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Friday, March 21, 2014

Mindfulness helps prevent relapses

Learning mindfulness meditation reduced the risk that people in substance-abuse treatment programs would relapse, a study by researchers at the University of Washington says. Mindfulness may work better than group meetings or education because it helps people understand what's happening when they have cravings, researchers said.

The study looked at 286 recovering addicts who were divided among three groups: a program that involved group discussions, one that taught relapse prevention strategies (such as avoiding triggers), and one that included mindfulness meditation. Researchers note that 40 to 60 percent of those in recovery relapse.

After six months, participants in the strategy group and the meditation group had a reduced risk of using drugs or heavy drinking compared to the talk-only group, the study said. After a year, those in the meditation program had used substances on fewer days and had a reduced risk of relapse, compared to both other groups. This suggests meditation may have a more lasting effect, researchers said.

Study researcher Sarah Bowen, an assistant professor at the University of Washington's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences , and her colleagues designed "mindfulness-based relapse prevention," which she described as a "training in awareness."

In this program, each session is about two hours, with 30 minutes of guided meditation followed by discussions about what people experienced during meditation and how it relates to addiction or relapse, Bowen said. The meditation sessions are intended to bring heightened attention to things that patients usually ignore, such as how it feels to eat a bite of food, or other bodily sensations, as well as thoughts and feelings.

The mindfulness program may work to prevent relapse in part because it makes people more aware of what happens when they have cravings.

"If you're not aware of what's going on, you don't have a choice, you just react," Bowen said.
Livescience.com quotes Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., who was not involved in the study, who says people with addiction often have difficulty regulating emotion, resulting in states like depression, anxiety, or self-harm. People may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with those feelings.

Mindfulness meditiation helps teach people to "tolerate feelings of emotional distress, so when they feel like they're going to use [drugs], they don’t," Krakowe said.