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The Role of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Mindfulness is a practice that involves paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance. It is a way of thinking, acting, and living that is intentional, non-judgmental, and focused on the current moment.

Mindfulness can help you cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. It can also help you develop a more positive and compassionate relationship with yourself and others.

In addiction recovery, mindfulness plays a vital role by aiding individuals to understand their thoughts, emotions, and cravings without judgment. It promotes self-acceptance, self-care, and self-awareness, empowering individuals to make conscious choices aligned with their recovery goals.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages us to be fully aware of the present moment without judgment or attachment.

Imagine sitting quietly, focusing on your breath, and bringing your mental awareness to the present moment. You become aware of the sensations of the air entering and leaving your body. You observe any thoughts or emotions that arise without getting caught up in them.

This is the essence of mindfulness—a state of being fully alive and connected to the present moment.

It involves maintaining moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations as they arise, fostering a deep sense of awareness and acceptance. Mindfulness teaches us to observe our inner and outer experiences with curiosity and compassion.

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Mindfulness is not a new concept. It is rooted in various religious and secular traditions, including ancient Buddhist practices, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In short, people have been practicing mindfulness for thousands of years.

However, mindfulness has also been adapted and studied by modern psychologists and scientists who have found evidence for its benefits in various domains of everyday life.

In recent years, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream thanks in part to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.

Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

This definition implies several aspects of mindfulness:

  • Paying attention. It involves focusing on what is happening in the here and now rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

  • On purpose. Practicing mindfulness is not something that happens by accident. It requires intention and effort to direct your attention to the present moment.

  • In the present moment. This practice is also about fully engaging with the present moment’s reality rather than being distracted by thoughts or fantasies.

  • Non-judgmentally. Mindfulness practice is about accepting your experience as it is without labeling it as good or bad, right or wrong, pleasant or unpleasant.

As you can see, mindfulness is not about changing your experience or avoiding unpleasant feelings. It is about being aware and relating your experience with curiosity and compassion.

Why is Mindfulness Important in Addiction Recovery?

Mindfulness is a state of mental awareness and focus that can help you cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions that may arise during your addiction recovery journey.

the role of mindfulness in addiction recovery why mindfulness is important Design for Recovery

It can also help you enjoy the present moment and appreciate the beauty of life without relying on substance use or addictive behaviors. By tuning out distractions and giving yourself and your needs undivided attention, you reduce the likelihood of being triggered and experiencing a relapse.

Moreover, mindfulness-based interventions can serve as a powerful tool to cope with cravings and urges. When intense desires arise, practicing mindfulness directs your focus to your senses, calming you down and bringing you back to the present. Embracing mindfulness can help you stay engaged, resilient, and in control of your recovery journey.

Ready to start your mindfulness training? Design for Recovery Sober Living in LA encourages residents to learn skills like mindfulness while they work to stay drug and alcohol-free.

Call us now at (424) 327-4614 to learn more about our services.

How Does Mindfulness Help in Addiction Recovery?

According to modern scientific literature, addiction recovery can benefit from mindfulness and mindfulness-based treatments.

It can help you cope with the challenges of addiction recovery by:

Increasing Your Self-Awareness

When you are mindful, you actively focus your attention on your senses. This will help you have greater self-awareness of your thoughts and feelings. It can also help you take control over yourself, avoid emotional reactions, and more effectively self-regulate.

At the same time, mindfulness can help you identify the specific situations, emotions, thoughts, and sensations that trigger your urge for substance use. By becoming more aware of your triggers, you can learn to avoid them or prepare for them in advance, which will help you prevent relapse.

Managing Cravings

Cravings and urges are natural phenomena that occur when your brain associates certain cues (such as people, places, or situations) with substance use. They are not commands that you have to follow.

However, one of the reasons why addictive disorders are so hard to beat is because it’s a pattern of conditioned responses. Essentially, the part of your brain responsible for higher reasoning essentially gets cut out of the decision-making process, and you react reflexively to stimuli associated with drugs and alcohol.

Mindfulness can help you recognize cravings and urges as passing sensations that do not define or control you. This means that mindfulness can help you deal with cravings by teaching you how to observe them without acting on them. You can learn to accept your cravings as temporary and impermanent and redirect your attention to something else.

Research also suggests that individuals with higher levels of mindfulness tended to experience less cravings for alcohol or drugs. This was partly because they had lower levels of negative emotions and were better at changing their thoughts about their cravings.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Another great benefit of mindfulness in recovery is that it can help reduce your stress levels. Mindfulness has also been shown to calm your nervous system and lower your anxiety levels.

