Interested in starting your healing journey? Speak with an admissions counselor now
We're Hiring!
Apply for Jobs Now

4 Deep Breathing Exercises to Use in Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery can be a complicated process that comes with many ups and downs. Since there are often bumps in the road, you must have healthy coping mechanisms that can prevent you from relapsing. Some of the best techniques to use during times of stress are deep breathing exercises.

Deep breathing offers many benefits, from stress relief and relaxation to natural pain relief and reduced blood pressure.[1] No matter what you are dealing with, deep breathing can be a helpful tool to regain some sort of stability.

If you are looking for a new way to refocus yourself during difficult times in your recovery, deep breathing is a great place to start. There are many breathing exercises out there, so it’s possible for you to find one that works for you.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How breathing exercises can benefit addiction recovery
  • Four deep breathing exercises to try out
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to complete each breathing exercise

Four Breathing Exercises That Can Strengthen Your Recovery

When you are in recovery from addiction, it’s easy to fall back into unhealthy patterns. You might be experiencing frequent triggers, dealing with nightmares about substance abuse, or suffering from stress due to a new job or relationship. No matter what struggles you are facing, it’s important to have an effective way to cope.

One of the best coping mechanisms for individuals experiencing stress in recovery is breathing exercises. There are several different ways to engage in deep breathing and each technique offers instant stress relief.

Deliberately focusing on your breathing can help prevent relapse. The 4 most common breathing exercises in recovery from addiction include:

1. Breath Counting

Breath counting is an exercise that combines breathing and meditation. It is a great choice when you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed. This technique is ideal if you have a hard time controlling your breathing or feel like you’re going to have a panic attack.

Once you find a comfortable place to sit, you can begin breath counting. From there, you should:

  • Sit quietly for a few moments and notice your breathing
  • Begin to count once you notice your pattern of inhaling and exhaling
  • On your exhale, count “one” in your head
  • On each exhale, count again
  • Count until you reach 5 and then start over
  • Allow your breath to come naturally rather than trying to control it

During this exercise, you might find that your breathing is not steady. If so, simply acknowledge it without attempting to change it. This will help you stay in the moment and begin to relax.

Over time, your concentration will improve and so will the pattern of your breathing.

2. Box Breathing

Box breathing is also referred to as four-square breathing. It is a little bit more involved than counting your breath, however, the level of focus required makes it easier to let go of outside stressors. Box breathing is similar to accidentally breathing to the rhythm of a song.

To begin box breathing, find a comfortable place to sit. Then, begin by:

  • Exhaling to a count of 4
  • Holding your breath empty to a count of 4
  • Inhaling to a count of 4
  • Hold the air in your lungs to a count of 4
  • Repeat the process

While box breathing, imagine the lines of a box forming in your head. This will help you stay in the moment, rather than ruminating on past or future worries. This technique can help reduce anxiety and heart rate.

3. 4-7-8 Breathing

4-7-8 breathing is helpful when you are anxious or experiencing shallow breathing from panic attacks. To begin this technique, place your tongue behind your upper teeth and keep it there. Then, inhale through your nose while practicing with a couple of breaths.

Now, begin 4-7-8 breathing:

  • Begin with a complete exhale with your mouth open
  • Close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose on a count of 4
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7
  • Exhale with your mouth open for a count of 8
  • Repeat these steps while keeping your tongue in place the entire time

Try this deep breathing exercise while sitting in a chair first, as it can be a bit difficult to learn. Once you are familiar with 4-7-8 breathing, you can use it anywhere and at any time.

4. Belly Breathing

Belly breathing is also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing and requires you to have a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Sit in a chair, cross-legged, or lie on your back with a small pillow under your head and knees.

Belly breathing involves:

  • Placing one hand on your upper chest and one hand on your belly and below the ribcage
  • Allow your belly to relax without squeezing or clenching your muscles
  • Breathe in through your nose while feeling your hand on your chest rise
  • Exhale slowly through pursed lips and take note of how your hand stays still on your chest

Start Your Recovery Today

If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, it’s time to seek professional help. The Mandala Healing Center is here to offer the tools and support you need to recover.

Contact us today to learn more about our drug and alcohol rehab program.


  1. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Deep breathing exercise at work: Potential applications and impact