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Mindfulness Therapy Could Indirectly Reduce Alcohol Cravings


Affect and addiction are intertwined in a number of unique ways. One of the primary associations that these two domains have is their relationship with self-consciousness (SC). Individuals with depression often have high levels of SC and people with alcohol addiction often have affect and mood issues such as depression. When someone tries to abstain from alcohol, they can experience significant cravings.

However, it has been shown that these cravings will diminish over time. For individuals with depression, negative mood states and negative self-appraisals can trigger cravings and, thus, increase the risk of relapse. Because SC is found to be relatively high in those with depression, understanding the effect of this trait on craving could help clinicians treating those with alcohol use issues.

Philippe de Timary of the Institute of Neuroscience at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium recently led a study to explore the relationship between SC and craving in a sample of 30 individuals undergoing alcohol detoxification. The participants were assessed for depression, SC, and cravings at the beginning of treatment and again at days 14 through 18. The results revealed that craving and depression both decreased significantly from day 1 to day 18. But the levels of SC among the participants, which were found to be similar to SC levels of those in the general population, did not decrease.

Timary discovered that the individuals with severe depression and elevated SC scores at treatment initiation had the highest level of cravings, depression, and SC at the end of the study period. This suggests that the more self-conscious someone is, the more this trait can impact depression and, subsequently, cravings.

Timary believes that clinicians working with individuals who have alcohol dependence, and especially those with depression, might have greater success if they employ mindfulness-based and metacognitive therapies that focus on developing nonreactive, nonjudgmental acceptance behaviors that could minimize SC and depression. Timary added, “Our results suggest that metacognitive approaches targeting SC could decrease craving and, in turn, prevent future relapses.

De Timary, P., Cordovil de Sousa Uva, M., Denoël, C., Hebborn, L., Derely, M., et al. (2013). The associations between self-consciousness, depressive state and craving to drink among alcohol dependent patients undergoing protracted withdrawal. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71560. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071560

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  • Joda September 24th, 2013 at 10:42 AM #1

    Funny how when you start to really look at things you see how things can be so directly intertwined with one another yet you may not have thought about it until you tried it for something else. Like you may not have even noticed the relationship here until it started to work, and now, here we are with a different treatment that many may not have thought of implementing before but which could actually end up helping a whole lot of people.

  • David September 24th, 2013 at 8:27 PM #2

    A great paper on mindfulness and relapse prevention is this one:

    Witkiewitz, K., Marlatt, G. A., & Walker, D. (2005). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention for alcohol and substance use disorders. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(3), 211-228.

  • shaylee September 25th, 2013 at 3:55 AM #3

    Mindfulness is one of those things that gets you to hyper focus on your world, what drives you and motivates you, and ultimately teaches you to pay close attention to the things that you may have previously ignored.
    It helps you become more aware of who you are and why you are that person so I see how it could also help you to identify those triggers that would cause you to want to drink and once you know those triggers, start to work past them.
    Maybe not something that you would find in just any 12 step program but certably something that could be beneficial especially if the patient is ready and willing to make necessary changes in their life.

  • D Johnson MFT September 27th, 2013 at 9:31 AM #4

    Mindfulness isnt an intervention in and of itself. Its nice to have, a fine goal – but its not an intervention.

    Good therapy required going to the root causes, rather than engaging solely in symptom management.

    A quote: “For individuals with depression, negative mood states and negative self-appraisals can trigger cravings and, thus, increase the risk of relapse.”

    THESE ARE ALL SYMPTOMS!!!! Telapse happens because its part if the cessasion process, but also because the root causes of the symptoms remain untouched, unproccessed and are never really addressed by most therapists. Why???? Because most, if not all, interventions that are taught do not teach therapists to get at the root causes of the symptoms we see or have reported to us.

    Get off the symptom management merry-go-round, please.

  • verna September 30th, 2013 at 3:51 AM #5

    But it could work if used correctly in conjunction with other modes of treatment, right? Maybe not as just as a stand alone, but used with other things?

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