Meditation and especially mindfulness exercises are often used to treat issues like depression and anxiety, but studies show that it can also be helpful in reducing alcohol consumption. Mindfulness helps improve focus and reduce distracted, anxious thoughts. People often find that a regular meditation practice can cause a number of positive changes and now it may be used to help people struggling with addiction.
Mindfulness is the practice of taking time out of the day to focus intensely and keep your attention on your breath. Paying attention to your breath either by counting breaths or feeling the sensation of breathing in your stomach or nostrils helps tune out distracted thoughts. When thoughts creep back in you simply notice them and return to your breath.
This type of mindfulness practice can help ease anxiety because our thoughts are often what fuel our emotions. Constant worried thoughts or being unaware of your body can cause you to tense up and build anxiety. Feeling and experiencing your breath helps you focus and relax so that you minimize tension.
Changing Drinking Patterns through Mindfulness
People typically drink alcohol for its mood-altering properties. Alcohol makes it easier to connect with people, relax and enjoy the present moment. For problem drinkers however, alcohol becomes something they rely on to alleviate their anxiety and they use it as a form of self-medication for greater underlying problems.
Heavy drinkers often consume a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time and drink habitually rather than being fully conscious of their behavior. Practicing mindfulness will not only reduce some of the anxiety that drives them to drink, it can also make them more aware of their habits instead of being on autopilot all the time. Problem drinkers may not even keep track or remember how many drinks they have had until they have reached a point of excess.
A practice of mindfulness can extend into your daily life and make you more aware of your actions. It can make people more conscious of their habits and less likely to engage in impulsive behaviors. For problem drinkers, mindfulness can have a positive impact on their drinking patterns.
Study of Alcohol and Mindfulness
One study took 68 heavy drinkers and provided mindfulness training to half of them while the other half were taught relaxation techniques. Those who received mindfulness training did not know what the training was called but were simply taught to pay more attention to sensations instead of pushing them away. Those with relaxation training were taught to calm the mind and body and avoid tensing their muscles.
Every drinker in the study was taught to employ whichever technique they were taught whenever they experienced a craving to drink. After a week, those that used mindfulness techniques drank 9.3 fewer units of alcohol than the week before the experiment. Those that used relaxation techniques showed no significant difference in their drinking.
This short term study highlighted the immediate impact that mindfulness techniques can have on a person’s drinking habits. People looking to moderate or quit their alcohol consumption can benefit from using mindfulness.
Mindfulness practices works to reduce alcohol cravings because it provides people an opportunity to break a habitual cycle. It helps people replace one habit with another so that instead of drinking in times of stress, they instead use mindfulness as a coping mechanism. Participants in the study were able to become more aware of cravings and stop themselves from automatically reaching for a drink.
Starting a Mindfulness Practice
For people with a physical dependency on alcohol, mindfulness may not be enough to end their addiction. However, for people who drink heavily and would like to cut back or those who are already in a treatment program, mindfulness can be a useful tool in fighting cravings. You do not necessarily need formal training to begin practicing mindfulness, it is something you can do at home on a regular basis to see positive results.
To practice mindfulness you can find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted and can set aside 10 or 15 minutes to sit. You can sit comfortably and focus on your natural breathing as it goes in and out. Anytime your mind wanders you gently bring it back to the breath.
The key to mindfulness is not judging yourself if your thoughts wander off or you find yourself distracted. The goal is to simply observe your thoughts and bring them back to your breath every time you notice them. The more you become aware of your thoughts the more you can build up your focus over time.
Mindfulness can be a helpful practice to incorporate into your daily routine whether you are trying to cut down on drinking, reduce anxiety or simply handle stress from work. It has both short term and long term benefits that can produce a lot of positive change with regular practice.