, nervous, or stressed. We learn how important these emotions are and how they guide us. It’s ok to feel a little uncomfortable. It’s just the way it is sometimes.

Meditation helps us to understand that.

4. Meditation helps heal your pain

Some people drink or take drugs to hide from emotional pain, whether they are actively aware of the pain or not. Often the suffering is subconscious, so we don’t even realize that it’s there. Yet we drink because something doesn’t feel right. 

Difficult emotions can arise when we sit in meditation. We start to notice emotions that we do not usually allow ourselves to face. As we grow up, we learn to suppress our feelings, to “get a grip,” or “grow up!” Men in particular put a barrier up to mask their feelings, but everyone does it.

So it is not uncommon for tears, anger, or grief to surface as we sit. This can be hard, but the reality is that these emotions need to come to the surface so we can release them. Otherwise they will stay inside.

When we drink or take drugs, we attempt to suppress our fears or emotional difficulties. Then they find other ways of manifesting. In contrast, when we meditate, we experience and release the feelings – we confront the beast. Then we see the truth, and while it may be painful, we begin to set ourselves free from those difficult emotions.

5. Meditation makes you more sensitive

As you practice, you become more sensitive to your feelings and to how drugs and alcohol truly make you feel. You may notice that you feel light or happy after eating certain foods, while other foods make you feel angry, heavy, or depressed. That is because you are becoming more sensitive to the truth of your reality.

I realized that coffee made me anxious. It wasn’t that it suddenly started making me anxious after I started meditating. It had always made me anxious, but I only noticed after having meditated for a few months. This may make you uncomfortable at first, but it is such a blessing. You have a huge advantage over others when you actually know how you feel. Most people have no idea.

You might begin to feel exactly what alcohol is doing to your body and mind, and it is not a pretty picture. It is such a debilitating and degenerative drug. Meditation helps you see the damage that it is causing you. The hangovers become intolerable because you get used to feeling good.

Also, you may become more sensitive to other things, like the company of other people. You might be more drawn towards uplifting and positive people and repelled by negative people. Meditation makes you more sensitive to many aspects of your reality. It guides you towards the right path and away from harm.

If you want to start meditating, check out the starter pack below.

6. Meditation gives you a natural high of peace and bliss

The truth is that in drinking alcohol, all we want is to feel a little better than we do. It was a beautiful moment for me when I realized this. We live in such denial about it. When I realized that I was suffering and that I just wanted to feel better, it filled me with compassion and self-love. I realized that I had been unknowingly self-medicating for a long time.

Alcohol and drugs can make us feel better, but the release is always temporary. And we never truly feel better; we just drown out the pain for a while. When the drugs wear off, the pain comes back, and often it is intensified by the loss of dopamine that was released when you were high.

Well, meditation releases dopamine as well, but without the crash. It puts us into a state that is calm, happy and loving, which is what we were looking for all along.

We were just barking up the wrong tree!

7. Meditation teaches you discipline

meditation and addiction

Often, when we have drug or alcohol problems, we also have limited self-control. We want to have it all, right now. This can spread to other areas of our life as well, such as eating, entertainment, or sex. We learn to be impatient and take things as soon as we desire them.

In meditation, we learn to control our desires, strengthen our will power and build discipline. We might want to move or get up or scratch, but instead we sit still and train ourselves that we don’t need to do anything. It teaches us that we do not need to satisfy our desires immediately.

This spills over to our life outside, and we gain greater self-control, especially when we have important decisions to make. Meditation gives you that pause, that moment when you can take a step back to think before you make the decision.

A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that a large percentage of meditation practitioners were able to stop drinking. The control group showed no improvement.

Addiction is desire out of control. Desire is part of the human experience, but if untamed, it can destroy lives. This practice of not succumbing to desires is one that everyone should practice. It is so important for our wellbeing
 and inner peace.

8. Meditation reduces your stress levels

Many people drink alcohol or take drugs to relieve stress after a hard day. This seems to make sense and it can appear to calm us down. But there is always a bill to pay at the end.

Valium for example, which makes us feel more relaxed in the moment, actually multiplies anxiety in the long term. Many of you also know that the day after drinking, you feel anything but relaxed. You are buying relaxation now but there is a debt to pay – and it comes with interest.

Research shows that meditation reduces stress and the stress hormone cortisol, but with meditation, there is no debt to pay. When our natural stress levels are low, even after a hard day, we have no need to reach for the bottle.

9. Meditation replaces your addiction

When altering habits, many experts believe that we should try to replace negative habits with positive ones. Otherwise, a hole appears in our life that the bad habit was previously filling. If we don’t fill it with something else, often we go back to the old way, because nothing is worse than a feeling of emptiness.

Once you start meditating every day, you will also realize that this practice does not coexist well with drinking and drug taking. First of all, these negative habits take up more time than we realize, valuable time that we could be spending in meditation.

Your life becomes more peaceful as a result of your meditation practice, but when you drink or take drugs, meditation tends to take a back seat for a few days.  Then you will notice a huge difference in how you feel.

Meditation begins to replace your addiction. Instead of reaching for a bottle, you’ll reach for your cushion. Even on bad days, you’ll know that the best thing for you is to sit and meditate.

I see it like taking my medicine for the day. I take it every morning and evening, and the only side effects are positive ones. It is like the world’s greatest miracle drug.

And other drugs just get in the way.

10. Meditation connects you with spirituality

Meditation takes you deeper into your spirituality. Instead of living in the material world, we begin to live in higher consciousness. The human is made up of body, mind, and spirit. When we neglect one element of this triangle, everything suffers. One of the great problems of our day is the prevalence of materialism.

When we connect with something higher than ourselves, we start to feel complete. Spirituality is not something you can neglect without consequences. So, when we start to deepen our spiritual lives, we feel more complete. There is less of a sense that something is missing, which is why many of us get addicted in the first place.

Spirituality connects us with higher truths and helps us see the value of kindness, service, and altruism. This takes the pressure off ourselves and helps us to put others first. Ultimately, we want to become the master of our ego and spend our time loving and serving others, instead of worrying and fretting over our own little problems.

Final Word

Meditation and addiction are similar in a way. They are both a response to emotional challenges, both alter brain function, and both help us to cope.

But in the end, they are polar opposites.

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a negative attempt to escape or suppress our emotions. Meditation is the courageous confrontation with the beasts that lurk in the subterraneous caverns of the mind.

The question is: are you prepared to face those beasts? The answer for most people is no. But I believe that you can do it. You can be the hero of your own story.

As old Sigmund was trying to tell us all those years ago:

You have to confront those beasts inside, because they are not going anywhere. They will not go away until you have confronted them.

So, the choice is yours.

Download the worksheets  at the bottom of this page if you want to take those first steps towards freedom.


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