What is Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Therapy?

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Many people have heard the term “mindfulness” before, whether it be in a yoga class or an addiction treatment center. However, a large majority of individuals do not know what mindfulness is. By definition, mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and in a non-judgemental manner. While this may sound simple, being mindful is extremely difficult for many, especially addicts and alcoholics.

While mindfulness may be difficult, it can provide recovering addicts and alcoholics with many benefits. So much so, that addiction experts have begun utilizing mindfulness-based relapse prevention for patients recovering from substance abuse. To explain, mindfulness-based release prevention (MBRP) is a treatment for preventing relapse in addictive disorders. MBRP integrates mindfulness meditation with traditional relapse prevention practices. To learn more about mindfulness-based relapse prevention, continue reading.

The Basics of MBRP

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) is extremely effective in helping recovering addicts stay sober. To explain, MBRP is based on principles of self-compassion and acceptance of all experiences; positive or negative. In other words, recovering addicts and alcoholics learn how to accept reality, practice self-love, and forgiveness.

Also, mindfulness-based relapse prevention differs slightly from traditional relapse prevention approaches. For example, in traditional practices, recovering addicts are taught to ignore their drug/alcohol cravings to prevent them from returning to old patterns of behavior. Instead, MBRP encourages patients to accept that they will have urges and drug/alcohol cravings. This teaches patients to learn how to work through their cravings, rather than ignore them.

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention’s curriculum is based on a combination of the following modalities:

When MBRP was created, the goal was to develop a curriculum that was based upon the individual’s needs. Therefore, the exact curriculum of MBRP changes with each new patient. Typically, MBRP consists of 8 treatment sessions that can be used in the individual or group setting. Also, it is vital to understand that participation of the individual will decipher whether MBRP is effective. In other words, individuals must participate during MBRP sessions for the treatment to be successful.

Utilizing MBRP with 12-Step Treatment Approaches

Some aspects of mindfulness-based relapse prevention fit well with traditional 12-step treatment approaches. To explain, the basic premise of the 12-step approach is that people can help one another achieve and maintain abstinence from the substances to which they are addicted. This can be achieved through meetings in which individuals share their experiences with one another. Additionally, the 12-step approach includes 12 steps that teach individuals how to recover from their addiction and maintain their sobriety.

The 12-step approach helps individuals by building the following mental and emotional transformative practices and tools:

  • The ability to recognize and admit that one is experiencing an addiction problem
  • Surrender to the fact that the addiction exists and a decision to seek control through an outer guide
  • Self-observation and awareness of the behaviors that were part of and arose from the addiction, as well as those that
  • help promote self-restraint
  • A chance to practice that restraint and build self-esteem in one’s positive capabilities
  • Achievement of self-acceptance and the ability to change behaviors
  • Compassion, both for those who have been affected by the addiction and for others who similarly struggle with addiction
  • Tools that make the process a continual practice throughout the individual’s life

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention shares some concepts with the 12-step approach, including acceptance, letting go of personal control, and the use of prayer and meditation. However, some ideas in MBRP do not mesh well with the 12-step approach. For example, using labels to describe oneself (addict; alcoholic; being diseased), admitting one’s powerlessness, and looking to a Higher Power are some of the basic tenets of 12-Step that MBRP does not endorse.

Utilizing MBRP to Manage Cravings

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention helps individuals in recovery to manage drug/alcohol urges and cravings. “Urge Surfing” is an aspect of MBRP utilized to treat cravings and urges. This practice is best applied with the assistance of a mental health professional or in an addiction treatment setting. Continue reading to learn how to practice mindfulness-based relapse prevention.

Step #1

Be aware of urges and cravings when they arise. This can be done by staying present and recognizing shifts in your emotions as they occur in real-time.

Step #2

Recognize your experience as an urge or craving and notice it as an internal experience of thoughts and emotions and physical experience of sensations.

Step #3

Imagine your urge or craving as a wave that is going to roll in until it reaches a peak and then recedes from your experience.

Step #4

As you complete step #3, begin to focus on your breathing. Breathe in for a count of seven and out for a count of eleven to slow your breathing down.

Step #5

Watch as your urge or craving continues to peak while you continue to practice breathing slowly and allowing it to pass slowly over time without trying to control it.

Step #6

As the urge or craving passes, notice your experience and how you were able to make a different choice than in the past.

As you begin to practice urge surfing more often, managing drug/alcohol cravings will become much easier. You’ll be able to recognize that these urges are temporary and that you can ride them out until they dissipate.

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention at New Jersey Interventions

If you or a loved one suffer from alcohol or drug addiction, mindfulness-based relapse prevention may be beneficial for you. At New jersey Interventions, we utilize a number of evidence-based addiction treatment modalities in order to suit each patient’s needs.

“Everyone in recovery is different and has unique needs. It’s important to work with an addiction specialist to determine what the best approach to treatment is for you. A key component of your treatment plan should be relapse prevention so you are prepared to cope with and manage a sober life in the future. Like other chronic diseases, there is no cure for addiction, but it can be treated effectively.”

Contact us today to consult with an addiction specialist about your treatment options, including mindfulness-based relapse prevention.

Medically Reviewed: August 5, 2020

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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