Mindfulness Meditation Can Help Treat Addiction, New Research at the U Finds


Sydney Stam

(Graphic by Sydney Stam | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Stevie Shaughnessey, Home Stretch Producer, Host


A recent study at the University of Utah found that mindfulness training and meditation provides a natural high, and can be used to treat forms of addiction.

Eric Garland, a distinguished endowed chair of research and an associate professor of research, developed the Mindfulness Oriented Recovery Enhancement therapy, also known as MORE, to provide a solution for those suffering from addiction and pain issues.

“For more than a decade, we’ve conducted multiple randomized clinical trials of MORE therapy for people suffering from a wide array of addictive behaviors, but a lot of the work has focused on MORE as a treatment for opioid misuse and opioid use disorder among people with chronic pain,” Garland said.

This type of treatment is still being developed, Garland said, but the trials conducted have shown it is more effective than the usual treatment that people who are suffering from addiction receive.

“We found that the MORE therapy reduced opioid misuse by 45% at the nine-month follow up point, which was nearly triple the effect of standard supportive therapy,” Garland said. “At the same time, we found that the MORE therapy reduced chronic pain itself, so 50% of patients treated with the MORE therapy reported experiencing clinically significant reductions in pain.”

According to Garland, this therapy is so effective because of how it creates a high amount of theta waves within the prefrontal cortex and changes patients’ perceptions. A high amount of these theta waves are seen when the brain is focused and absorbed in a task.

“The greater the depth of the meditative state patients reported, so the more theta waves they experienced, the more patients started to experience the sense of self transcendence, the sense of being connected to something greater than the self,” Garland said.

According to Richard Landward, an assistant professor in the college of social work, this change of perception that has been seen in patients is key to helping them change their habits.

“So, you can’t stop addiction if you’re in a state of fear,” Landward said. “The moment you move from fear to learning and growth, to compassion and empathy, which is an executive brain experience, you change. Mindfulness is how you move from primitive fear to executive learning.”

Mindful meditation helps us feel in control after we experience trauma, Landward said, providing an alternative way to dilute the pain and fear without turning to addictive substances.

“When you get stressed or hyper aroused or jacked up or irritated or frustrated, instead of escaping into a substance, you now have control to turn that system off by taking a deep breath and connecting to your source and senses and reframing your perception,” Landward said. “It’s a powerful tool that gives someone control in a space where they’ve not felt in control, and it empowers a person to take their life back.”

According to Landward, any sort of addiction treatment should include a mindfulness component of some sort to help the patient regain control, or else the treatment won’t be as effective. 

“You cannot do effective substance abuse counseling if you don’t have a way to deactivate the hyper arousal system,” Landward said. “It’s free on the substance. So mindfulness has to be a component of effective therapy for substance use.”

To further his research on mindfulness meditation, Garland plans to conduct more studies on how mindfulness is actually changing the brain and wants to be able to effectively help more people who suffer from addiction access this treatment. 

“We’re actively studying, doing pragmatic studies, practical studies to understand what’s the best way to implement mindfulness in addiction treatment in the real world,” Garland said.


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