Reduce Alcohol-Related Choices to Alleviate Stress with Brief Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Meditation has a pretty long list of reputed benefits, including everything from lowered stress levels to more effective (and mood-boosting) runs. It can help curb your craving for cocktails.” – Rachel Lapidos
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. These are striking and alarming statistics and indicate that controlling alcohol intake is an important priority for the individual and society
It has been found that mindfulness training has been successfully applied to treating alcohol abuse. It appears to increase the ability of the drinker to control alcohol intake. Stress appears to increase cravings for alcohol and mindfulness training has been shown to reduce responses to stress. Since, mindfulness appears to hold promise as a treatment for excessive alcohol intake, there is a need to examine the ability of meditation training in reducing alcohol-related choices in response to stress.
In today’s Research News article “Ultra-brief breath counting (mindfulness) training promotes recovery from stress-induced alcohol-seeking in student drinkers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6959458/), Shuai and colleagues recruited university students who were not teetotalers. They viewed pairs of pictures of alcohol or food and were asked to choose one for enlargement. Then they were randomly assigned to listen to a 6-minute recording of either a passage from a book or breath counting instructions and counted their breaths. They then repeated the picture choice task but with loud and unpleasant industrial noise playing. They rated their subjective levels of happiness and annoyance before testing, after listening to the recordings, and at the end of the final picture choice session.
They found that the breath counting participants had a significant increase in happiness and decrease in annoyance following the breath counting while the control participants had a significant decrease in happiness and increase in annoyance. Also, the breath counting participants were significantly happier and less annoyed than the control participants after the stressful picture choice condition. Finally, they found that in the stressful condition both groups increased their choice of alcohol related pictures but the breath counting group decreased their choices of alcohol related pictures over time while the control group did not.
This is an interesting laboratory study. But it should be kept in mind that the findings may or may not apply to real-world alcohol seeking. But the findings suggest that a very brief session of breath counting increases happiness and decreases feelings of annoyance and makes the participants more resistant to stress reducing happiness and increasing annoyance and allows the participants to recover faster from stress effects on alcohol choices.
These results suggest that brief breath counting meditation improves mood and makes the participants recover faster from choosing alcohol-related following stress. These results may suggest how meditation improves drinkers’ ability to better control their intake. It does so by improving mood and decreasing the effect of stress on mood and alcohol intake.
So, reduce alcohol-related choices to alleviate stress with brief meditation.
“There are many practices and applications of meditation to stop drinking. Meditation teaches us that we don’t have to react to dispiriting thoughts and cravings. We learn that we have choices, and can choose to remain in the present moment while acknowledging the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that habitually trigger maladjusted behavior. We learn that letting go and self-acceptance are possible, and that they are enough.” – Mindworks
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Shuai, R., Bakou, A. E., Hardy, L., & Hogarth, L. (2020). Ultra-brief breath counting (mindfulness) training promotes recovery from stress-induced alcohol-seeking in student drinkers. Addictive behaviors, 102, 106141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.106141
The therapeutic effect of mindfulness interventions on problematic drinking is thought to be driven by increased resilience to the impact of stress on negative mood and alcohol-seeking behaviour, but this claim needs empirical support. To address this hypothesis, the current study tested whether brief training of one component of mindfulness – breath counting – would reduce drinkers’ sensitivity to the effect of noise stress on subjective mood and alcohol-seeking behaviour. Baseline alcohol-seeking was measured by choice to view alcohol versus food thumbnail pictures in 192 student drinkers. Participants then received a 6-minute audio file which either trained breath counting or recited a popular science extract, in separate groups. All participants were then stressed by a loud industrial noise and alcohol-seeking was measured again simultaneously to quantify the change from baseline. Subjective mood was measured after all three stages (baseline, post intervention, post stress test). The breath counting group were instructed to deploy this technique during the stress test. Results showed that the breath counting versus control intervention improved subjective mood relative to baseline, attenuated the worsening of subjective mood produced by stress induction, and accelerated recovery from a stress induced increase in alcohol-seeking behaviour. Exploratory moderation analysis showed that this accelerated recovery from stress induced alcohol-seeking by breath counting was weaker in more alcohol dependent participants. Mindfulness therapies may improve problematic drinking by increasing resilience to stress induced negative mood and alcohol-seeking, as observed in this study. The weaker therapeutic effect of breath counting in more dependent drinkers may reveal limitations to this intervention strategy.