Lower Substance Use with Mindfulness  

Research has demonstrated that the age when adolescents first start using alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit drugs is a predictor of later alcohol and drug problems. More than 40% of youth who start drinking at age 14 or younger develop alcohol dependence, compared with 10% of youth who begin drinking at age 20 or older.” – Erik Laursen and Paul Brasler


Adolescence is often a time of rebellion and experimentation and drug use is often the result. In a recent survey it was found that 9% of 8th graders, 23.5% of 10th graders, and 37.4% of 12th graders used alcohol in the past month and 19.4% of seniors engaged in binge drinking. These findings are particularly troubling as nearly one in four adolescents has ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking and car accidents are the leading cause of death for adolescents. Fortunately, alcohol use by adolescents has been decreasing over the last several years.


Unlike the decline in alcohol use, marijuana use in adolescents has remained steady. Marijuana use in the preceding month was reported by 6.5% of 8th graders, 16.6% of 10th graders, and 21.2% of 12th graders with around 6% percent of 12th graders reporting daily use of marijuana.  Marijuana was reported as easy to obtain by 81% of 12th graders.


These statistics are troubling and methods to reduce the use of alcohol and marijuana among adolescents are needed. Mindfulness has been shown to help with recovery from alcohol abuse (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/28/kick-the-drug-habit-with-mindfulness/). This raises the question as to whether mindfulness might be useful in combating adolescent alcohol and marijuana use.


In today’s Research News article “When you see it, let it be: Urgency, mindfulness and adolescent substance use”



Robinson and colleagues studied male and female youths in the 9th through 12th grades and measured mindfulness and alcohol, substance use patterns, impulsivity, and urgency, the impulsive tendency toward rash action. They found that mindfulness was associated with lower urgency, impulsivity, and alcohol and marijuana use. They also found that urgency and impulsivity were associated with greater alcohol and marijuana use.


These results suggest that mindfulness may be useful for restraining alcohol and marijuana use in adolescents. The findings, however, are correlational and thus do not allow the conclusion that mindfulness is the cause of lower use. It could be that lack of drug use makes them more mindful or some third factor, such as attention problems is responsible for both. A study training students in mindfulness and looking at subsequent alcohol and marijuana use is needed. But, these results are an encouraging first step.


The fact that mindfulness was associated with lower urgency and impulsivity is very interesting as these traits have been previously shown to be associated with the initiation of alcohol and marijuana use in adolescents. It also may indicate that mindfulness lowers alcohol and marijuana use by lowering urgency and impulsivity which in turn results in a lowering of use. It is known that mindfulness improves emotion regulation in general (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/10/take-command-and-control-of-your-emotions/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/20/regulate-emotions-with-mindfulness/) and the finding for urgency and impulsivity may be another instance. Further research is needed to clarify these ideas.


So, lower substance use with mindfulness.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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