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.
How Addiction Takes Over the Brain’s Reward Systems
Addictive 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.
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
With 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
Spiritual 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
Conclusions: 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)
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.
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.
Meditation 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:
Better coping skills
Quicker recovery of brain functions
Improved physiological functions
Decrease in symptoms of depression
Reduction in anxiety symptoms
Anxiety Relief in Addiction Recovery
Meditation 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:
Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Licensed, Experienced, Professional Staff
The 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
At 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.