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  • Writer's pictureChristine Angelica

Breaking Free: The Mindful Approach to Overcoming Cravings and Addictions

With Mindfulness we have the choice of responding with compassion to the pain of craving, anger, fear, and confusion. - Noah Levine

Cravings and addictions can feel like powerful forces pulling us toward behaviors we know are not the best for us. Whether it’s reaching for that extra slice of cake, lighting up a cigarette, or mindlessly scrolling through social media, we’ve all experienced these urges.

But what if there was a way to break free from these patterns?

Dr. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist and mindfulness researcher, has uncovered a simple yet profound method to tackle cravings and addictions head-on, which I first learned about from his 2015 TED Talk, A simple way to break a bad habit.

Use mindfulness to beat cravings and addictions
Beat cravings and addictions with mindfulness

The Mechanism of Habit Development

Before we look at Dr. Brewer’s approach, let’s look at how we form habits: Our brains are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, as you probably know. When we engage in a behavior that brings us pleasure (like eating chocolate), our brain associates it with a reward. Over time, this creates a habit loop: trigger, behavior, reward.

For example:

  1. Trigger: Stress or boredom hits.

  2. Behavior: We reach for that comforting snack.

  3. Reward: Our brain releases dopamine, making us feel good.

The problem arises when these habits become harmful, leading to addictions.

So, how can mindfulness help us break free?

The Mindfulness Solution

Dr. Brewer’s method revolves around mindfulness, which teaches us to be fully present and nonjudgmentally aware of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

Here are the steps to using mindfulness to break free of cravings and addictive behaviors:

1. Recognize  (R)

  • Recognize the craving or addictive urge when it arises. Instead of reacting automatically, pause and acknowledge it. What does it feel like in your body? What triggered it?

2. Accept (A)

  • Accept that cravings are normal. We all experience them. Rather than fighting or suppressing them, allow them to be there without judgment. This acceptance reduces their power.

3. Investigate (I)

  • Investigate the craving mindfully. Dig deeper. Scan your body or memory bank to discover what’s driving the urge today. Is it physical hunger, emotional distress, or a habitual response? Curiosity is key here.

4. Note (N)

  • Note the experience. Observe without getting caught up in it. You might say, “Ah, there’s that craving again.” This simple acknowledgment helps weaken the habit loop.

  • Make a different choice. With mindfulness, you can talk yourself through the best choice you can make today. You can say to yourself, "I really want the cookie, but I know it's going to bloat my stomach or make me feel worse than I do now? What treat can I eat that I'll definitely enjoy, but it won't leave me feeling bad?"

Science-Backed Evidence

Dr. Brewer’s research shows that mindfulness training can rewire our brains. By paying attention to cravings instead of acting on them, we create new neural pathways.

Here’s what the studies reveal:

  1. Smoking Cessation: Mindfulness-based interventions have helped smokers quit by increasing awareness of cravings and reducing automatic responses.

  2. Substance Abuse: Mindfulness can treat various substance use disorders, including alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and opioids.

  3. Mindful Relapse Prevention: Combining mindfulness with cognitive-behavioral skills helps maintain sobriety.

Next time you feel that irresistible urge, remember Dr. Brewer's RAIN method. Be curious, accept, investigate, and note.

By practicing mindfulness, we can break free from the chains of addiction and reclaim our lives.

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