Meditation may not be the first treatment tool that comes to mind when we think of substance abuse recovery, but the Evolution Group, an Albuquerque-based counseling and support center for addiction and mental illness, is working to change that. In their programming, the Evolution Group uses meditation as a technique to address the underlying personal challenges that can lead to addiction.
Research has shown that one of the main commonalities found among people with drug or alcohol problems is an unwillingness to experience difficult or unpleasant thoughts and emotions. Many attempt to cope with the difficult and unpleasant feelings by using substances, and a growing number of organizations—like the Evolution Group—are teaching meditation for addiction as a healthier alternative. Meditation teaches people how to sit with difficult and uncomfortable sensations and feelings, and eventually to detach from them.
In 2012, the Mindful Center began offering a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for repeat offenders arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI). MBSR, created in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is a style of group meditation originally developed to help people cope with chronic pain and mental illness, but has since been found to be useful for addiction treatment as well. The Evolution Group’s program includes group and individual therapy as well as MBSR meditation sessions led by Michelle DuVal, an experienced mindfulness instructor and director of The Mindful Center, also located in Albuquerque.
Compassion-based programs like the Evolution Group’s MBSR program are commonly referred to as treatment courts. There is strong evidence to suggest that because they treat addiction as a mental illness rather than a moral failing, a treatment court is a more successful intervention strategy than incarceration. Treatment courts offer a holistic approach that includes education, financial planning and assistance, family reunification, and meditation, giving participants the tools they need to achieve long-term recovery from addiction.
DuVal says although some participants initially exhibit strong resistance to the idea of meditation for addiction, by the end of the MBSR program, group members often experience powerful personal transformations that they attribute to the coping mechanisms, self-regulation tools, and self-awareness meditation has taught them.
The Evolution Group’s MBSR program is part of a growing body of programs and organizations that integrate meditation and yoga into their treatment plans:
- The Prison Mindfulness Institute: An organization that works with inmates, their families, and prison staff to integrate mindfulness based tools into their interactions with others. The Institute also offers a variety of trainings, yoga classes, and literary programs.
- Mindful Schools: Originating in a classroom in Oakland, California, this organization has now expanded to provide mindfulness training for thousands of parents, teachers, and professionals who work with youth in a variety of capacities.
- Light a Path: Based in Asheville, North Carolina, this volunteer driven program works with local schools, addiction recovery centers, and area prisons to bring meditation, yoga, and other therapeutic services to those at risk or in need.