How Addiction Hijacks the Brain – Mindfulness Restores Sobriety

| Addiction Takes Over Brain Reward Centers
Mindfulness Meditation Helps Restore Sobriety

Addictive substances totally overwhelm the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
Mindfulness meditation helps return the brain to normal functioning and restore sobriety.

The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction — or has tried to help someone else to do so — understands this description.

Mindfulness Meditation in Addiction Recovery

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Addiction Recovery Experiencing SpiritualityMindfulness in addiction treatment is more than just a good idea. As more individuals and corporations are beginning to practice mindfulness meditation – the question of meditation effectiveness is important.

A Harvard study on mindfulness completed in 2011, Eight Weeks to a Better Brain, is now getting a second look.

‘Mindfulness meditation … appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress’.

Recent research and studies prove the value of mindfulness in brain function. Mindfulness meditation has also been proven to reduce pain. At Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, we also treat underlying chronic pain in our addiction recovery clients.

Mindfulness Training is a critical element at Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, rehab for men. Mindfulness not only decreases anxiety and increases positive thoughts and personal interactions. Mindfulness practice assists in re-training the brain for sobriety and helps prevent relapse.

How Addiction Takes Over the Brain’s Reward Systems

brain's-reward-center-harvard-health-publications, How addiction hijacks the brainAddictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine.

The addiction mechanism is important to understand. The brain responds to an unnatural and overwhelming amount of dopamine released during drug use by closing off existing dopamine receptors. The result for the drug user is that over time it becomes more and more difficult to get enough dopamine – and to feel pleasure. This leads to more use of the drug and deeper addiction.

The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli. Stressors or something associated with substance use can trip the mental machinery of relapse.

Addiction rehab – including mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma-informed addiction treatment and more – can interrupt this habitual behavior.

Dopamine and the ‘Reward Pathway’

Mesolimbic Pathway

When most people talk about dopamine – particularly when they talk about motivation, addiction, attention, or lust – they are talking about the dopamine pathway known as the mesolimbic pathway. This starts with cells in the ventral tegmental area. These cells are buried deep in the middle of the brain and send their projections out to places like the nucleus accumbens and the cortex.

Abstinence from addictive substances or activities can lead to a reversal of many physical changes that occurred during addiction. We used to think that the brain, once damaged, could not repair itself. Breakthroughs in neuroscience have shown that this is not true. Individual neurons might be damaged beyond repair – but the brain attempts to heal itself when damaged by making new connections or new neural pathways as work-arounds for the damage. This is called neuroplasticity,  neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability).

Dopamine and Addiction

Dopamine release increases in the nucleus accumbens occur in response to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Dopamine signaling in this area is changed during the course of drug addiction.  All abused drugs, from alcohol to cocaine to heroin, increase dopamine in this area in one way or another, and many people like to describe a spike in dopamine as “motivation” or “pleasure.”

Addictive Cycle in the Brain

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Recovery Tips for Good SleepWith drug and alcohol use, the number of dopamine receptors in the brain decrease as usage continues. In addition, the number of dopamine transporters are increased; more quickly supplying dopamine to the existing receptors. These changes make the brain less responsive to the drug over time, creating an addictive cycle.

In addiction, the brain becomes trained to do a particular addictive behavior to the exclusion of all else.  In addiction treatment, the brain can be retrained. Individuals can create new brain pathways that support recovery. Combination therapies (medications plus psychotherapy) help the recovery process by managing the physiological effects of addiction and withdrawal. Cognitive-behavioral treatments work to mend and repair the psychological impact of addiction.

 Mindfulness and Prayer Antidepressant Effects

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Impaired C-level Executives Treatment ProgramSpiritual practices can have considerable antidepressant effects due to the associated increase in serotonin and dopamine. Additional factors like increased levels of melatonin and AVP contribute to the antidepressant effects. There is an observed increase of β-endorphin as also NMDAr antagonism during meditation, both of which have antidepressant effects. The decreased level of CRH and cortisol also plays an important role in allaying depression. Thus, via multiple neurochemical changes, spiritual practices can counteract depression [Table 2 and Table 3] (Newberg and Iversen, 2003).

The data also provides structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice implying that meditation practices promote neuroplasticity (Lazar et al., 2005).

