The National Institutes of Health is spending $300,000 of taxpayer money to study whether mindfulness meditation can help doctors understand the “brain network properties” associated with cravings for alcohol and maybe stop drinkers from becoming drunks.
The team of researchers at Wake Forest Translational Alcohol Research Center, which received a $318,876 grant, says that mindfulness meditation practices may reduce the intensity of alcohol cravings in the subjects who are at-risk alcoholics but haven’t yet developed an alcohol use disorder.
The overarching goal of the project is also to map the neurological links between craving for alcohol and alcohol use disorder.
“[W]e must better understand the neurobiology of AUD vulnerability so that patients can be identified early in the disease process and appropriate novel treatments can be developed,” according to the project summary on the government’s grant website, first reported by The Washington Free Beacon.
With 88,000 deaths linked to alcohol misuse each year, health professionals need new treatments particularly since around 70 percent of those treated for AUD relapse back to old drinking habits.
The first aim of the study is to use brain-mapping and self-reported alcohol cravings during the subject’s normal life to look at what’s going on in a moderate drinker’s mind. Then, the researchers will “evaluate the effects of randomization to mindfulness meditation intervention versus a sham mindfulness intervention on the behavioral and brain characteristics associated with high craving in moderate-high alcohol drinkers.”
The researchers think that meditation practices will significantly reduce a person’s craving experiences and improve a person’s decision making and ability to identify behaviors that lead to alcohol cravings.
The project “will be the first placebo-controlled mindfulness meditation study to examine the behavioral and neural mechanisms supporting alcohol craving,” according to Wake Forest.
A University College London study released in August found that “very brief mindfulness practice can significantly reduce alcohol consumption among at-risk drinkers, even with minimal encouragement to use this strategy outside of the experimental context.”
That study gave at 68 adults short mindfulness meditation training in a double-blind study — meaning some received meditation training to identify their cravings, and others were told to relax. The result: A week after the training, the drinkers who got the mindfulness course drank 9.3 fewer servings of alcohol than the other subjects.
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