Addiction recovery is a complex process, often involving multiple stages of rehabilitation. While there is an abundance of highly effective treatments for substance abuse, the unfortunate reality is that 40% to 60% of people who complete rehab will relapse. Full recovery from addiction is of course possible; however, individuals may find that they need to return to treatment one or more times.

One newer treatment that is showing a lot of promise for addiction treatment and reducing relapse is mindfulness therapy. Mindfulness has its roots in Eastern traditions of meditation and is based on practices of focus, awareness, and staying in the present moment. As a therapy for addiction, it is proving to be a very effective way of helping clients become more aware of their thoughts and emotions and how to regulate them.

This article provides information about what mindfulness is, what types of therapies there are, and how they can help treat addiction.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a state of awareness that consists of being consciously aware of the present moment. Somewhat ironically, mindfulness is about letting go of active thoughts (or being mind-y) and achieving a state of awareness that is fully in the here and now.

To truly understand mindfulness, it takes practice. In principle, mindfulness involves discipline and focus to stay in the present moment and not let your mind run off in a million directions. The goal of this practice is to learn how to moderate your responses to the outside world. Rather than simply reacting to everything that happens around you, mindfulness allows you to become less attached and more able to shift your thoughts to positive states.

Mindfulness practices are also about bringing awareness into your body and your surroundings so that you are less occupied by the mind. Therefore, along with meditation, some mindfulness exercises might encourage you to focus on a part of your body (or internally scan the body) and allow yourself to just feel what’s going on.

How Mindfulness Is Used in Therapy

While mindfulness has its roots in Eastern meditative practices, it has recently become popular as a form of certain cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT) such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT).

During these sessions, participants may be asked to be aware of their environments, their thoughts, and their feelings while accepting them in a non-judgmental way. When practiced regularly, mindfulness can help clients achieve a greater sense of calmness and overall well-being.

While teaching mindfulness (and practicing it) can be challenging, it can also be highly rewarding in terms of teaching clients how to accept themselves and their experiences in a less critical way. The goal of mindfulness is to be able to practice it in your daily life, which is why it has become a popular technique for treating mental health and addiction.

What Does Mindfulness Involve?

Mindfulness, in general, is about awareness, focus, discipline, and acceptance. In mindfulness therapy sessions, clients also learn a range of skills such as:

  • Observation: being able to pay close attention to what is going on inside you and around you.
  • Description: being able to describe how you feel in words.
  • Participation: learning to become involved in an activity without being self-conscious.
  • Non-Judgment: learning to accept things as they are without judgment.
  • Singular focus: being able to focus on one thing without distraction.
  • Effectiveness: sticking with what works rather than second-guessing yourself or the process.

Mindfulness and meditation also teach clients how to recognize when they are running on “auto-pilot.” This includes acting without thinking or allowing your brain to run wild with dysfunctional thoughts. Mindfulness can help narrow the focus down and encourage an attitude of loving-kindness towards yourself and others.

Types of Mindfulness Therapies

While mindfulness on its own often refers to meditation, there are different types of mindfulness therapies when it comes to mental health.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy — also known as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) — teaches clients how to develop an awareness of their bodies, minds, and emotions. This includes learning how to tune in to the body and mind while experiencing particular moods. This is especially useful for individuals who have mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. By learning how to practice mindfulness during their day-to-day activities, clients learn how to understand their mood shifts and develop strategies for managing them.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) often pairs well with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as the principles of these treatments often overlap. Developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan in the 1980s, DBT was originally used to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) and patients who had suicidal thoughts.

The term “dialectical” means the search for a resolution between contradictions or two conflicting opinions. In therapy, DBT requires that the therapist develop non-judgmental acceptance of the client while the patient is expected to develop a non-judgmental acceptance of emotions. DBT is usually performed in groups (with limited individual sessions) which helps both therapist and client to identify and set limits around unhealthy behaviors.

DBT also focuses on mindfulness, how to cope with stress, and how to develop healthy coping skills. This kind of therapy is useful for people who have mental health conditions like anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and for people with self-destructive behaviors.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was developed by Dr. Kabat-Zinn in the early 1980s. Following his own experiences of learning mindfulness techniques, Dr. Kabat-Zinn originally developed MBSR to help hospitalized patients reduce anxiety and blood pressure. MBSR has since evolved and can be found in all kinds of settings ranging from corporate offices to classrooms.

