You may have heard the word “mindfulness” enough times to the point that you’re not sure if it really means anything, and it’s true that the concept has been overused in recent years. But here, we’re going to be talking about the concept of mindfulness in the context of a strategy for long-term sobriety and how this tactic, called Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention or MBRP — you may also hear “mindful RP” — has some potential for those undergoing treatment and in recovery.
At FHE Health, we’re committed to continually learning more about the latest therapies and techniques used in recovery for the good of our patients. Keep reading to learn how mindful relapse prevention strategies could be the key to successful treatment and recovery.
Adopting a More Present Mindset
Before we get into what MBRP is, we’ll talk a little about what mindfulness is in general and its prior application into the behavioral health treatment industry.
Mindfulness means to be present in everything you’re doing, fully aware of your thoughts and feelings and not overly reactive to the things that are happening around you. The concept of “mindful meditation” has become popular as a way to truly understand the intended outcomes of meditation. It should make you more in tune with every thought and feeling you have and, in turn, provide calm.
This concept has been applied in several clinical areas, notably one called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It combines the tenets of mindfulness — being completely present — with Cognitive Therapy (CT), a therapy that centers around the person in counseling understanding their thought processes and actions on a deeper level. The outcome of MCBT is to help people with psychological issues like depression, anxiety and panic disorders.
What Is MBRP?
Mindfulness-based relapse prevention is an evidence-based alternative to the status quo in recovery: namely, 12-step programs for relapse prevention. While 12-step programs are generally thought to have a place in the modern recovery process, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that mindful RP strategies were significantly more effective than conventional strategies.
MBRP breaks addiction and recovery into the two largest (by far) predictors for relapse: negative thoughts and cravings.
Being Mindful of Negative Thoughts
Addiction is commonly associated with negative thoughts, self-deprecating behavior and low self-esteem. This is part of the reason why mental health and addiction are inexorably linked. One FHE Health alumni coined the phrase “the drinking and depression roller coaster.”
Even for people who are sober long-term, negative feelings can catch you off guard. And then, when hopelessness or escapism sinks in, many addicts are driven by these feelings to start using again.
MBRP teaches addicts to be more aware of these feelings and, instead of trying to escape, allow themselves to fully experience the feelings so that they can understand how they’re brought on and how they manifest. Once a person is fully present and aware of the negative thoughts’ paths to their psyche, they can develop strategies to overcome them.
A common exercise used in MBRP is to acknowledge common thoughts by writing them down. This turns abstract feelings into tangible sentences and reframes the battle against these negative emotions.t
Being Mindful of the Effect of Cravings
Many people think that resisting cravings is purely a function of willpower: i.e. if you can force yourself to resist, then you’re a strong-willed individual. In reality, this represents the same misunderstanding that led to addiction being stigmatized in society for so long.
Cravings are something that we can’t control, but if we’re mindful of their presence, we can more easily resist their effects on the brain. Cravings can effectively rewire the risk-reward system in the brain by lowering inhibitions, making us impulsive. A mindful way to approach this effect is to be fully aware of it and understand the consequences that result from impulsive behavior.
The Dialect of Mindful RP
There are several terms that you’re likely to hear if you step into a community where MBRP — or mindfulness in general — are being practiced.
In recovery, cravings and urges for any addictive substance or behavior tend to come in waves, but most addicts do their best to suppress these waves. In circles that have embraced mindfulness for recovery or just as a healthier lifestyle, they refer to “urge surfing” as the practice of working with the cravings instead of fighting them, like a surfer with a wave.
Basically, this means the same as we discussed when framing cravings in a mindful way. Instead of denying cravings, mindful RP promotes the act of confronting and becoming in tune with those cravings and leveraging this awareness to resist them.
Like most mindful practices, MBRP programs often involve meditation. The belief is that being still and focusing on your breathing fosters an environment for self-understanding.
Practicing MBRP on a Daily Basis
One of the biggest advantages of a system like mindful relapse prevention is that it doesn’t need to be done with a group, and in fact, it’s thought to be more effective when done alone.
There is such a thing as guided meditation and more often, true MBRP takes place in a clinical setting, where patients learn mindful RP strategies and techniques before continuing to use them on their own.
The Bottom Line: Does MBRP Work?
Addiction is extremely complex and so is recovery from addiction. Different things work for different people. With that in mind, we’ll return to the JAMA study mentioned above. In this trial, a statistically significant decrease in relapse occurred in the group using MBRP in recovery versus the group using conventional strategies: the 12 steps, in this case. In the relapses that did occur in the MBRP group, usage was not as heavy as those in the control group who experienced relapse.
There are two important things to remember here:
- Relapse is unavoidable in chronic conditions like addiction, diabetes and asthma.
- 12-step groups can still provide addicts with the community, structure and accountability they need to succeed in recovery.
With these things in mind, MBRP is undoubtedly an option to reach certain people in recovery and give them the chance they need to be successful. To learn more about cutting-edge treatment methods and therapies, contact FHE Health today.