Meditation May Improve Drinking and Substance Abuse Behaviors in Active Military Personnel

Deborah Brauser

June 03, 2010

June 3, 2010 (New Orleans, Louisiana) — Meditation may help improve drinking and substance abuse behaviors in active duty service personnel undergoing treatment in a residential program, according to results from a small study reported at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2010 Annual Meeting.

"Using mindfulness-based, breath-centered meditation may be a helpful treatment modality for service members who wish to recover from substance dependence or abuse," said lead investigator Amy Canuso, DO, from the Department of Psychiatry at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, during her presentation.

"I would tell clinicians that this is an option that should be explored," Dr. Canuso told Medscape Psychiatry. "I would consider including it in therapeutic programs at facilities and into therapeutic practice. Substance abuse treatment should really be a team effort with a multidisciplined approach."

"We all want to encourage healthy living techniques, and this might just be an important piece to the puzzle," she added.

Meditation Gaining Recognition

Traditional mental health therapies are often incorporated in substance use treatments aimed at both the military and the civilian sector, Dr. Canuso reported. However, she added, there is also growing interest right now in alternative-type treatments and 1 modality of treatment that is gaining recognition is meditation.

"As a fourth-year resident, I'm starting to realize that there are some things that medications can do and some things they can't, which is also true of cognitive behavior and other techniques," added Dr. Canuso. "For me, personally, meditation is something I practice and I was interested to see if it could work, especially in this setting."

For this study, the investigators reviewed the records of 20 active duty service personnel (19 men, 1 woman) enrolled in a 30-day substance abuse rehabilitation program at the Naval Medical Center. These patients also underwent a once-weekly 90-minute group class for 4 consecutive weeks. The class focused on teaching specific meditation techniques to practice between meetings.

Service members with any diagnosis of psychosis were excluded from the study.

In addition to keeping practice logs and journals, the participants anonymously filled out the Stages of Change Readiness and Treatment Eagerness Scale (SOCRATES) survey both at the beginning and at the end of treatment.

Significant Improvements

Results showed significant improvements between the pretreatment and posttreatment SOCRATES scores in recognition (from 17.1 to 32.3), ambivalence (from 8.4 to 12.7), and "taking steps towards change in drinking behaviors" (from 16.6 to 36.9), reported the investigators.

The same 3 areas also showed significant improvements according to Student t test results (P < .001 for all). In addition, the patients reported better sleep, relaxation, and improved frustration tolerance.

Study limitations cited included the small sample size and that no comparison with a "treatment as usual" group was conducted.

"This was a very small study, but the results have encouraged me to continue the research and see if the results we found were in any way exclusive to the use of meditation," said Dr. Canuso. "The more information we have and the more evidence based it is, the more likely it will become a viable treatment option."

Dr. Canuso has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2010 Annual Meeting: Poster Abstract NR1-01. Presented May 24, 2010.


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