Most modern MBSR programs are delivered as 8-week workshops, with clients attending weekly for 2.5-hour sessions. These workshops focus on the “acquisition of mindful awareness,” and these are delivered by trained therapists who teach participants techniques such as mindfulness meditation, basic yoga postures, and how to connect with bodily sensations.

Like most mindfulness techniques, MBSR programs are designed to teach people how to integrate these practices into daily life. Studies of MBSR show that it can reduce cravings by regulating the cognitive and affective processes involved with self-regulation and reward when it comes to addiction.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that encourages clients to accept their emotions and behaviors rather than fight with them. The aim of this treatment is to combine mindfulness skills with the practice of self-acceptance. This helps patients learn how to let go and come to terms with their feelings.

During a session, ACT therapists help patients accept and understand their behaviors while working on building new skills for long-term change. To achieve this, patients are guided through six core ACT processes:

  • Acceptance: a method of allowing rather than resisting.
  • Cognitive Defusion: learning how to separate from thoughts and feelings.
  • Being Present: a mindfulness practice of being in the present moment without judgment.
  • Self as Context: the idea that a person is not just the sum of their experiences.
  • Values: working towards living life according to our values.
  • Committed Action: deciding to commit to actions that align with one’s values.

Mindfulness Meditation Therapy

Mindfulness meditation therapy involves the traditional practice of meditation. This can be done in a variety of positions but is traditionally done in a crossed-legged posture (or lotus pose), accompanied by deep breathing.

While meditation can be challenging at first, it provides numerous benefits, especially because it changes key areas of the brain. Research has shown how this practice can help with all kinds of physical and mental health issues. This includes:

  • Reduced depression and anxiety (including social anxiety)
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased concentration
  • Improved mood
  • Reduced PTSD and ADHD symptoms
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved attention
  • Reduced brain activity
  • Emotional stability
  • Increased focus
  • Increased academic performance
  • Decreased insomnia
  • Reduced Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)
  • Increased strength
  • Increased flexibility
  • Reduced risk of relapse

The primary aim of mindfulness meditation therapy is to increase focus, concentration, and awareness. Within this practice, there are also several types of meditation that can be used. This includes:

  • Zen meditation: this type of meditation reinforces attention to the present moment and encourages participants to clear thoughts about the past or future.
  • Guided meditation: this type of meditation is useful for beginners and often consists of encouraging participants to visualize peaceful mental images while someone guides the session.
  • Transcendental meditation: this type of meditation involves silent mantras while encouraging ease and effortlessness to achieve calmness and peace.

How Mindfulness Therapy Can Help Addiction

When it comes to addiction, mindfulness therapies are particularly effective at helping individuals gain control of their “mental chatter” and anxieties. While the causes of addiction are complex, many people who turn to drugs and alcohol are using these substances to mask troublesome thoughts and difficult emotions. Therefore, mindfulness therapies can be highly beneficial.

Mindfulness therapies are also effective because substance abuse often involves a lack of mindfulness. People with addictions often act without thinking and consume substances in excess without conscious awareness of how they’re feeling and what the consequences of their actions might be. Mindfulness therapies can thus help individuals stop living on “auto-pilot” as they learn to develop an understanding of their motivations, thoughts, and emotions and how to refocus them.

Another benefit of mindfulness therapies for addiction is that they allow a person to slow down, rather than rushing from one activity or thought to the next. These therapies also provide space for a person to begin noticing other sensory experiences in life that exist outside their addictive behaviors.

While meditation and mindfulness therapies are not often used as standalone therapy for addiction, they can be highly effective when combined with other treatments. Once a person has detoxed and is addressing the root causes of their addictions, mindfulness therapies can be an excellent tool for guiding that healing process long into the future.


If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Key Sources

Garland, E., and Howard, M. (2018). Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. 13(14).

Hartney, E. (2021). Mindfulness Therapy as an Addiction Treatment. verywellmind.

Newman, K. (2020). In Addiction Recovery, a Matter of the Mind. U.S. News.

Medical Disclaimer

At, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

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