Mindfulness Therapy Best for Relapse Prevention, Study Finds

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A recent study is the first to indicate that over the long term, mindfulness therapy for relapse prevention is more effective than any other strategy.

Any good addiction treatment program includes a component that helps patients learn how to avoid relapsing. This type of aftercare is needed considering that most patients in recovery for a substance abuse disorder will eventually relapse. A recent study concluded that the inclusion of mindfulness therapy in aftercare and relapse prevention work leads to the greatest long-term success in avoiding relapse.

All good treatment programs for addiction must consider the needs of the patient after leaving rehab. Addiction relapse rates are around 60 percent and even higher for drugs like heroin. To address this and to prevent relapse in patients, treatment programs often include relapse prevention therapy. It typically involves identifying triggers for drug or alcohol use, practicing the skills needed to refuse drugs or alcohol, and learning how to avoid and cope with triggers. Mindfulness therapy for relapse prevention includes these techniques, but also incorporates the principles of deeper self-awareness.

Mindfulness Therapy

Mindfulness therapy, also sometimes called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, is used in all areas of mental health, and in some cases for physical illnesses. It is particularly helpful in treating patients with chronic illness and in helping to prevent relapse. For instance, mindfulness has been used successfully to help those with chronic depression.

Mindfulness is about being aware of one’s mood, emotions and physical symptoms in order to prevent the onset of an episode of illness. Mindfulness therapy for addiction involves training the patient to be aware of the emotions and physical symptoms that preempt a relapse and learning to identify the needs underlying the craving to relapse. For example, a relapse may be triggered when a recovering addict is tired. If he has been trained in mindfulness, he will be aware of his fatigue, realize that it is a trigger for relapse, and recognize that he needs a nap rather than drugs or alcohol.

Effectiveness of Mindfulness Therapy

A recent study was the first to indicate that over the long term, up to a year, mindfulness therapy for relapse prevention is more effective than any other strategy. The study from the University of Washington included nearly 300 participants who each completed either standard addiction treatment with no relapse prevention, with typical relapse prevention, or with mindfulness therapy.

The patients were surveyed and urine-tested at three points in time after treatment: three months, six months, and one year. There were no differences in relapse rates among the three groups at the three-month check-in. At six months, the groups of patients who received relapse prevention and mindfulness therapy fared better than the group that had not. At one year later, the group receiving mindfulness therapy had relapsed less often than either of the other two groups.

The evidence illustrates that in the long term, mindfulness therapy is better than typical relapse prevention at keeping recovering addicts from using again. This research only adds to the body of evidence that shows mindfulness can be useful in treating any number of conditions, from depression to heart disease to addiction. The authors of the most recent study are hopeful that more work will be conducted to verify what they have proven.

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