Brief training in mindfulness strategies could help heavy drinkers start to cut back on alcohol consumption, according to UK researchers.
After an 11-minute training session and encouragement to continue practising mindfulness, heavy drinkers drank less over the next week than people who were taught relaxation techniques.
“We found that a very brief, simple exercise in mindfulness can help drinkers cut back”
The technique involves focusing on what’s happening in the present moment, noted the researchers from University College London’ s clinical psychopharmacology unit.
Their study involved 68 participants, who drank heavily but not to the point of having an alcohol use disorder.
Half of them were trained to practise mindfulness, which teaches a heightened awareness of one’s feelings and bodily sensations, so that they pay attention to cravings instead of suppressing them.
They were told that by noticing bodily sensations, they could tolerate them as temporary events without needing to act on them.
The training was delivered through audio recordings, and only took 11 minutes. At the end, participants were encouraged to continue practising the techniques for the next week.
The other half of the group were taught relaxation strategies, chosen as a control condition that appeared to be just as credible as the mindfulness exercise for reducing alcohol use.
The double-blinded study was published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.
The mindfulness group drank 9.3 fewer units of alcohol – around three pints of beer – in the following week, compared to the week preceding the study.
However, there was no significant reduction in alcohol consumption among those who had learned relaxation techniques.
Lead author, Dr Sunjeev Kamboj said: “We found that a very brief, simple exercise in mindfulness can help drinkers cut back, and the benefits can be seen quite quickly.”
Just 11 mins mindfulness training helps drinkers cut back
“Practising mindfulness can make a person more aware of their tendency to respond reflexively to urges,” he noted.
“By being more aware of their cravings, we think the study participants were able to bring intention back into the equation, instead of automatically reaching for the drink when they feel a craving,” he said.
Severe alcohol problems are often preceded by patterns of heavy drinking, so the researchers are hopeful that mindfulness could help to reduce drinking before more severe problems develop.
Study co-author Damla Irez added: “Some might think that mindfulness is something that takes a long time to learn properly, so we found it encouraging that limited training and limited encouragement could have a significant effect to reduce alcohol consumption.”