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Mindfulness and Stimulant Addiction

Interest in using mindfulness programs to help people with food or tobacco cravings continues to grow. According to pilot study findings, people addicted to stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamines are another group who may benefit from the practice.

University of California, Los Angeles, researchers found that people with depression or anxiety, in particular, experienced benefits. “When stimulant users attempt to quit, some of the most frequent complaints have to do with intolerable feelings of depression, sadness and anxiety, conditions that often lead people to drop out of treatment early,” said lead study author Suzette Glasner, PhD, associate professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, in a UCLA news release. “Mindfulness practice not only helps them to manage cravings and urges, but also enables them to better cope with the psychological discomfort that can precipitate a relapse.”

Investigators recruited 63 adults with stimulant dependence to determine the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based relapse prevention program. All subjects participated in the first 4 weeks of a 12-week standard behavioral treatment program for stimulant addiction. After 4 weeks, subjects were randomly assigned to either a supplemental mindfulness-based relapse prevention program or a standard health education group, in addition to the behavioral treatment program, for the remaining 8 weeks.

Researchers collected data on stimulant use and symptoms of anxiety and depression at the beginning of the study, weekly during the intervention and 1 month after the program ended.

Data analysis showed that all mindfulness-intervention group members felt more positive than those in standard treatment. What was most interesting, however, was that this result was even stronger among those who had issues with anxiety and/or depression.

“Our findings suggest that mindfulness is especially helpful for people who struggle with anxiety and depression along with their addiction,” said Glasner. “This might be because part of their reason for using drugs is to deal with those uncomfortable emotions. Mindfulness helps them manage their symptoms on their own, without turning to drugs and alcohol.”

UCLA researchers intend to conduct a larger study that will focus on stimulant-addicted adults with depression and anxiety to see if the results can be replicated. The pilot study appeared in Mindfulness (2016; doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0586-9).

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