7 July 2023
We live in a time of instant gratification and quick boredom. We reach for our phones whenever we get a spare moment, whether we’re standing in a slow-moving queue or waiting for the kettle to boil. This behaviour is driven by subconscious impulses - a hard-wired need to move ourselves away from pain and towards pleasure. It’s this same drive that pushes people towards taking drugs and other habits such as drinking or smoking. Eventually, these practices become habits, which is what leads people to become “hooked”.
Users take drugs for an instant gratification. Often, when people seek drugs, they’re not thinking about the past or the future. They’re consumed by the here-and-now. Mindfulness is a self-control technique that has its foundations in taking control of the present moment. So the question is whether mindfulness can be used as an intervention to quell the impulse to take drugs.
Mindfulness trains people to focus on the present, to recognise and understand their feelings and learn to take control of them. The techniques and tricks that make up the practice of mindfulness centre around psychology. In fact, studies of people who practise mindfulness show that the process leads to physical changes to the brain, notably in the areas of the amygdala and cerebral cortex - places that control how we handle stress, emotions, anxiety, focus and depression.
There’s a growing idea that mindfulness can be used as a long-term solution to helping people with drug addiction, by equipping them with the techniques to resist the drives for instant gratification and consider their impulses from a meta-perspective.
The stresses and anxieties that come with being a teenager might lead to drugs being seen as an escape. Mindfulness can help teenagers to almost “catch” themselves before taking drugs. With the clear head that mindfulness provides, they can consider the ramifications of taking drugs and also better handle the peer pressure of the situations that might lead to them trying drugs.
Practising mindfulness from an early age has also shown to make people grow up more secure and grounded, able to deal with their anxieties and stresses themselves, without turning to external releases. With this in mind, it could be that children who practise mindfulness don’t turn to drugs later in life, as some of the driving forces that lead to choosing to take drugs have been taken away. It also offers an alternative to the tranquillity that is so often the allure of drugs to those who take them.
Traditional methods of treating substance addiction centre around identifying “triggers” - the reasons that lead people to reach out for drugs. The practice of mindfulness teaches people to remove distraction and centre their thoughts on what’s happening. They can then consider what they’re feeling, and why, and recognise that they have the freedom to choose differently when their feelings and urges take over. It takes practice and instruction from coaches, but studies have shown that mindfulness is a powerful tool for overcoming addiction in this way.
It’s important that you seek professional help from a doctor, mental health professional or substance abuse specialist if your child is showing signs of a mental health disorder or drug addiction. Mindfulness is a useful tool but it is not a replacement for conventional medicine or psychiatry.