Mindfulness strategies can make a difference in engaging patients with stimulant use disorders in treatment, and clinicians' own mindfulness practice can pay off as well, a clinical administrator said Friday at the Cocaine, Meth & Stimulant Summit.
Ryan Soave, associate clinical director at All Points North Lodge in Vail, Colo., suggested that mindfulness practice can help to counteract the depletion of dopamine caused over time by stimulants, a phenomenon that leads to feelings of hopelessness that can fuel a return to using.
Soave is in long-term recovery and both trains professionals in mindfulness and engages in his own practice. He urged clinicians attending his summit workshop session to “take breathing breaks like people take smoking breaks.” If 10 uninterrupted minutes aren't feasible in the typical workday, try 10 one-minute intervals, he said. These types of “micro-interventions” can help clinicians and patients alike, he said.
As for patients' overall fit for this practice, “I really believe there is a way in for everybody,” Soave said.
Yet he warned that patients need to be met where they are, and not every technique common to mindfulness practice will be suitable for all. “Some people are not comfortable closing their eyes,” he said. “It can activate them. It can do the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish.”
Likewise, a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wouldn't be an ideal candidate for a Yoga Nidra session that involves lying on he floor with one's eyes closed, Soave said.
With few evidence-based practices tailored to stimulant dependence, mindfulness-based approaches have received some attention in research. Soave cited a 2017 UCLA study that found mindfulness-based techniques to have a beneficial effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with stimulant use disorders.
Soave explained that stress is an excess amount of energy in the body, and all of the emotions that drive addictive behaviors are expressed as sensations in the body. When individuals become more aware of these sensations, they can assume more authority over them, he said.
“When we can get into deeply relaxed states, our bodies can begin to heal themselves intrinsically,” he said.
He suggested that mindfulness approaches could even help current drug users move from a contemplation stage to a point closer to pursuing treatment.