4-7-8 breathing method

4-7-8 Breathing Exercise for Anxiety and Addiction

SoCal Detox
SoCal Detox

SoCal Detox editorial contributors include writers, editors, mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals who are trained to create credible and authoritative health information that is accurate, informative, and easy to understand.

Anxiety seems to be as much a part of life for a person with a substance use disorder as the drugs or alcohol—whatever they use to medicate themselves. Indeed, it’s often the many anxieties of life a person is looking to avoid or numb when they turn to drugs or alcohol. However, a deep breathing exercise for addiction can offer a healthy alternative way to handle anxiety, and even combat cravings and other health issues. 

What’s Up With Anxiety?

Anxiety is a stress response. It’s quite natural actually. If you happen to be in a jungle and a pack of bloodthirsty baboons are circling you, your blood is going to start pumping. You will begin to sweat and maybe even get a bit of nausea.

Not only that, some amount of anxiety helpful. If a speeding car is flying down the street and you have to get the kids in the house, adrenaline helps. Or even if you are getting ready for the “big game,” butterflies are a form of anxiety that means our bodies are getting ready to perform at its best.

But what about when it is not so good? Many people with substance use disorders or who are living in recovery have extreme amounts of anxiety, and this causes quite a few problems.

Doing Harm

Anxiety becomes something that does more harm than good when it tells us we are in a dangerous situation, and it’s not true. It causes us to avoid people, situations, and environments, that might even be good for us. It could even occur in normal day-to-day circumstances.

Of course, the “danger response” feels very real to a person experiencing anxiety, and they will usually look for a way to get rid of the symptoms—sometimes temporarily treating them with alcohol or drugs. This may help them feel better short-term, but the long-term negative effects are never worth it.

How a Breathing Exercise for Addiction Helps

The stress response that occurs when a person gets anxious means a rapid heartbeat, tense muscles, shallow breathing, and more. In fact, one of the most distinguishing aspects of a panic attack or extreme anxiety is the irregular breathing.

Breathing is so ingrained in our stress response that deep, controlled breathing automatically induces relaxation. A person cannot be in a state of panic and breathe slowly at the same time. It’s like sneezing with your eyes open.

As well, an added benefit of deep breathing to placate anxiety is that it gives your brain’s thought processes an outlet. Taking your mind off of what ever brought about your anxiety is a good way to naturally handle the ramifications of overthinking.

Since intentional deep breathing can put your body into the relaxed state free from anxiety, a personal breathing exercise for addiction is an essential tool for a person with substance use disorder. You can use different times for your breathing exercise for addiction, but we are going to show the 6-7-8 approach. It is simple, fast, and very effective.

How to Do It

  1. Sit down. Feet flat on the ground, back straight (you can do this lying down too).
  2. Let all the air out of your lungs through your mouth.
  3. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of 4
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 7
  5. Exhale for a count of 8

Rinse and repeat, 4 times.

That’s it.

3 Steps:

Breathe in 4 seconds
Hold your breath 7 seconds
Breathe out for 8 seconds

Repeat 4 times.


  • Keeping your hands relaxed, hold up one finger for each breath. Seems simple, but as you relax this is a helpful way for you to keep track of your progress.
  • Do this at least twice a day.
  • Make sure you are going slowly; however, the most important aspect is the 8-second exhale, so that the oxygenated blood can circulate.
  • Use it for anxiety relief
  • Use it to help curb cravings. When you get a craving, before you act on it, do the breathing exercise.
  • To fully get the benefits of this technique you will need to make it a daily practice.


If you are interested in this breathing exercise for addiction, you might be interested in how yoga is used in addiction recovery: “Yoga for Addiction Recovery.”

At SoCal Detox, we are intentional about engaging the whole person in their detoxification process. As well, we believe in finding the right program that continues this holistic healing for the next step for all our residents. If you or your loved one are struggling with substance use disorder and looking for a safe, holistic approach to detox and recovery, please call us today: 888-590-0777.

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