Addiction has generally been characterized as a chronic relapsing condition, causing physical or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, such as alcohol, or compulsive involvement in an activity, such as gambling. Current research data suggests that the lack of mindfulness may reinforce addictive behavior and furthermore, teaching mindfulness skills or practices may be one reason for improved treatment outcomes among addicts.
Addiction experts increasingly suggest mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) as a therapeutic approach for substance use and misuse. Current evidence suggests that MBIs can significantly reduce an individual’s consumption of several substances including alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, cigarettes, and opiates. Although extremely limited, preliminary evidence also suggests that MBIs are associated with a reduction in craving, as well as increased mindfulness, which is in and of itself a positive outcome.
A very similar approach, mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) targets cravings and their negative role in the relapse process, by using skills in cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention combined with mindfulness meditation. Therapists teach individuals to increase discriminative awareness by focusing on acceptance of uncomfortable states or challenging situations without reacting "automatically."
A recent study found that those people randomized to MBRP, as compared with those in a control group, demonstrated lower rates of substance use and greater decreases in craving following treatment. Scientists noted that individuals in MBRP did not report increased craving or substance use in response to negative affect. It is not surprising that the areas of the brain that have been associated with craving, negative affect, and relapse are the same areas affected by mindfulness training.
Another study evaluated the feasibility and initial efficacy of an 8-week outpatient Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) program as compared to treatment as usual (TAU). Participants who completed intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment had significantly lower rates of substance use in those who received MBRP as compared to those in TAU over a 16-week post-intervention period. They also demonstrated greater decreases in cravings and increases in acceptance and acting with awareness as compared to TAU.
Results from this initial trial support the feasibility and initial efficacy of MBRP as an aftercare approach for individuals who have recently completed an intensive treatment for substance use disorders. Rigorous and larger randomized controlled studies are needed to verify such promising possibilities using mindfulness in addiction recovery. Seek available treatment options and further information from your health care provider or an addiction treatment center.
Constance Scharff is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research for Cliffside Malibu. She is also the coauthor of the Amazon.com bestselling book Ending Addiction for Good with Richard Taite.