Vipassana Meditation Helps Addicts Stay Clean

By Nathan A Thompson 03/29/12

Prisoners and rock stars are among those who praise meditation's ability to aid recovery.

Vipassana is a well-trodden path to
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Vipassana—a form of meditation in which practitioners train themselves to observe bodily sensations without reacting to them—has a growing reputation for helping addicts. "I nearly walked out three times during my first course," Alex, a former heroin user from England, tells The Fix. "It was so painful to observe all the negativity I had stored away inside me." But the results were impressive: "Cravings do not effect me like they used to. If I have a craving, I just observe it and it passes away." Vipassana teaches the mind not to react to the emotions and thoughts that result in harmful behavior; adherents claim that with enough practice it's possible to become permanently free of all negative behaviors—addiction included.

Back in 2002, a four-year study reported that drug-addicted prisoners who practice Vipassana are 20% less likely to use drugs and commit crimes when released. Conducted by the University of Washington and funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it found that a group of prisoners in the King County North Rehabilitation Facility who practiced Vipassana "used significantly less marijuana, crack, and powder cocaine in the three months following release" compared to a control group.

The benefits seem to hold from jailhouse to penthouse. John Frusciante—once the most-addicted Red Hot Chili Pepper—has used Vipassana in his recovery. "It stops your mind from interrupting all the time and getting in the way…it's also created an open space inside me; there's this light that shines through that wasn't there before," he told Guitar World. The Vipassana Institute recommends that addicts detox and gain a little clean time before they attempt the initial Vipassana course.

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Nathan A. Thompson is the president of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia, where he has been based since 2013. He has reported for VICE News, the TelegraphGuardianSlateSalonand Christian Science Monitor both in Cambodia and across the region and currently works in editorial at He writes travel articles, essays and released his first poetry collection, I Take Nothing Strong Only Lightning in 2016. Follow Nathan on Twitter.