“Meditation is a good bridge between partying and sobriety because it takes you out of your mind and your thoughts into a place of peace,” Sydney-based Kinsella says.
“It brings you to a state of balance, which means that compulsive behaviours will likely naturally start falling away.”
He says Dry July, where people take a month off alcohol to raise money for cancer, can be a great opportunity to try meditation, using it to overcome cravings and to start re-wiring our brains to reduce the compulsion to drink.
“I recommend to people who are daily drinkers to replace it as a habit,” Kinsella says.
“So if you have a drink around 6pm to relax, switch to meditation as a great way of relaxing. It means you’ll have another way to remove the stress and break that cycle of just having a drink for the sake of it.”
Melbourne mindfulness coach Kate James agrees that meditation not only helps us regulate our stress levels, which may reduce the imperative to drink in the first place, but it can also give us more perspective over our thoughts and behaviours long-term.
“A lot of people think meditation is about completely silencing your mind, but actually what it really helps you to do is get in touch with what’s going on in your mind – to notice your thoughts and become aware of the feelings,” she says.
“And with that level of awareness, you have a greater choice over your actions. Often when we are dealing with difficult thoughts and emotions, the inclination is to find something that numbs them and quietens the feeling of worry or anxiety – and alcohol is one of the top things that people turn to.”
Change your brain
It’s not just meditation teachers who are espousing the benefits of meditation for changing our behaviour.
Brain scan and hormone studies have demonstrated that meditation can actually change the shape of our brains, as well as increase “natural high” chemicals like dopamine, which Kinsella says gives data to the anecdotal evidence.
“One study found that people who meditate generally have more serotonin [feel good hormone] levels in their urine than non-meditators – and a much higher level after meditating,” Kinsella says.
“Another study from Harvard showed meditation [led to] grey matter increases in the prefrontal cortex, which is the front part of your brain responsible for things like decision-making [which] feeds into you being able to make better decisions about whether you drink or don’t drink….”