Mindfulness Meditation Training Can Cut Down Heavy Drinking

Just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation training could help curb the heavy drinking that raises the risk of severe alcohol problems, say researchers at UCL (University College London).

As little as a single 11 minute mindfulness training by audio was enough to start volunteers on an upward spiral. This was followed by a week of regular practising the simple techniques. They were not suffering from drink disorders, but did already belong to a higher risk group.

Regular heavy drinkers can easily become problem drinkers, suffering severe health and social consequences. These include cirrhosis of the liver, anaemia, depression, and brain damage. It can also lead to cancer, so the findings of the study involving 68 drinkers signal a major breakthrough.

mindfulness meditation training

Incredibly, the heavy drinkers who received the exercise in mindfulness meditation training cut their alcohol consumption over the week that followed by the equivalent of three pints of beer. Unlike the other half (the controls) who were taught Relaxation strategies, the 34 ‘Mindfulness’ drinkers were able to cut down their alcohol consumption significantly. There was every reason to believe that Relaxation would work just as well – but it didn’t.

“Participants who had been taught mindfulness exercises drank 9.3 fewer units of alcohol (roughly equivalent to three pints of beer) in the following week compared to the week before, while there was no significant reduction in alcohol consumption among those who had learned relaxation techniques,” reports the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Mindfulness Meditation Training Combats Craving – But How?

The short answer is by learning to tolerate cravings.

“Practising mindfulness can make a person more aware of their tendency to respond reflexively to urges,” explained Dr Sunjeev Kamboj, who led the study.

Mindfulness Meditation Training Focuses on What You Are Feeling

  • Practising mindfulness gives a heightened awareness of one’s feelings and bodily sensations.
  • Individuals pay attention to cravings instead of suppressing them.
  • They learn that by noticing bodily sensations, that they can accept them as temporary events. Then they don’t need to act on them.

“By being more aware of their cravings, we think the study participants were able to bring intention back into the equation, instead of automatically reaching for the drink when they feel a craving,” said Dr Kamboj.

Now the team is looking into the ways in which mindfulness could help people with other substance abuse issues.