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11 minutes of mindfulness enough to make heavy drinkers cut back on alcohol, study says

New research suggests that mindfulness is more effective than relaxation techniques at curbing drinkers’ urges.

shutterstock_602403605 Source: Shutterstock/Smiltena

TRAINING IN MINDFULNESS strategies could be the key to aiding heavy drinkers in cutting their alcohol consumption, according to a new study.

The new research, published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, found that a brief 11-minute training session in mindfulness was enough to coax heavy drinkers into consuming less alcohol the following week compared with similar people who were taught relaxation techniques.

Mindfulness is a psychological process involving people focusing their attention on what’s happening in the present moment.

“We found that a very brief, simple exercise in mindfulness can help drinkers cut back, and the benefits can be seen quite quickly,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Sunjeev Kamboj, of University College London’s (UCL) Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit.

The research involved taking 68 drinkers (who consume alcohol heavily, but not to the extent of having a disorder), and splitting that group evenly into those who underwent a mindfulness session (so that they paid attention to their cravings rather than suppressing them) and those who were instructed in relaxation techniques.

The group was then asked to continue practising those techniques for a further week.

Results

Overall, those who had undergone the mindfulness session drank 9.3 alcohol units (about three pints of beer) less than they had the previous week, while those practising relaxation saw no significant difference in their consumption.

“We used a highly controlled experimental design, to ensure that any benefits of mindfulness training were not likely explained by people believing it was a better treatment,” said co-author of the study Dr Tom Freeman, who was part of the research team while based at UCL.

The researchers are hopeful that their findings could see mindfulness succeed as a technique to reduce a person’s drinking before more severe problems develop.

“We’re hopeful that further studies will replicate our findings and provide more insight into how mindfulness training could be most effective in practice,” said study co-author Shirley Serfaty of UCL.

Our team is also looking into how mindfulness might help people with other substance use problems.

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