Jen suffered from opioid addiction, bad. She never meant to become addicted to pain pills, but the intensity of her aches—and pains—were too much to bear, so soon one pill every six hours turned to one pill every hour, and before the day was done, Jen had taken as many as 20 tablets of her prescribed medication. Some days more; other days, less, depending on how well she slept.
Narco was her drug of choice—something her primary care physician prescribed after Jen fell at work and twisted her back. The prescription read: “Take every six hours, as needed.” It came with a firm warning from her doctor to limit its use, and with the encouragement to work through the pain. Things would heal in time, and with physical therapy, Jen could expect to be “all better” in no time.
But time was Jen’s enemy. Already predisposed to a low tolerance for pain, the added stress of her injury pushed her over the edge. With each twinge of distress, her hand would almost automatically reach for the pill bottle.
At first, she resisted grabbing for it. My god, she thought, am I so weak that I can’t take a little discomfort?
It wasn’t a little pain, though; it was a lot. Twisted backs aren’t fun. And, no matter how hard she tried to talk herself out of overdoing it with her medication, she gave into taking it—and soon she was hooked.
By the time she started physical therapy, she was a “closet addict.” No one but she knew her “dirty little secret.”
Until one day, her husband found out. He demanded that she get help. Resistant initially, Jen finally agreed to try methadone therapy with mindfulness strategies. It was something her spouse had read about and thought it might be the perfect antidote to his wife’s problem.
If you’re looking for helps with addiction, sometimes you may need to bounce ideas off of a professional counselor.
Something that really stuck out with him—and also resonated with Jen—was the claim by researchers that mindfulness techniques combined with the drug methadone might reduce cravings and pain among those experiencing opioid addiction and chronic pain. Jen knew what mindfulness was: a technique that involved using meditation techniques to bring balance to her thoughts and feeling. In the process, she could give herself the chance to make better decisions in those moment when she had the desire to use.
As a drug, methadone is administered over a prolonged period of time, as treatment for someone who is addicted to an opioid such as Norco. Employ mindfulness and medication for opioid dependence, though, and you have the first step toward “social rehabilitation,” as researchers at Rutgers University call it, because it allows addicts to avoid the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that result from complete abstinence of an opioid—in Jen’s case, Norco.
People like Jen suffering from opioid addiction and chronic pain may have fewer cravings and less pain if they adhere to the use of both mindfulness techniques and opioid-dependent medication. This strategy isn’t foolproof, as nearly half of individuals continue to use opioids such as Norco during treatment or relapse with six months. But findings show that those who received methadone and a mindfulness training-based intervention were 1.3 times better at controlling their cravings and had significantly greater improvements in pain, stress, and positive emotions than those who used methadone alone.
4 Things You Should Know
- Opioid use can quickly become abuse.
- Methadone treatment helps addicts avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
- Mindfulness techniques increases self-control over cravings so addicts are less reactive to physical pain.
- Combining methadone and mindfulness has proved to be effective for opioid relapse.
The Basics of Mindfulness
- Set aside some time to practice, and find a quiet place to do so—almost anywhere will do.
- Observe the present moment as it is without judgment. That’s the goal. It’s not to achieve eternal calm.
- Let your judgments roll by. Make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
- Return to observing the present moment as it is. Don’t get carried away in thought.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up—just gently bring yourself back.
“Mindfulness-based interventions could help people dependent on opioids increase their self-awareness and self-control over cravings and be less reactive to emotional and physical pain,” said Rutgers University scientists, in study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. “Individuals with an opioid addiction could be taught to change their negative thoughts and savor pleasant events, which may help them to regulate their emotions and experience more enjoyment.”
Add methadone to meditation, for example, and you have a powerful antidote for opioid abuse. Regardless of which mindfulness method you use, there seems to be hope that the process can work.
“Many of those with opioid addictions experience chronic pain, anxiety and depression while on methadone maintenance, which is why mindfulness-based, non-drug interventions are promising treatments,” researchers at Rutgers said. “Mindfulness lights up parts of our brains that aren’t normally activated when we’re mindlessly running on autopilot. Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”
Pain is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to rule you, said Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “Mindfulness can help you reshape your relationship with mental and physical pain.”
If you’re looking for help with addiction, sometimes you may need to bounce ideas off of a professional counselor.
Eric L. Garland, Adam W. Hanley, Anna Kline, Nina A. Cooperman. “Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery
Enhancement reduces opioid craving among individuals with opioid use disorder and chronic pain in medication assisted treatment: Ecological momentary assessments from a stage 1 randomized controlled trial.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2019; 203: 61.
John Kabat-Zinn. “You are not your thoughts.” Video. Mindful. Retrieved from
Rutgers University. “Mindfulness may reduce opioid cravings, study finds: Opioid users, chronic pain
sufferers may experience fewer relapses and greater well-being.” ScienceDaily, 15 October 2019.