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All Claritas Mindsciences programs are based on mindfulness practice, which can be defined as taking oneself off of auto-pilot to notice what is happening in the present, the here and now. We have studied extensively in outpatient clinics and elsewhere the science behind how mindfulness training works to change habits. It is pragmatic, in the moment support, and gives step by step tools to change one’s relationship to cravings and addictions. It is specifically designed it to take just a few minutes a day and to integrate into a busy lifestyle.
Over the a multi-week program, the participant learns the basics and science behind how cravings and addictions affect our brains, and how certain cravings and addictions, along with stress, boredom, and emotions can set up unhealthy habits –and how you can break these patterns.
These exercises are mental push ups, building mental muscle.
Mindfulness: an emerging treatment for addictions?
Our brains are set up to learn. From an evolutionary perspective, to survive, when we come upon a good source of food or water, it is helpful to remember where it is. When we stumble upon something dangerous, it is helpful to remember this too. And this reward-based learning system, that is conserved all the way back to the most primitive of nervous systems (the sea slug with roughly 20,000 neurons), in its most basic form has three elements: trigger, behavior, reward. We see berries, we eat them, and if they taste good (reward), we lay down a memory to come back for more.
Fast forward to modern day, where food is plentiful, and our environment is relatively safe, our brains still have the same reward-based learning system. Under the names of operant conditioning, associative learning and positive and negative reinforcement, a lot more is known about how it works. This is the good news.
The bad news is that over time, humans have stumbled upon substances that literally hijack this reward-based learning system. In fact, every substance of abuse from tobacco to crack cocaine affects the same brain pathways –the mesolimbic pathway which mainly acts through the neurotransmitter dopamine. And each time we do a line of cocaine and feel the high or smoke a cigarette when we are stressed out and feel better afterwards, we reinforce the “habit loop” (see Figure). This combination of tapping into the dopamine system and behavioral repetition is deadly –for example smoking is the leading cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in the US.