Mindfulness Meditation Can Treat Meth and Coke Addicts, Says Study

By Dorri Olds 08/09/16

In the randomized clinical study, 63 adults battling stimulant addiction received basic behavioral treatment for their addiction for three months.

Mindful Meditation Can Treat Meth and Coke Addicts, Says Study

A recent UCLA study has found that mindfulness meditation may be just what the doctor ordered for millions of people suffering from addictions to methamphetamine, cocaine, and other stimulants. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 34 million people worldwide use stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine. But repeated use of these stimulants can cause users to suffer complications such as depression, anxiety, heart problems, and paranoia.

The study's participants went through a program called “mindfulness-based relapse prevention,” which utilizes tools from meditation to get the participants to focus on the present and release themselves from feelings of judgment and criticism.

The Fix reached out to the lead author of the study, Dr. Suzette Glasner, who has also written an award-winning workbook for overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. We wanted to know what prompted the research and if a larger study is in the works.

“I developed an interest in using mindfulness to treat stimulant addiction because one of the most difficult hurdles a stimulant user often faces in early recovery is managing the sadness and anxiety that comes to the surface,” said Dr. Glasner.

She explained that it has been well-documented in research studies that depression and anxiety are among the most common psychological symptoms that stimulant users complain about when attempting to get clean. 

“The most well studied evidence-based treatments for addictions, like cognitive behavioral therapy or relapse prevention, devote some content to this topic—for example, managing negative emotions," said Dr. Glasner. "But it isn’t the focus of treatment. Mindfulness has been used effectively in helping non-addicts cope with depression and anxiety, so the potential to extend this approach to those suffering from drug addiction was very exciting. More often than not, people with drug addiction also suffer from mental health problems.”

Her hope in designing the study was to prove that mindfulness is a helpful tool for stimulant users suffering from troubling psychological symptoms. The goal was to give them effective coping skills for dealing with negative emotions without using drugs.

“This way, rather than giving up because of that intolerable emotional discomfort in early recovery, they could develop the coping skills and confidence needed to motivate them to stay in treatment.”

She pointed out that the results suggest that mindfulness training can help more severely ill stimulant users—those who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. “For them, effective treatment options are urgently needed,” she said.

In answer to our second question, Dr. Glasner is planning a larger clinical trial to test the effectiveness of this approach among stimulant users with depression and anxiety. 

“Since we initially studied a group of stimulant users with and without anxiety and depression diagnoses, and found that [mindfulness meditation] was especially helpful for those who had more severe and diagnosable problems with these types of symptoms, we are going to target those who have mental health problems for the next study and attempt to replicate these findings.”

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.