Better Control Drinking with Mindfulness

“mindfulness gives us the strength psychologically and neurologically to sit in discomfort, to lean into the void, as opposed to avoid it and jump to our addiction.” – Mindful Muscle


Inappropriate use of alcohol is a major societal problem. In fact, about 25% of US adults have engaged in binge drinking in the last month and 7% have what is termed an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse is very dangerous and frequently fatal. Nearly 88,000 people in the US and 3.3 million globally die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Drunk driving accounted for over 10,000 deaths; 31% of all driving fatalities. Excessive alcohol intake has been shown to contribute to over 200 diseases including alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries. It is estimated that over 5% of the burden of disease and injury worldwide is attributable to alcohol consumption.


Alcohol abuse often develops during adolescence and it on display with college students where about four out of five college students drink alcohol and about half of those consume alcohol through binge drinking. About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem.


Alcohol abuse can have dire consequences as 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use. But, drinking has widespread consequence to not only the students but also the college communities, and families. More than 690,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. 599,000 students receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol.


These facts clearly highlight the need to explore methods to control excessive alcohol intake. One potential method is mindfulness as it has been shown to assist in the control of alcohol intake (see and in recovery from alcohol addiction (see So it would make sense to further explore the effects of mindfulness on alcohol intake in college students.


In today’s Research News article “How to think about your drink: Action-identification and the relation between mindfulness and dyscontrolled drinking”

Schellhas and colleagues do exactly that, examining the relationships between mindfulness, alcohol intake, difficulty in controlling alcohol intake, and their identification with alcohol intake in college students. Interestingly, they did not find a relationship between mindfulness and weekly use of alcohol. But there was a relationship between mindfulness and the ability to control alcohol intake. In other words, mindful individuals drink as much as those with low mindfulness but they are better able to control their intake.


They also found that mindfulness also had an indirect effect on alcohol consumption. Mindfulness was negatively related to the use of alcohol to escape emotional problems. This escape use of alcohol intake was strongly related to the inability to control alcohol intake. In other words, students high in mindfulness were less likely to use alcohol to deal with their emotional problems and this in turn allowed the students to better control, their intake.


The results suggest that mindfulness may help students control alcohol intake. The study, however, did not actively change levels of mindfulness, but simply measured existing levels and their relations to alcohol consumption. As a result, it cannot be concluded that mindfulness was responsible for the better control of intake. It could be that individuals who are better at controlling behavior are more mindful or that some third factor such as emotional maturity was related to both. Future research is needed where mindfulness training is implemented to increase students’ mindfulness and observe its subsequent effect on intake and ability to control intake.


Regardless it is clear the mindfulness and control of alcohol intake are positively related. So, better control drinking with mindfulness.


“mindfulness is likely an effective tool in helping people with addiction because it’s a single, simple skill that a person can practice multiple times throughout their day, every day, regardless of the life challenges that arise. With so much opportunity for practice—rather than, say, only practicing when someone offers them a cigarette—people can learn that skill deeply.” – Sarah Bowen


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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