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When you are practicing mindfulness, you are actively putting your attention on the here and now. This means that you are not letting other things that are stressful distract you.

Practicing mindfulness can teach you to regulate your emotions and cope with difficult feelings healthily.

Improving Mood and Well-Being

Mindfulness can help you enhance your mood and well-being by increasing positive emotions such as gratitude and joy. It also helps you cope with negative and painful emotions such as anger, guilt, or shame.

Practicing mindfulness can improve your overall mental health and well-being and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety that often accompany addiction.

Mindfulness Encourages Compassion

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At the same time, mindfulness encourages compassion which helps you connect with other people, especially those also recovering from substance use disorders. You can learn to be kind and forgiving to yourself when you make mistakes or face setbacks.

You can also learn to empathize and connect with others going through similar struggles or who have supported you in your recovery.

Create New Neural Pathways

Mindfulness helps you rewire your brain and create new neural pathways that support healthy behaviors. By practicing mindfulness regularly, you can strengthen the areas of your brain that are responsible for self-control, decision-making, and emotional regulation.

You can also weaken the brain areas associated with craving, impulsivity, and reward-seeking through mindfulness practice.

Foster Healthy Coping Skills

When faced with triggers, many people have the tendency to react with unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance use. Substance use disorders actually often start as a means of avoiding painful emotions, intrusive thoughts, social anxiety, trauma, or physical pain.

the role of mindfulness in addiction recovery foster healthy coping skills Design for Recovery

As the opposite of avoidance, you can practice mindfulness to help you respond to the trigger with healthy behavior. Mindfulness exercises may help you develop new skills and habits to replace your substance abuse and addictive behaviors.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can help you in your addiction recovery journey. It can help you cope with the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of recovery and prevent addiction relapse. However, keep in mind that mindfulness is not a quick fix or a magic solution for drug addiction.

Instead, it is a skill you can learn and practice daily to improve your quality of life.

Ready to take the next step in your recovery journey? Design for Recovery can help you.

Design for Recovery is a sober living program that offers a supportive community, individualized care, and evidence-based practices to help you achieve lasting sobriety and wellness. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

How Mindfulness Fits Within Addiction Treatment Programs

Mindfulness-based treatments are growing in popularity among addiction treatment providers. Because of its researched benefits on recovery, many treatment facilities incorporate mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) as part of their treatment programs.

These MBIs focus on helping patients cultivate mindfulness-related skills to help an individual build a strong foundation for the recovery process.

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The beauty of mindfulness is that it can fit within any clinical practice or addiction treatment program that supports holistic recovery and evidence-based practices. It can seamlessly integrate with different therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapies (DBT), motivational interviewing (MI), or 12-step programs.

By combining mindfulness with therapies like CBT, individuals in addiction recovery learn to understand and address the root causes of their addictive behaviors. Mindfulness interventions teach individuals various techniques, including breathing exercises, body scans, meditation, and yoga. By offering alternatives to harmful coping mechanisms, these practices can reduce the risk of relapse and enhance overall well-being.

Mindfulness-based treatment can also be practiced individually or in groups, depending on the preferences and needs of each person.

Some examples of mindfulness-based therapies for addiction are:

  • Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). MBRP is an eight-week program that combines mindfulness techniques with cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention skills. It aims to help individuals maintain sobriety by increasing their awareness of high-risk situations, coping strategies, and personal goals.

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This therapy helps people develop psychological flexibility and accept their thoughts and feelings without judging or trying to change them. ACT also encourages people to act according to their personal values and goals rather than being controlled by their impulses.

  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). This program combines mindfulness training with cognitive therapy techniques to help people prevent relapse and cope with negative emotions and cravings. MBCT teaches people to recognize and disengage from automatic thoughts and behaviors that trigger substance use.

  • Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE). MORE is an integrative behavioral group therapy that involves mindfulness training, reappraisal, and savoring skills. It combines principles from mindfulness, CBT, and positive psychology. While this approach is relatively new, MORE’s therapeutic benefits have been demonstrated in at least five randomized controlled trials.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT incorporates mindfulness practices within its framework to enhance emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. It helps individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms and manage cravings or urges.

Although not a complete treatment, mindfulness can be a valuable tool for anyone who wants to overcome addiction and improve their well-being.

