A treatment program incorporating mindfulness meditation is better over the long term than traditional approaches at preventing relapses of drug and alcohol abuse, according to a new study.
One year after treatment for substance abuse, far fewer participants who got relapse-prevention training including mindfulness techniques had used drugs or alcohol compared to those given relapse-prevention therapy alone or a standard 12-step program.
"Addiction is really a tough one," Sarah Bowen told Reuters Health. "The relapse rates remain really high even after decades of work by the best scientists out there. We need to keep looking at more options."
Bowen, from the Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors at the University of Washington in Seattle, led the new research.
"We need to keep looking at innovative approaches of addiction treatment," she said. "I don't want to say mindfulness is better for everyone, but it's another option."
Bowen and her colleagues write in JAMA Psychiatry that about 11 percent of people in the U.S. with substance abuse problems seek treatment every year, but between 40 percent and 60 percent relapse.
Relapse prevention therapies are meant to help people avoid falling off the wagon after they're released from an intensive treatment, such as a rehabilitation program, or "rehab."
Traditional approaches to reducing a person's risk of using drugs and alcohol again include a 12-step program based within a support group structure that emphasizes abstinence.
Another popular approach to relapse prevention is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people how to confront and cope with particular situations, such as refusing drugs and alcohol.
The mindfulness-based approach builds on that kind of relapse prevention program by also teaching self-awareness through meditation. Those techniques allow people to understand what drives cravings and better deal with the discomfort they can create.
Another recent study determined that mindfulness meditation helped stave off chocolate cravings, for example, by letting people distance themselves mentally from the feeling of craving (see Reuters Health story of March 13, 2014 here: reut.rs/1m3Jr2P).
For the new study, Bowen and her colleagues recruited 286 people who had successfully completed substance abuse treatment and randomly assigned them to participate in one of three treatments for eight weeks.
One group did a standard 12-step program, another group did a cognitive-behavioral-based relapse prevention program and the third group did a program combining relapse-prevention with mindfulness techniques. All the therapies were administered through group sessions.
The researchers then followed the participants for 12 months to see how many used