Meditation as a Therapy for Alcoholism
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and has long been associated with Eastern religion and philosophy. Some people practice it to help deepen their understanding of what they consider to be the sacred and mystical forces of life. Others use it for increasing their level of calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, or enhancing overall health and well-being.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that “There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions); a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath); and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).”1 A common goal is to achieve a relaxed state of being and inner peace. The procedure is easy to learn and can be performed virtually anywhere.
Ways to meditate can include, among others,:2
- Guided meditation involves forming mental images of relaxing places or situations, using as many senses as possible. This is sometimes called guided imagery or visualization and may be led by a guide or teacher.
- Mantra meditation involves silently repeating a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
- Mindfulness meditation involves an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment. The goal is broaden conscious awareness by focusing on what is experienced during meditation, such as the flow of breath.
- Qi gong generally involves combining meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises to restore and maintain balance.
- Tai chi involves performing a self-paced series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner while practicing deep breathing.
- Transcendental meditation involves silently repeating a mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase, in a specific way.
- Yoga involves performing a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises to promote a flexible body and a calm mind.
There is some evidence that practicing meditation may be useful for reducing stress, improving sleep, relieving psychological distress, reducing anger and hostility, improving coping ability, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the perception of pain. The evidence is not good regarding any value for smoking cessation or as a therapy for alcoholism. However, the existence of poorly designed studies or mixed results does not mean that meditation is not effective for alcoholism. It does mean that the evidence is weak, conflicting, or unconvincing.
Yoga has been criticized for being a cause of medical problems. These include tears of the acetabular labral (the structure joining the femur and the hip), back injury, degenerative arthritis of the cervical spine, damage to the common fibular nerve (a branch of the sciatic nerve, which supplies movement and sensation to the lower leg, foot and toes), headaches, knee injuries, spinal stenosis, strokes, thoracic outlet syndrome, torn muscles, torn retinas, tears of the vertebral arteries (arteries in the neck that supply blood to the brain) and “yoga foot drop.”3
Before beginning to practice yoga, many people choose to discuss their physical condition and medical history with a physician or other qualified health care provider.
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- 1. Meditation: What You Need to Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm
- 2. Meditation. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858
- 3. Broad, William J. How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. New York Times Magazine, January 5, 2012; Broad, William J. The Science of Yoga: the Risks and the Rewards. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
- Bowen, Sarah, Witkiewitz, Katie, Tiara M. Dillworth, Tiara M., Blume, Arthur W. Chawla, Neharika, Simpson, Tracy L.Ostafin, Brian D., Larimer, Mary E., Parks, George A., and Marlatt, G. Alan Mindfulness Meditation and Substance Use in an Incarcerated Population. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2006, 20(1), 343-347.
- Carim-Todd, L., Mitchell, S.H., and Oken, B.S. Mind-body practices: an alternative, drug-free treatment for smoking cessation? A systematic review of the literature. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2013, 132(3), 399-410.
- Chiesa, Alberto. Vipassana Meditation: Systematic Review of Current Evidence. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2010, 16(1), 37-46.
- Chiesa, A., and Serretti, A. Are mindfulness-based interventions effective for substance use disorders? A systematic review of the evidence. Substance Use and Misuse, 2014, 49(5), 492-512.
- Garland, E.G., Gaylord, S.A., Boettiger, C.A., and Howard, M.O. Mindfulness training modifies cognitive, affective, and physiological mechanisms implicated in alcohol dependence: results of a randomized controlled pilot trial. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 2010, 42(2), 177-192.
- Gelderloos, Paul, Walton, Kenneth G., Orme-Johnson, David W., and Alexander, Charles N. Effectiveness of the Transcendental Meditation Program in Preventing and Treating Substance Misuse: A Review. Substance Use and Misuse,1991, 26(3), 293-325
- Murphy, Timothy J., Pagano, Robert R., and Marlatt, G. Alan. Lifestyle modification with heavy alcohol drinkers: effects of aerobic exercise and meditation. Addictive Behaviors, 1986, 11(2), 175-218.
- Zgierska, Aleksandra, Rabago, David, Chawla, Neharika, Kushner, Kenneth, Koehler, Robert, and Marlatt, Alan. Mindfulness meditation for substance use disorders: a systematic systematic review. Substance Abuse, 2009, 30(4), 266-294.
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