Mindfulness can help people break free from harmful patterns of thinking and behaving and cultivate more positive and healthy ones. Mindfulness can also enhance the recovery process by fostering a sense of internal peace, self-compassion, and spiritual enlightenment.

7 Ways to Start Practicing Mindfulness Techniques in Recovery

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Here are 7 ways to start practicing mindfulness techniques in your daily life to enhance your recovery process:

  1. Deep Breathing

Breathing is one of the simplest and most accessible mindfulness techniques. It’s also one of the most beneficial.

Breathing meditation can help calm your nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase focus. It can also promote relaxation for moments when you feel your emotions going haywire.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Sit quietly or lie down in a comfortable place.

  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose, filling your belly with air.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting go of any tension or stress.

  • Continue deep breathing for several minutes, bringing your attention to the sensations of your breath as it flows in and out of your body.

  • Notice how your chest, abdomen, and nostrils feel as you inhale and exhale. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.

  • Note: Take small, mindful “breathing breaks” throughout the day—while you’re at a stoplight, waiting in line, or before you open your email or go to a meeting. This can help you slowly get started into the habit of conscious breathing.

  • Body scan

The body scan is a mindfulness technique that involves scanning your body from head to toe, noticing any sensations, emotions, or thoughts that arise in each part.

Body scans can help you release physical tension, increase your body awareness, and cultivate a positive attitude. It is also believed to promote relaxation and reduce physical tension.

You can do this by:

  • Lying down or sitting comfortably

  • Close your eyes and bring your attention to your body.

  • Starting from your toes, slowly scan your body, noticing any sensations or areas of tension.

  • As you scan each body part, consciously release any tension and bring a sense of relaxation to that area.

  • Pay attention to any areas of tension, pain, or discomfort, as well as any areas of relaxation, warmth, or ease.

  • Gradually move your attention up through your legs, torso, arms, and head, releasing tension.

  • Try to be aware of your body without judging or trying to change anything.

  • (Alternatively, you can start from the top of your head and move down to your toes.)

  1. Mindful Movement

Mindful movement connects your mind to your entire body, improves physical well-being, and reduces stress. It involves moving with awareness and intention.

You can try mindful movement in any form that fits you, such as walking, running, or dancing. Try to:

  • Choose a familiar and safe route, and walk or run at a comfortable pace.

  • Pay attention to your body’s physical sensations, movements, and rhythm.

  • Notice the connection between your breath and movement, allowing them to synchronize.

  • Pay attention to the sensations of your feet touching the ground, the movement of your legs and arms, the rhythm of your breathing, and the sounds around you.

  • Be fully present in the activity, letting go of distractions and immersing yourself in the experience.

  • You can also notice the sights, smells, and feelings that you encounter along the way.

  1. Yoga

Yoga is a holistic practice that originated in ancient India and has gained popularity worldwide. It combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and ethical principles to promote well-being and balance in the body, mind, and spirit.

It can be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels, as it can be adapted to suit individual needs and abilities. Whether practiced in a class setting or at home, yoga provides an opportunity to connect with oneself, cultivate mindfulness, and promote overall health and well-being.

This mindfulness practice also cultivates physical and mental strength, improves flexibility, and reduces stress. You can try this by joining a yoga class or following guided yoga videos. As you follow the poses, keep in mind to:

  • Focus on your breath and body as you move through the poses.

  • Pay attention to how your body feels, how you breathe, and how you balance.

  • Let go of any judgments and practice self-compassion.

  • Allow the practice to be a time of self-care and relaxation.

  • Try to be present in each moment and avoid comparing yourself to others.

  1. Gratitude

Practicing gratitude involves acknowledging and appreciating the positive aspects of life, even in challenging times. It shifts the focus from scarcity to abundance, fosters a positive mindset, reduces negative emotions, and enhances feelings of contentment and satisfaction.

Gratitude can help individuals in recovery develop a more optimistic outlook, strengthen relationships, and increase overall well-being.

You can practice gratitude by:

  • Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can take a few moments to focus on gratitude. It could be in the morning, before bed, or anytime that works best for you.

  • Begin by acknowledging and appreciating the small blessings in your life.

  • Take time to reflect on your recovery process and the progress you have made.

  • Acknowledge the challenges you have overcome and the lessons you have learned along the way. Recognize your strength and resilience.

  • Reach out to people who have supported you in your recovery and express your gratitude.

  • Throughout the day, make an effort to notice and appreciate the positive aspects of your experiences. Focus on what is going well rather than dwelling on negativity.

