A new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine by Eric L. Garland reveals that mindfulness can reduce cravings for opiates (painkillers, heroin) and provide more enjoyment of healthy pleasures.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation. It is a way of being that is focused on the present moment in a non-judgmental, non-reactive, compassionate manner. Mindfulness includes being gently aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, rather than being absorbed in them.
Participants in the study were taught to be mindful of present textures, colors and scents, among other things. As participants experienced increased mindfulness, their cravings diminished and they began to experience more enjoyment of everyday healthy pleasures.
“These findings are scientifically important because one of the major theories about how and why addiction occurs asserts that over time drug abusers become dulled to the experience of joy in everyday life, and this pushes them to use higher and higher doses of drugs to feel happiness,” said Eric Garland, an associate professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work, in a press release.
Opioid drug users, whether they’re abusing heroin, Oxycontin or some other painkiller or morphine-derived drug, experience a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine, as the drug binds to opioid-sensitive receptors in the brain. This causes a high full of pleasure, and the brain encodes that pleasure with the environment it occurs in. Thus, the brain comes to crave those feelings again, with each subsequent use inducing a weaker effect. These drug users typically search for higher doses after that, and it’s easy to see how it can become a vicious cycle of addiction. The drug becomes so important that everyday pleasures are drowned out of one’s experience. It simply becomes difficult if not impossible to enjoy life with the drugs.
The powerful findings in Garland’s study mirror a long line of previous studies revealing the positive benefits of mindfulness. Some are speculating that mindfulness will soon become a preferred method of treatment for many practitioners who have traditionally used talk therapy and other more traditional therapies. Garland’s latest study builds on earlier work published in February in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in which the mindfulness intervention was found to reduce opioid misuse among a sample of chronic pain patients compared to another sample of chronic pain patients participating in a conventional support group.
In addition to studies like Garland’s showing positive effects of mindfulness on addiction, the medical community as a whole is discovering the positive benefits of mindfulness on a host of medical and behavioral issues. Research in Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation states, “These findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways and underscore the need for additional research.”
More will be revealed, as the mindfulness revolution continues in the medical and behavioral health fields.