Slightly Improve Substance Use Disorder with Mindfulness

Slightly Improve Substance Use Disorder with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“though it may seem paradoxical, by increasing your ability to accept and tolerate the present moment, you become more able to make needed changes in your life. . . Also, practicing balanced emotional responses can reduce your stress level, and anxiety and stress are often triggers for substance abuse and addictive behavior. In addition, when you choose a neutral rather than a judgmental response to your thoughts and feelings, you can increase your sense of self-compassion rather than beating yourself up, which is often associated with addictive behaviors.” – Adi Jaffe


Substance abuse is a major health and social problem. There are estimated 22.2 million people in the U.S. with substance dependence. It is estimated that worldwide there are nearly ¼ million deaths yearly as a result of illicit drug use which includes unintentional overdoses, suicides, HIV and AIDS, and trauma. In the U.S. about 17 million people abuse alcohol. Drunk driving fatalities accounted for over 10,000 deaths annually. Obviously, there is a need to find effective methods to prevent and treat substance abuse. There are a number of programs that are successful at stopping the drug abuse, including the classic 12-step program emblematic of Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately, the majority of drug and/or alcohol abusers relapse and return to substance abuse. Hence, it is important to find an effective method to prevent these relapses.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve recovery from various addictions. Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) has been developed to specifically assist in relapse prevention and has been shown to be effective. “MBRP integrates mindfulness practices with cognitive-behavioral Relapse Prevention therapy and aims to help participants increase awareness and acceptance of difficult thoughts, feelings, and sensations to create changes in patterns of reactive behavior that commonly lead to relapse. Mindfulness training in MBRP provides clients with a new way of processing situational cues and monitoring internal reactions to contingencies, and this awareness supports proactive behavioral choices in the face of high-risk relapse situation.” – Grow et al. 2015


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention for Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Grant and colleagues review and perform a meta-analysis of the published research literature on the effectiveness of Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) in treating substance use disorder. They identified 9 randomized controlled trials and examined the effects of MBRP on relapse, frequency and quantity of substance use, withdrawal/craving symptoms, treatment dropout, depressive and anxiety symptoms, negative consequences from substance use, and health-related quality of life and also its safety


They found that the summarized published research literature reported few and small positive effects. On most of the outcome measures there were no significant improvements produced by MBRP. Small significant improvements were found for withdrawal effects and cravings and the negative effects of substance use. They found that there were no adverse effects of MBRP. These are disappointing results that suggest that Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is safe but only slightly effective in treating substance use disorder.


These are surprising results as individual trials have reported significant effects. But, it appears that the different trials reported significant effects on different variables with some finding effects on a measure while others finding no effects on the same measure but reporting effects on different measures. When summarized, the reported effects appear to average away. Substance use disorder is such an important social and health issue where there are few viable treatment options, that further research on Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is warranted to investigate what components are effective and which not and how to optimize effectiveness.


So, slightly improve substance use disorder with mindfulness.


“Modeled after mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression and mindfulness-based stress reduction, MBRP tackles the very roots of addictive behavior by targeting two of the main predictors of relapse: negative emotions and cravings.” – Carolyn Gregoire


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Sean Grant, Benjamin Colaiaco, Aneesa Motala, Roberta Shanman, Marika Booth, Melony Sorbero, Susanne Hempel. Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention for Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Addict Med. 2017 Sep; 11(5): 386–396. Published online 2017 Jul 19. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000338




Substance use disorder (SUD) is a prevalent health issue with serious personal and societal consequences. This review aims to estimate the effects and safety of Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) for SUDs.


We searched electronic databases for randomized controlled trials evaluating MBRP for adult patients diagnosed with SUDs. Two reviewers independently assessed citations, extracted trial data, and assessed risks of bias. We conducted random-effects meta-analyses and assessed quality of the body of evidence (QoE) using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation approach.


We identified 9 randomized controlled trials comprising 901 participants. We did not detect statistically significant differences between MBRP and comparators on relapse (odds ratio [OR] 0.72, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.46–1.13, low QoE), frequency of use (standardized mean difference [SMD] 0.02, 95% CI −0.40 to 0.44, low QoE), treatment dropout (OR 0.81, 95% CI 0.40 to 1.62, very low QoE), depressive symptoms (SMD −0.09, 95% CI −0.39 to 0.21, low QoE), anxiety symptoms (SMD −0.32, 95% CI −1.16 to 0.52, very low QoE), and mindfulness (SMD −0.28, 95% CI −0.72 to 0.16, very low QoE). We identified significant differences in favor of MBRP on withdrawal/craving symptoms (SMD −0.13, 95% CI −0.19 to −0.08, I2 = 0%, low QoE) and negative consequences of substance use (SMD −0.23, 95% CI −0.39 to −0.07, I2 = 0%, low QoE). We found negligible evidence of adverse events.


We have limited confidence in estimates suggesting MBRP yields small effects on withdrawal/craving and negative consequences versus comparator interventions. We did not detect differences for any other outcome. Future trials should aim to minimize participant attrition to improve confidence in effect estimates.

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