How can people who are dependent on prescription drugs reduce their cravings? That's the question Eric L. Garland, associate professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work, set to answer in his new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
He found that people are more likely to break their habit with prescription opioids if they focus on other aspects of life — through an intervention program called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE).
MORE is designed to train people to respond differently to pain, stress, and drug-related triggers by combining three therapeutic components: mindfulness training, reappraisal, and savoring.
The press release explains each component in more detail:
- Mindfulness involves training the mind to increase awareness, gain control over one's attention and regulate automatic habits.
- Reappraisal is the process of reframing the meaning of a stressful or adverse event in such a way as to see it as purposeful or growth promoting.
- Savoring is the process of learning to focus attention on positive events to increase one's sensitivity to naturally rewarding experiences, such as enjoying a beautiful nature scene or experiencing a sense of connection with a loved one.
Participants in Garland's study — all chronic pain patients — received eight weeks of instruction to apply these mindfulness-oriented techniques to both alleviate pain and craving and emphasize positive emotions, reward, and meaning in life. They were taught to focus their attention on colors, textures, and scents of life's pleasantries — like a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers — and apply that meditation technique to enjoy other positive life experiences.
Through electroencephalography (EEG) evaluations, Garland found that the more the patients' brains became active in response to natural healthy pleasure, the less the patients craved opioids.
"These findings are scientifically important because one of the major theories about how and why addiction occurs asserts that over time drug abusers become dulled to the experience of joy in everyday life, and this pushes them to use higher and higher doses of drugs to feel happiness," said Garland. "This study suggests that this process can be reversed. We can teach people to use mindfulness to appreciate and enjoy life more, and by doing that, they may feel less of a need for addictive drugs. It's a powerful finding."
This study shows just how powerful a tool mindfulness can be. With both time and professional help, if you can learn how to shift and savor the thoughts in your head, you can find your way out of the darkest of holes. There is always hope.
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