  • Remember to extend gratitude towards yourself by recognizing your efforts and accomplishments in recovery.

  • Stay consistent and incorporate gratitude practice into your daily routine to make it a habit.

  1. Journaling

Mindful journaling is a mindfulness technique that involves writing about your thoughts and feelings in a reflective way.

Journaling provides a therapeutic outlet for expressing emotions, reflecting on experiences, and gaining insight into triggers and patterns.

It helps individuals develop self-awareness, process challenging emotions, and track their progress in recovery. Journaling can be a powerful tool for self-reflection, personal growth, and maintaining accountability.

You can practice it by:

  • Setting aside some time every day or week to write in a journal or notebook.

  • Write about anything that comes to your mind, such as what happened during the day, how you felt about it, what you learned from it, or what you hope for the future. Try to write without censoring or editing yourself. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or making it perfect.

  • Using your journal as a tool for self-reflection and exploration.

  • Writing about your experiences, challenges, and victories in recovery. Reflect on your triggers, coping strategies, and insights gained along the way.

  • Using journaling as part of your gratitude practice by, writing down the things you are grateful for each day.

  • Recording milestones, setbacks, and lessons learned. Seeing your growth on paper can provide a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue moving forward.

If you find certain topics or emotions particularly challenging to explore on your own, consider seeking support from a therapist, counselor, or a trusted support group.

  1. Meditation

For people with addiction, meditation can be a powerful way to face cravings and urges without acting on them. Mindfulness meditation can help you reduce stress by promoting relaxation and improving your focus and concentration.

A specific form of mindfulness meditation is called addiction meditation, a practice tailored to support individuals in their journey of addiction recovery.

This form of meditation helps individuals develop an awareness of their addictive patterns, observe cravings without judgment, and cultivate internal peace, strength, and resilience. Addiction meditation can support individuals in developing healthier coping strategies, preventing relapse, and building a solid foundation for long-term recovery.

Integrating mindfulness meditation into the recovery process involves:

  • Find a comfortable and quiet place to practice without distractions

  • Get into a relaxed posture – you can sit quietly on a cushion with your legs crossed or lie down with your arms by your side

  • Set an intention before you begin. This could be focusing on reducing cravings, observing your thoughts without judgment, or cultivating inner strength and resilience.

  • Close your eyes or lower your gaze, relax your body, and allow any tension to release

  • Bring attention to your breath and observe your thoughts and feelings as they arise and pass in your mind.

  • Acknowledge them without engaging with them or trying to push them away. Just let them be and return to your breath.

  • As you observe your thoughts and cravings, practice self-compassion and understanding. Remind yourself that it is normal to experience these challenges, and you are on a path of healing and growth.

If you’re new to meditation or want additional support, consider seeking guidance from a qualified meditation teacher or therapist or joining a meditation group that focuses on addiction recovery.

Remember that addiction meditation is a practice that takes time to develop. Be patient with yourself and approach each session with an open mind and a willingness to explore your inner experiences.

Take the first step towards a mindful and fulfilling life. Contact Design for Recovery today to learn more and start your journey of healing and transformation.

Get Sober and Practice Mindfulness in Sober Living

If you are struggling with addiction, you may feel like you are trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions.

You may feel hopeless, anxious, depressed, or angry. You may also have difficulty coping with stress, triggers, and cravings. These factors can make it hard to stay sober and maintain your recovery.

One way to break free from this cycle is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment without judgment or reaction.

It is a skill that can help you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations and how they affect your behavior. Mindfulness can also help cultivate a positive attitude, gratitude, compassion, and self-acceptance.

By practicing mindfulness in sober living, you can reap many benefits for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Some of these benefits include:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety

  • Improved mood and self-esteem

  • Enhanced focus and concentration

  • Increased resilience and coping skills

  • Decreased relapse risk and cravings

  • Strengthened immune system and brain function

  • Greater happiness and well-being

If you are ready to get sober and practice mindfulness in sober living, contact Design for Recovery today. We are a premier sober living home for men in Los Angeles that can help you achieve lasting recovery and personal growth. We are here to support you every step of the way to reach the life you want.

Call us now at (424) 327-4614 or fill up this contact us form to start your journey today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Mindfulness is a state of mental awareness and focus that can help you cope with stress, cravings, negative emotions, and triggers that may lead to relapse.

