Interoceptive Awareness to Prevent Relapse

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Image by Mikael Häggström

by Paul Garrigan

The Inability to Handle Uncomfortable Feelings is a Major Cause of Relapse

Those of us who fall into the trap of addiction aren’t mad, dumb, or bad. We usually engage in this behavior because we are trying to make ourselves feel a bit better. It may seem to us as if our ‘skin is too thin’, we feel everything way too intensely, but when we drink or use drugs, it is like we put on a suit of armor. The problem is we struggle so much with our emotions that anything that appears to numb this discomfort is highly attractive to us.

The disappointing truth about alcohol and other recreational drugs is they don’t live up to their initial promise. The numbness or feeling of invincibility we obtain from these substances come at too heavy a price – it’s a case of the cure being way worse than the original condition. We reach a point where we can’t go on – we need to quit or risk losing everything. The problem is that quitting just puts us back to our original situation of feeling uncomfortable in our own skin.

It is hardly surprising given our history of struggling to cope with our feelings that this should be one of the most common causes of relapse. Until we find a better way of managing inner discomfort, we are always going to be at risk of returning to a strategy that seemed to work for us in the past. Interoceptive awareness offers a better solution, and if we can make this approach part of our new life, it will reduce our risk of relapse.


What is Interoceptive Awareness?

Interoceptive awareness means developing a curiosity towards the sensations arising within the body. These body signals are worthy of our attention because it is the brains interpretation of them that determines how we are feeling both mentally and physically. By becoming more aware of these inner sensations, we become able to influence how these signals are interpreted by the body.

One way that interoceptive awareness may be of great benefit to us is it means we notice ‘tension’ within the body before it becomes a problem. We tend to be poor at noticing a build-up of feelings such as stress or anger, and this means by the time it does get our attention it is already a bit overwhelming. Just noticing stress in the body can be enough to release it, and this means we avoid becoming a human pressure cooker ready to explode.

Mindful Awareness in Body-Orientated Therapy

Mindful Awareness in Body-Orientated Therapy (MABT) is an approach that helps clients become more emotionally and somatically aware. It uses mindfulness practices and massage therapy to increase awareness of what is going on inside the body. By the end of the program, the client becomes much better at noticing and describing inner sensations. This heightened awareness can then mean the client becomes much better at handling his/her feelings before they become a problem.

Relapse Prevention Using Interoceptive Awareness

Research into introspective awareness is still in its infancy by one study in the Journal of Addiction Nursing by Price and Smith-DiJulio (2006) suggests this practice may play an important role in relapse prevention. It gives us a better way to handle our emotions, and this means we are less likely to turn to our old coping strategy of using alcohol or drugs.

How The Hope Mindfulness Program Will Teach You Interoceptive Awareness

One of the goals of our mindfulness program is to increase interoceptive awareness. We do this by learning to ‘rest in the body’ and by increasing our attention to physical sensation.

Another thing we learn at Hope is to answer the question ‘how are you feeling?’ more thoughtfully – instead of just saying ‘I’m fine’, we actually look to see what is happening inside of the body. This willingness to investigate our ‘internal weather’ means we can notice winds and light rain before they become a storm.

2016-12-30T02:55:25+00:00