Saturday, September 5, 2009

Buddhist Meditation Practices and Relapse Prevention Skills

You may attend a sangha when you can and do some meditation practice. But you also struggle with a substance use problem or maintaining a sober lifestyle. You might be dependent upon pain medication to dull chronic pain, or maybe you rely upon alcohol or marijuana to de-stress at the end of the day, or upon drugs/alcohol, food, gambling, or sex to ease negative emotions. You may have tried unsuccessfully to moderate or quit using your substance of choice. You may have thought that meditation alone would end your reliance upon drugs, alcohol, food or sex. Sound familiar? You are not alone. Substance use is still common among Buddhists in the West. There are even some Buddhist sects that include the use of substances in their rituals.

Like so many people that come to Buddhist practices seeking relief for suffering, you too may be ready to liberate yourself from substance abuse or dependence. I recommend Buddhist practitioners who struggle with sobriety take advantage of the increasing use of mindfulness meditation in clinical interventions for substance use disorders.

The primary mindfulness intervention for relapse prevention is Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) an eight-week psycho-educational class designed to help prevent future relapse. MBRP was created at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. It uses empirically supported interventions from Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

The MBRP program employs the same Buddhist/mindfulness meditation practices you learn at your sangha or practice on retreat. However, we add proven relapse prevention tools to help support a sober lifestyle when one is off the cushion. All MBRP participants are asked to do 30-40 minutes of mindfulness meditation practice 6-7 days each week of the eight-week course. I have yet to see anyone who has taken this class that has not benefited tremendously from the mindfulness meditation practices, which help one perceive the inner-workings of the addictive mind and experience some measure of liberation from its dictates.

I always recommend that people come to MBRP with an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to know their own true nature from the inside out. MBRP does not require one to either hold or not hold the 12-step philosophy, though my experience is many of my participants are very involved in AA/NA groups and they so appreciate the skills they learn in MBRP as a necessary adjunct to the support they get in their 12-step groups.

The clinical research on MBRP shows it is more effective than treatment as usual (TAU) for reduced relapse, reduced days should relapse occur, and reduced craving. (Marlatt, 2005, Bowen et al., 2006, Bowen & Marlatt, 2008). MBRP is relatively new and the first professional clinical training takes place in September, so there should be more facilities offering this intervention in 2010.

I am currently offering the MBRP program in a live Internet classroom on The next class begins on September 28, 2009. This is an incredible way to do the MBRP class; it is just like being there with me in the same room. I am astounded at the depth of experiences and radical shift that participants have doing the MBRP program online. You can get more information about this class on

I’d like to end with a wonderful passage from the Dhammapada, where the Buddha beautifully describes the skills we teach in the MBRP program that truly make a difference in helping people create a joyful, sober life worth living.

“Master your senses
What you taste and smell,

What you see; what you hear.

In all things be a master

Of what you do and say and think.

Be free.

Are you quiet?

Quiet your body

Quiet your mind.

By your own efforts

Waken yourself; watch yourself,

And live joyfully.

Follow the truth of the way.

Reflect upon it.

Make it your own.

Live it.

It will always sustain you.”

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