Six-Month Changes in Spirituality, Religiousness, and Heavy Drinking in a Treatment-Seeking Sample

Arrowhead-Lodge-Recovery-Mens-Rehab-Exercise-for-RecoveryConclusions: In the first 6 months of recovery, many dimensions of spirituality / religiousness increased, particularly those associated with behaviors and experiences. Values, beliefs, self-assessed religiousness, perceptions of God, and the use of negative religious coping did not change. Increases in day-to-day experiences of spirituality and sense of purpose/meaning in life were associated with absence of heavy drinking at 6 months, regardless of gender and AA involvement. The results of this descriptive study support the perspective of many clinicians and recovering individuals that changes in alcoholics’ spirituality and/or religiousness occur in recovery; and that such changes are important to sobriety.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68(2), 282–290 (2007)

Healing Addiction – Change Your Brain Structure

University of Wisconsin-Madison Buddha's Brain study
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers ready a Buddhist monk for an fMRI scan during their Buddha’s Brain project. Image from

You can change the brain’s structure and functioning. Neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson’s groundbreaking research study on Tibetan Buddhist monks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found that consistent meditative practice can dramatically increase neuroplasticity. 

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to use new experiences or environments to create structural changes. For example, it can help reorganizing itself by creating new neural connections. This is exciting news for recovering addicts whose brains have been hijacked by addiction.

“The findings from studies in this unusual sample… suggest that, over the course of meditating, the long-term practitioners had actually altered the structure and function of their brains,” Davidson said regarding his study”>’Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation’.

Addiction Recovery Meditation at Arrowhead Lodge Recovery

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Men's Rehab, Recovery MeditationAt Arrowhead Lodge Recovery (rehab for men in Prescott, AZ) mindfulness and meditation are incorporated into our addiction recovery treatment.

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery clients learn how to meditate in a style that works for each individual. Meditation brings a deep sense of calm and serenity. Meditation has been used as an effective tool in our addiction recovery programs for years.

Now, there is objective proof to support what people who practice meditation have believed all along.

Recent research and studies prove the value of mindfulness and meditation in brain function. Mindfulness produces measurable stress reduction and improved addiction recovery outcomes with fewer relapses.

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Rehab for Men, Boomer Addiction RecoveryMeditation Produces Tangible Brain Changes – and Changes Lives for the Better

We have found that men, especially boomer men (ages 45+), benefit enormously from meditation.

Men in this age group were taught to ‘stuff’ or suppress most emotions. Emotional awareness was considered to be a ‘sissy’ activity. As a result, boomer men experience higher rates of stress-related illness, including addiction.

Meditation and Mindfulness training starts with breathing exercises and builds from there. Meditation can done be in a group or solo. It may include music and movement, or not; and is practiced indoors and outdoors.

Some of the benefits of meditation include:

  • Awareness
  • Relapse prevention
  • Better coping skills
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Quicker recovery of brain functions
  • Improved sleep
  • Tranquility
  • Improved physiological functions
  • Better concentration
  • Decrease in symptoms of depression
  • Reduction in anxiety symptoms

Anxiety Relief in Addiction Recovery

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Prescott AZMeditation also gives relief from the anxiety that plagues addiction recovery. When mindfulness meditation is incorporated into everyday activities, it provides a lasting and effective solution for life stresses.

The 11th step of twelve step programs specifically refers to “prayer and meditation” as a way to improve one’s awareness of the Divine (or unique personal spiritual experience). The benefits are many for only 5 minutes or more of mindfulness practice each day.

Rehab for Men – Treating Core Issues in Addiction Recovery

At Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, we help our clients to get clean and stay that way. We do this by treating the underlying factors in their lives that would makes sobriety more difficult.

When a person is suffering from physical issues like chronic pain, depression, or another co-occurring disorder – their ability to achieve and maintain sobriety is compromised.

We don’t simply treat alcoholics and addicts. We treat the whole person, including:

Individual and Group Counseling
Addiction Treatment Program
Co-occurring Disorders Treatment
Psycho-Educational Groups
Impaired Professionals Addiction Recovery
Trauma Therapy Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation in Addiction Recovery
12 Step Coaching Family Recovery Program
Nutritional Counseling & Education

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Licensed, Experienced, Professional Staff

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Mens Rehab, Group Therapy, Prescott AZThe Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Staff includes a wide range of experienced, licensed professionals who provide unique and specific counseling and treatment to each client.

Our recovery program includes individual and group counseling and assistance to rekindle and regain personal power and purpose. Limited to less than 10 participants, each client receives individual counseling and support from licensed medical, addiction and mental health professionals. We also treat underlying chronic pain.

We assist men in finding their spiritual core

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Rehab for Men, Prescott, AZAt our mountain retreat facility near Prescott, Arizona – men find and strengthen inner peace, and experience tranquility. Men can also begin to discover their unique and authentic personal spiritual experience.

We Help Men to Survive and Thrive in Daily Life, Once They Leave Our Facility

We are not just training our clients how to be sober in a rehab environment. We give men the tools to survive and thrive in daily life once they leave Arrowhead Lodge Recovery.

As a result, our clients report happier and healthier lives after they leave our facility, with fewer relapses.


For a confidential conversation to discuss your situation, please call now at 888-654-3500.


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Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment
New Study Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Pain
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