Improve Thinking in Substance Abusers with Yoga
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“When people take substances, they’re seeking a certain experience, whether it’s escapist or transcendental or just wanting a different psychological state, to get away from whatever is making them unhappy. Yoga is an alternative, a positive way to generate a change in consciousness that, instead of providing an escape, empowers people with the ability to access a peaceful, restorative inner state that integrates mind, body, and spirit.” – Sat Bir Khalsa
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. “Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke. In addition, smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion a year. In 2013, an estimated 17.8% (42.1 million) U.S. adults were current cigarette smokers.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
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. Yoga is a mindfulness practice that has documented benefits for the individual’s psychological and physical health and well-being. There has been a paucity of studies, however, on the use of yoga practice to treat substance abuse.
Substance abuse frequently produces cognitive deficits which interfere with the clear thinking needed for abstinence and recovery from substance abuse. So, it is important that methods be found to improve cognitive function in substance abusers undergoing treatment. In today’s Research News article “Effect of Add-On Yoga on Cognitive Functions among Substance Abusers in a Residential Therapeutic Center: Randomized Comparative Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981665/ ), Gaihre and colleagues examine the ability of yoga practice in comparison to a physical exercise program to enhance the cognitive performance in substance abusers undergoing treatment.
They recruited adult substance abusers entering a treatment program and having successfully undergone 3 weeks of withdrawal and abstinence. They were randomly assigned to receive 12-week programs of either yoga practice or physical exercise. Both programs met 6 times per week for 90 minutes. The yoga program included postures, breathing exercises, stretching, relaxation, and meditation. The physical exercise program included stretching and walking and running aerobic exercise. The participants were measured before and after the 12-week intervention for cognitive performance including the Stroop interference task, digit span short-term memory task, and a sustained and selective task.
They found that after 12-weeks of practice both yoga practice and physical exercise groups had large and significant improvements in all of the cognitive tasks. Hence, both types of exercise were associated with clearer thought processes in the substance abusers. It is unfortunate that there a no-treatment control wasn’t included as the improvements might have occurred anyway over the 12-weeks of residential substance abuse treatment. It will remain for future research to examine this possibility.
Substance abuse treatment is difficult and relapse is very common. So, finding methods that can enhance the abuser’s ability to process information and think clearly about their addiction and its treatment would be very helpful. The findings suggest that exercise programs including yoga practice may be able to help clear the cognitive fog and enhance the abuser’s ability to successfully complete treatment and resist relapse.
So, improve thinking in substance abusers with Yoga.
“Since most meditation practices involve management of the mind’s energy and impulses, practitioners of yoga and meditation experience greater mood stability in the face of outside pressures. Having a calm mind and being mentally stable can contribute to the avoidance of self-harming behaviors and activities, like substance abuse.” – Addiction Resources
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Gaihre, A., & Rajesh, S. K. (2018). Effect of Add-On Yoga on Cognitive Functions among Substance Abusers in a Residential Therapeutic Center: Randomized Comparative Study. Annals of Neurosciences, 25(1), 38–45. http://doi.org/10.1159/000484165
Chronic vulnerability characterizes substance abuse disorder with consequent relapse. The process of abstinence depends on cognitive recovery. Hence, behavioral intervention should account for cognitive dimension of substance abusers. Recent studies highlight yoga-based intervention as a promising add-on therapy for treating and preventing addictive behaviors.
The study aimed to evaluate the efficacy of a yoga-based intervention as an add-on in enhancing cognitive functions, compared with physical exercise to newly admitted substance abusers seeking an inpatient treatment program.
The study was a single-blind, randomized, comparative design that included 96 male participants, between 18 and 40 years in a residential rehabilitation treatment unit. Partakers in the yoga or physical exercise group received supervised daily training for 12 weeks, in addition to standard rehabilitation treatment. Raters blind to the study assessed the patients on digit span task, cancellation test, and Stroop tests at the baseline and following 12 weeks of intervention.
A significant enhancement in digit forward (yoga – p < 0.0005, d = 0.81; exercise – p < 0.0005, d = 0.73), digit backward (yoga – p < 0.0005, d = 0.88; exercise – p < 0.0005, d = 0.58), and letter cancellation test scores (yoga – p < 0.0005, d = 1.31; exercise – p < 0.0005, d = 1.4) were observed in both the yoga and the exercise groups. Stroop word and color task scores were seen significantly higher following yoga (p <0.005, d = 0.74; p < 0.005, d = 1.13) and exercise (p < 0.0005, d = 0.62; p < 0.0005, d = 0.61). Furthermore, Stroop color-word test showed significant enhancement after yoga (p < 0.0005, d = 1.10) and exercise (p < 0.0005, d = 0.42), with degree of variation higher in the yoga group.
Our results suggest that the add-on yoga or exercise-based intervention show enhancement of cognitive functions. These findings provide the utility of yoga and exercise-based intervention in improving cognitive functions among substance abusers. Furthermore, rigorous trials are needed to explore the potential long-term effects of these procedures.