LONDON — Looking to cut back on the booze, but can’t shake the itch? A new study finds that a brief mindfulness session may be just the solution for reducing alcohol consumption.
Researchers at University College London in the UK recruited 68 heavy drinkers for a study on how mindfulness training could help an individual control how much they drink.
Half of the participants sat through an tutorial that showed them how to practice an 11-minute mindfulness technique on their own, while the remaining half were assigned to a control group that taught general relaxation techniques.
Both groups were double-blind, meaning that neither researchers nor subjects knew the conditions to which a given participant would be assigned.
All participants were encouraged to practice the techniques they learned for the following week, which allowed researchers to measure changes in alcohol usage.
The researchers found that those who practiced the 11-minute mindfulness regimen consumed 9.3 fewer units of alcohol that week (i.e., about three pints of beer), while those who practiced simple relaxation techniques hardly reduced their consumption at all.
“We found that a very brief, simple exercise in mindfulness can help drinkers cut back, and the benefits can be seen quite quickly,” says lead researcher Dr. Sunjeev Kamboj in a university news release.
Since bouts of heavy drinking often lead to alcoholism, perhaps even short mindfulness inventions could help curb alcoholism issues before they become chronic, the researchers argue.
“Practicing mindfulness can make a person more aware of their tendency to respond reflexively to urges,” explains Kamboj. “By being more aware of their cravings, we think the study participants were able to bring intention back in the equation, instead of automatically reaching for the drink when they feel a craving.”
Further research could delve into the best way to teach mindfulness interventions, along with applications for these findings toward other substance abuse problems.
The study’s findings were published earlier this month in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.