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A Review of the Science Supporting Meditation as a Treatment for Substance Abuse

Can the simple act of being mindful and aware of your life as you live it help you to overcome addiction as it also brings more joy and serenity into your day to day life? Read on to learn what modern clinical research is discovering about the ancient philosophy and practice of mindfulness meditation and find out if it might be just what you need to improve the health and happiness of your everyday life.

Mindfulness Meditation and Substance Abuse

People have turned to the spiritual plane for answers to life’s greatest challenges since the dawn of time, but do these ancient spiritual traditions and practices truly offer us the health benefits we demand in this modern pharmaceutical world?

Here is a brief review of some clinical research proving just how useful mindfulness meditation can be as a part of any addiction recovery program.

Mindfulness Meditation as Aftercare for Relapse Prevention

To test whether a mindfulness based relapse prevention program might outperform standard aftercare relapse prevention programs, researchers took 168 adult substance abusers, all of whom had just finished an intensive inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program, and randomly assigned half to 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation based relapse prevention training and the other half to a standard relapse prevention aftercare program.

All study subjects were assessed for substance use at the completion of the intervention, and at 2 and 4 months following the completion of the intervention.

The results:

  • Study subjects who completed the mindfulness based relapse prevention program had significantly lower rates of substance use over the 4 month follow up assessment period. In addition to this, Subjects who completed the mindfulness program also reported decreased cravings and improvements in acceptance and awareness.1

Mindfulness Meditation to Reduce Stress Related Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Related thought Suppression

A significant percentage of persistent alcoholics drink, at least in part, as a coping response to stressful situations. Unfortunately, the more a person drinks the more likely they are to experience very stressful events, which leads then leads to ever more drinking. Additionally, although it seems intuitive to try to reduce thoughts about an activity we don’t want to engage in, active though suppression about alcohol has actually been found to increase drinking.

To find out if mindfulness meditation training might help alcoholics improve their capacities to handle stress and to reduce alcohol thought suppression, researchers found 37 adult long term alcoholics living in a therapeutic community and randomly divided these participants into 2 groups. One group received mindfulness based training and the other group participated in a standard evidence based alcoholic treatment support group.

The results:

  • 10 weeks of mindfulness training resulted in significantly greater stress reduction and frequency of alcohol treated thought suppression than participation in a support group.2

Vipassana Meditation for Incarcerated Substance Abusers

In a controlled study in a prison environment, incarcerated substance abusers were provided with either a course on Vipassana meditation or with the prison’s standard substance abuse treatment program.

Prisoners were followed through incarceration and after release and were measured for return to drug and alcohol use.

The results:

  • The prisoners who received the Vipassana meditation training used significantly less alcohol, marijuana and cocaine after release than the prisoners who received the ‘standard’ addiction treatment program. The Vipassana subjects and also showed improvements in psychiatric and social outcomes as compared to the standard treatment group.3

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