How to Use Meditation to Stop Drinking

meditation to stop drinking

Alcohol addiction is the world’s third-largest risk factor for disease and disability. Most people have a tough time quitting alcohol and dealing with withdrawal symptoms. Research suggests that meditation can help people stop heavy drinking and stay sober. Here, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about meditation for sobriety.

Meditation helps you quit drinking by reducing stress, which is a common trigger for addictions. It also forms new connections in the brain and helps you break free of destructive drinking habits. Practicing mindfulness makes you calm and stable, so you don’t have to depend on any external substance.

Read on to learn how alcohol addiction works, and how meditation can help you overcome it. We’ll also discuss a simple technique to help you get started and some tips for the best results.

Table of Contents

Understanding alcohol addiction

Alcohol use disorder is a brain condition in which you’re unable to stop drinking even though it’s hurting your health, job, or social life. It is one of the most common addictions in the US. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 15 million people in America are addicted to alcohol.

Alcohol addiction is so common because it’s very sneaky. It begins when occasional drinks become more and more frequent, to the point that you even start drinking daily. Usually, people don’t even notice that they’ve become slaves to their cravings until they decide to quit drinking. This denial stops them from taking advice from others.

The more you repeat an action, the deeper it gets established into your mind. If you drink every time you feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, you form a dangerous habit. Soon, drinking becomes your go-to activity to find an escape from life, even though it’s not very useful. Alcohol does provide temporary relief, but in the end, only leaves you feeling more down and depressed.

As you continue to drink, your brain becomes tolerant—or insensitive—to the effects of alcohol. You’ll need more of it than before to become intoxicated. This is because your brain chemicals adapt to the presence of alcohol. These long-term chemical changes are responsible for alcohol dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and agitation are common symptoms of withdrawal.

The solution lies in changing the patterns of your mind and establishing healthier habits. Meditation helps you recognize your triggers and change your behavior. It gradually works to form new neural pathways in the brain to override the old, destructive ones.

3 ways meditation helps you quit drinking

Meditation has various short-term and long-term benefits. Here, we’ll look at some that are especially helpful for addiction.

1. It reduces stress and anxiety

Many people turn to alcohol or other addictions to cope with stressful environments. We’ve seen how this results in a destructive habit where you reach for drinks to leave your problems behind, even if only for a while.

Meditation reduces stress so that you don’t have to rely on drinking to suppress it.(1) It helps you stop associating alcohol with stress relief. Meditation also reduces anxiety, which is a major withdrawal symptom when you try to quit drinking.(2)

Apart from that, regular meditation also reduces depression symptoms and increases positive emotions. This helps you avoid alcohol relapse. You don’t drink when you’re calm and centered; you do it when you’re constantly feeling low.(3)

2. It increases your self-control

Overcoming any addiction requires willpower and self-discipline. You must be able to say no to the compulsive urges until they die down. Self-regulation plays a crucial role in breaking destructive patterns and establishing healthier ones.

Meditation helps you build self-discipline and increase your self-control. Researchers found that meditators show better connectivity in brain areas linked with self-regulation. The more mental discipline you have, the more you’ll be able to deny those urges until they lose their strength.(4)

3. It develops mindfulness

Drinking turns into addiction when it becomes automatic. You keep drinking regularly and don’t even realize that you’re addicted. Meditation challenges this lack of thought. It trains you to notice and accept the truth of your situation. Realizing that you’re addicted to alcohol is the first step toward living a sober life.

As you continue to meditate, you’re also able to see how alcohol does more harm than good. Your triggers and stresses become clear, and you can grasp the entire mechanism of your addiction. This helps you take the necessary steps to rid yourself of harmful cravings.

All these things help you notice your habits and form healthier ways of dealing with stress. Regular meditation goes a long way in improving your mental health so that you don’t have to depend on any substance.

