Moment-by-Moment Recovery: Integrating Mindfulness-Based Intervention into Addiction Treatment

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of legal or illegal drugs or medication. It typically begins with recreational or medicinal use that develops into harmful use and addiction. People living with substance use disorder may develop serious health issues. They may exhibit changes in behavior, and have problems at work, school, or home. Left untreated, drug addiction can have a devastating effect on a person’s life. Luckily, therapeutic treatments exist and can be successful in helping those living with substance use disorder.

Completing a treatment plan is a critical component of recovery. It’s an essential step that helps provide a person living with substance use disorder with tools that they can use to prevent relapse. However, although therapeutic treatments provide promising results, about half of individuals who enter treatment leave early and relapse to substance use within one year. Females in SUD residential treatment are a particularly vulnerable group, and are more likely to be homeless, on probation, and to have long histories of drug use. Females report significantly higher rates of trauma in the form of physical (70% vs. 32%) and sexual (54% vs. 15%) abuse than males. Black and Hispanic populations, in contrast to non-Hispanic White populations, are also less likely to complete SUD treatment. These statistics draw attention to the need for testing intervention approaches that could improve SUD treatment completion among people from diverse backgrounds.

These statistics are also relevant to the teenage population: while the data in these studies address adult women, it’s also important to consider the implications of these findings for adolescent females.

SUD and Teenage Girls

Because teenage girls often face unique stress factors, teaching them to cope with those stressors can be a critical component to resisting relapse. The link between stress and addiction is widely recognized. Stress increases the likelihood of alcohol and drug use and can push people to relapse even after successful treatment. Treatments for drug addiction include typically include counseling, medication, behavioral intervention, or all three. Research shows that combining medication – when needed – with counseling gives most people the best chance of success. Studies also show that incorporating stress management techniques into treatment can be beneficial. The goal is to assist people living with substance use disorders to replace substance use with healthy coping skills when facing stress or difficult situations.

Mindfulness as a Therapeutic Approach

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), which are a family of interventions that include mindfulness as their central therapeutic practice, offer one approach to support women receiving SUD treatment.

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Mindfulness meditations (MMs) are mind-body practices promoting mindfulness as a state of consciousness attending to one’s moment-to-moment experience. Incorporating mindfulness-based approaches is a growing practice that enables people in recovery to cope with the stresses in their lives. These therapeutic approaches teach people to observe – with an open, curious, and non-judgmental mind – how stress plays out, moment by moment, in the body, thoughts, and emotions. By refining self-awareness at these three levels, mindfulness teaches a healthy way of working with the urges, cravings, and triggers that lead to relapse.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness training produces real changes in the body. Numerous studies have shown the usefulness of mindfulness practices in coping with many stress-related health conditions. Psychological benefits include:

  • Decrease in negative emotions
  • Greater sense of well-being and self-esteem
  • Improved memory and cognitive ability
  • Reduction in anxiety and panic attacks
  • Increased discipline and concentration

Among the physical benefits are:

  • Functional improvements in the brain
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relief of lower back pain
  • Decrease in the duration and frequency of migraines
  • Improved immune system function
  • Improved sleep

Together, these improvements allow people to better cope with stress in healthy, productive ways. This helps reduce urges and cravings for harmful substances.

Moment-by-Moment in Women’s Recovery: Implications for Adolescent Females in Recovery

Using mindfulness-based interventions as an add-on to the treatment of substance use disorders is based on the rationale that cultivating mindfulness supports recovery by weakening the substance use cycle that leads to relapse, which is often spurred by emotional states and patterns. Moment-by-Moment in Women’s Recovery (MMWR) is a MBI focused on SUD treatment retention and relapse prevention for vulnerable women from diverse backgrounds and complex social histories.

MMWR is unique for women because it focuses on the specific needs of women in residential treatment. It addresses parenting roles, trauma exposure, and other situations that put them at risk for treatment dropout. A program that includes MMWR directly addresses specific aspects of residential treatment that may be stressful and lead to dropping out of treatment or relapsing.

Adapting MMWR for the adolescent female population is an important next step. Therapists around the country can help teenage girls in residential treatment address their specific needs. Many of these needs overlap with the needs of adult women. In many cases, the techniques used for adults may transfer directly to teenage girls. Therapists and teens can collaborate to learn which techniques offer the most support, and most importantly, which techniques help teenage girls in residential treatment for substance use disorder complete their treatment plan, which is an essential first step in long-term, sustained recovery.

Expanding Mindfulness Research and Practice

Studies testing the efficacy of mindfulness-based approaches with substance use disorders remain largely limited to non-Hispanic White or male populations. Only in the past few years has research focused on and tracked the success of applying the technique to racially diverse, women-only groups, but studies are beginning to show that MMWR helps women better manage the challenges posed by intensive residential treatment and supports SUD treatment retention and satisfactory progress made while at a treatment center. Continuing studies on the long-term success of MMWR approaches are necessary. They’ll provide more information about adapting these programs to improve treatment success among vulnerable women in SUD residential treatment.

Keeping teenage girls in treatment programs is a critical step to recovery. Helping them develop skills to cope with stressors that may lead to relapse is also as important. Mindfulness-based interventions offer a valuable addition to traditional treatment programs that focus on medication and counseling. Teaching teenage girls in residential treatment for addiction and substance use disorders to acknowledge, accept, and work through negative and stressful emotions builds a toolbox of skills to help navigate the challenges of sobriety, abstinence, and long-term recovery.

Ready to Get Help for Your Child?

Evolve offers CARF and Joint Commission accredited treatment for teens with mental health disorders and/or substance abuse. Your child will receive the highest caliber of care in our comfortable, home-like residential treatment centers. We offer a full continuum of care, including residential, partial hospitalization/day (PHP), and intensive outpatient treatment (IOP).
To speak with our admissions coordinators, call: (800) 665-4769