Mindfulness can also help you enjoy the present moment, appreciate the beauty of life, and understand your reactions better. Practicing mindfulness can reshape your brain and restore your health after addiction.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness for addiction, such as:

  • Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) combines mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral skills to help you prevent and cope with relapse.

  • Mindfulness exercises, such as the raisin exercise, the body scan, or mindful breathing, can help you focus on the present moment and your sensory experiences.

  • Urge surfing is a skill that involves riding out the wave of an urge or craving without giving in to it or trying to suppress it

  • Mindfulness meditation can help you cultivate a nonjudgmental attitude and observe your thoughts and feelings without reacting.

  • Mindful activities like yoga, walking, art, or music can help you express yourself and connect with your body and emotions.

  • Vipassana meditation is a form of insight meditation that involves observing the impermanent nature of all phenomena.

  • Mindful communication can help you listen and speak with compassion and honesty.

Mindfulness intervention for substance abuse is a type of treatment that uses mindfulness techniques to help people with substance use disorders overcome their addiction and maintain their recovery.

This can be delivered in various clinical settings, such as individual or group therapy, or non-clinical practices, such as self-help books and online programs.

Some examples of mindfulness intervention for substance abuse are MBRP, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

The three components of mindfulness in recovery are intention, attention, and attitude.

  • Intention is the motivation or purpose behind your mindfulness practice. You may want to practice mindfulness to reduce stress, improve your mental health and well-being, prevent relapse, or achieve other goals.

  • Attention is the ability to focus on the present moment and sensory experiences. You may use your breath, a mantra, a sound, or an object as an anchor for your attention.

  • Attitude refers to the way you relate to your thoughts and feelings. You may adopt a curious, open, accepting, and compassionate attitude toward yourself and others.

Mindfulness exercises are activities that help you practice mindfulness skills and apply them to your daily life. They can help you improve your mental and emotional well-being by:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety

  • Enhancing mood and happiness

  • Increasing self-awareness and self-regulation

  • Boosting self-esteem and self-compassion

  • Strengthening coping and resilience

  • Improving memory and concentration

  • Promoting physical health and relaxation

Mindfulness exercises are designed to reveal the following:

  • Nature of your mind and how it works

  • Patterns of your thoughts and emotions and how they affect your behavior

  • Sources of your suffering and how to alleviate them

  • The potential of your awareness and how to expand it

  • The beauty of the present moment and how to appreciate it

Disclaimer: It’s important to note that the effects and results of practicing mindfulness techniques may vary for each individual. While mindfulness has been found to be beneficial in many cases, it is not a substitute for professional medical or mental health treatment. If you have any underlying physical or mental health conditions, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new practices. Additionally, the techniques mentioned in this article are intended to serve as general guidance and may not be suitable for everyone. It’s crucial to listen to your body and adapt the techniques to your personal needs and limitations. Remember, consistency and patience are key when incorporating mindfulness into your recovery journey.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Mindfulness Oriented Recovery Enhancement for addiction, stress, and pain: WS506. American Psychological Association.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 3, Understanding the Impact of Trauma. Available from:

Chen, Y., Yang, X., Wang, L., & Zhang, X. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of the effects of brief mindfulness meditation on anxiety symptoms and systolic blood pressure in Chinese nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 33(10), 1166-1172.

Garland, E. L., Roberts-Lewis, A., Kelley, K., Tronnier, C., & Hanley, A. (2014). Cognitive and affective mechanisms linking trait mindfulness to craving among individuals in addiction recovery. Substance Use & Misuse, 49(5), 525–535.

Lardone, A., Liparoti, M., Sorrentino, P., Rucco, R., Jacini, F., Polverino, A., Minino, R., Pesoli, M., Baselice, F., Sorriso, A., Ferraioli, G., Sorrentino, G., & Mandolesi, L. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study. Neural Plasticity, 2018.

Niazi, A. K., & Niazi, S. K. (2011). Mindfulness-based stress reduction: A non-pharmacological approach for chronic illnesses. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 3(1), 20-23.

NPR. (2022, January 3). Stressed? instead of distracting yourself, try paying closer attention. NPR.

Selva, J. (2023, February 21). The History and Origins Mindfulness.

Witkiewitz, K., Bowen, S., Harrop, E. N., Douglas, H., Enkema, M., & Sedgwick, C. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Treatment to Prevent Addictive Behavior Relapse: Theoretical Models and Hypothesized Mechanisms of Change. Substance use & misuse, 49(5), 513.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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