Scientific research on meditation and alcohol

Like the many benefits of meditation, its efficacy for addiction is also backed by science. Research shows that a single session of just 11 minutes of meditation can reduce alcohol consumption. In the study, researchers found that people who meditated had about three beers fewer than usual over the following week. Those who didn’t meditate showed no changes in their drinking habits.(5)

Meditation not only helps you quit drinking, but it also helps you stay sober. Scientists have found that regular meditation lowers the risk of relapsing to heavy drinking and substance use. A 6-month follow-up showed that addicts who meditated used substances less frequently.(6) Other forms of meditation, such as transcendental meditation, have also been proven to prevent alcohol abuse.(7)

How to get started with meditation

Learning to meditate is simple, but in the beginning, it’s hard to just sit down quietly. Breath meditation is a simple and popular way to practice mindfulness. For a more in-depth guide with tips, read the complete guide to mindfulness meditation. Here are the basic instructions for it:

  • Set a timer for 10-20 minutes. Use your phone or alarm clock.
  • Sit cross-legged on a mat or a cushion. Although sitting on the ground is ideal, you can also sit in a chair.
  • Rest your hands in your lap, one on top of the other, palms facing upward. Or intertwine your fingers and drop the hands in front of you.
  • Keep your head straight and spine erect. Sitting in this posture allows you to sit still for longer periods. To read detailed instructions for the posture with photos, read the beginner’s guide to meditation posture.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to settle in. After that, let the body breathe on its own and watch every inhalation and exhalation. You can notice the sensations at your nostrils or the rise and fall of your belly. Try not to control anything. Just be with every breath.
  • When your mind wanders—which it will—bring it back to your breath. It’ll happen a lot, so don’t get frustrated. Take it as a given that you’ll only be meditating around 10% of the time in the beginning.
  • Keep the body perfectly still. Try not to move during your session. You’ll have the urge to change your position or scratch, but you must do sit as unmoving as possible.

Although silent meditation offers the best results, you may also use meditation apps to learn the basics. Their guided instructions make it easy to practice anytime, anywhere. Read the article on how meditation apps work to learn how you should use them.

What you should know about meditation

There are many things I could tell you here, but I don’t want to scare you with all the intricacies of meditation. Here are the two most important things you should keep in mind when practicing meditation for alcohol addiction:

1. It won’t help you overnight

Meditation isn’t a quick fix; it’s a gradual process. It’ll take you a few weeks to start noticing small changes, and several months to transform yourself. So don’t get frustrated if you’re not seeing results overnight. It probably took you weeks or months to get addicted, right? Now, would you be so kind as to give meditation a month or two?

For some inspiration, read the article on the benefits of meditating for 21 days. I’ve also written a post about the long-term benefits of meditation.

2. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate

You’re not the only guy whose mind talks all the time. The mind is always blabbering, no matter if it’s yours or mine. What we can do is learn the patterns of the mind and befriend it. Meditation is not about silencing the mind by stopping all thoughts. You won’t be able to do it, so don’t try. Just maintain a steady posture and do your best to keep bringing the mind back to the practice.

Takeaway

Alcohol addiction is very common worldwide. Going cold turkey doesn’t work for most people, and they usually have a difficult time quitting. Meditation can help them overcome their addiction by training them to deal with life more mindfully. 

Regularly practicing mindfulness helps you recognize your old patterns and establish new, healthier ones. It also reduces stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms, so you’re calmer and more composed.

I hope this article inspired you to start your meditation journey and change your life.

Good luck.

References [+]
1. Creswell, J. D., Pacilio, L. E., Lindsay, E. K., & Brown, K. W. (2014). Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 44, 1–12.
2. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357–368
3. Carpena, M. X., Tavares, P. S., & Menezes, C. B. (2019). The effect of a six-week focused meditation training on depression and anxiety symptoms in Brazilian university students with 6 and 12 months of follow-up. Journal of affective disorders, 246, 401–407.
4. Tang, Y. Y., Posner, M. I., & Rothbart, M. K. (2014). Meditation improves self-regulation over the life span. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307, 104–111
5. Sunjeev K Kamboj, DClinPsy, PhD, Damla Irez, DClinPsy, Shirley Serfaty, DClinPsy, Emily Thomas, MSc, Ravi K Das, PhD, Tom P Freeman, PhD, Ultra-Brief Mindfulness Training Reduces Alcohol Consumption in At-Risk Drinkers: A Randomized Double-Blind Active-Controlled Experiment, International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, Volume 20, Issue 11, November 2017, Pages 936–947
6. Bowen S, Witkiewitz K, Clifasefi SL, et al. Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(5):547–556
7. Shafii, M., Lavely, R., & Jaffe, R. (1975). Meditation and the prevention of alcohol abuse. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 132(9), 942–945
About the author

I was introduced to spiritual practice at the age of 12. I didn't find it intriguing back then, but my curiosity about life has brought me to spirituality again, and I've been reading others' insights and learning from life for over three years. You can read more about me here.

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