Improve Sleep, Fitness, and Abstinence in Women with Stimulant Addiction with Tai Chi

Improve Sleep, Fitness, and Abstinence in Women with Stimulant Addiction with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“As a recovering addict, I urge you to try Tai Chi. It helps you relax, restores your energy, reduces cravings, and combats depression and pain. Plus, it will boost your physical, mental and emotional health.” – Angela Lambert


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. 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 both treat substance abuse disorders and to prevent relapses.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve recovery from various addictions. Tai Chi is a mindfulness practice that has documented benefits for the individual’s psychological and physical health and well-being. Tai Chi and Qigong are ancient mindfulness practices involving slow prescribed movements. Since Tai Chi is both a mindfulness practice and a gentle exercise, it may be an acceptable and effective treatment patients recovering from addictions. There has, however, been a paucity of studies on the use of Tai Chi practice to treat substance abuse.


In today’s Research News article “Long-Term Effects of Tai Chi Intervention on Sleep and Mental Health of Female Individuals With Dependence on Amphetamine-Type Stimulants.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Zhu and colleagues recruited women who were in a drug abuse rehabilitation program for stimulant abuse. They were randomly assigned to receive either Tai Chi practice or usual care with light exercise and drug education. They were treated for 60 minutes per day for 3 months and measured before and after treatment and 3 months later for sleep quality, depression, and physical fitness. Drug relapses were also recorded over the subsequent 4 year period.


They found that the group that practiced Tai Chi had higher sleep quality with shorter sleep durations, greater sleep efficiency, and less daytime disruptions, at the completion of training but not 3 months later. They also found that the Tai Chi group had a significant decrease in their resting pulse rate that was maintained 3 months later. Importantly, significantly fewer of the Tai Chi group relapsed (9.5%) compared to the usual treatment group (26.3%) and for those who relapsed the Tai Chi group stayed abstinent for a significantly longer period (1209 vs. 880 days).


These are interesting and important results that suggest that Tai Chi practice can be of great benefit to women being treated for stimulant drug abuse. The practice appears to improve sleep quality and physical fitness but most importantly appears to help maintain abstinence. There are many programs that produce cessation of drug use, but relapse occurs frequently. That a simple and inexpensive mindfulness exercise can greatly enhance the effectiveness of the programs in producing and maintain abstinence is very encouraging.


So, improve sleep, fitness, and abstinence in women with stimulant addiction with Tai Chi.


“A common complaint many of us share in early recovery is difficulty sleeping. If we have been abusing alcohol or drugs, it may be many years since we last experienced ‘normal’ sleep, and it is going to take a little time for our body to adjust. One of the things you are likely to notice if you practice Tai Chi regularly is that you find it easier to get to sleep at night.” – Hope Rehab


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Zhu D, Dai G, Xu D, Xu X, Geng J, Zhu W, Jiang X and Theeboom M (2018) Long-Term Effects of Tai Chi Intervention on Sleep and Mental Health of Female Individuals With Dependence on Amphetamine-Type Stimulants. Front. Psychol. 9:1476. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01476


Previous studies provide evidence that Tai Chi (TC) can reduce the symptoms of sleep problems and be of benefit for the rehabilitation of substance abusers. In this study, we investigated if TC practice can improve sleep quality and mood of females who are dependent on amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS). Eighty subjects were randomly assigned to TC intervention and standard care (SC) for 6 months. We applied analysis of variance on repeated-measure with the year of drug dependence as the covariate to test the changes of the self-rated Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS), as well as fitness after 3 and 6 months. Relapse investigation was conducted by checking the database of China’s National Surveillance System on Drug Abuse and that of the Shanghai Drug Control Committee’s illicit drug dependents. Our investigation focused on the relapse of participants who had undergone and completed treatment in the Shanghai Mandatory Detoxification and Rehabilitation Center in 2015. The result showed that the PSQI scores of sleep duration [F (2, 92) = 9.86], need for sleep medications [F (2, 92) = 36.44] and daytime dysfunction [F (2, 92) = 5.15] were found to have a significant difference by time × group interaction after 6 months. SDS showed no significant difference between the two groups; however, the score of SDS in TC decreased after 6-month intervention, and no changes were observed in SC. Pulse rate had significantly decreased in the TC group compared with the SC group after 6 months. 9.5% (4) ATS dependents in TC and 26.3% (10) ATS dependents in SC were found to have relapsed. Our result suggested that TC had positive effects on sleep quality, depression and fitness. Long-term study demonstrated that TC may be a cheap and potential supplementary treatment for ATS-dependent individuals. TC may also be considered as an alternative exercise to escalate abstinence for ATS-dependent females.


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