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Mindfulness Meditation for Alcohol Relapse Prevention: A Feasibility Pilot Study

Zgierska, Aleksandra MD, PhD; Rabago, David MD; Zuelsdorff, Megan BS; Coe, Christopher PhD; Miller, Michael MD; Fleming, Michael MD, MPH

doi: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e31816f8546
Original Article

Objectives: Meditation is a promising treatment for alcohol dependence. This 16-week prospective case series was designed to gather preliminary data about the efficacy of meditation for relapse prevention and to evaluate study methods feasibility.

Methods: Nineteen adult alcohol-dependent graduates of an intensive outpatient program were enrolled. Fifteen subjects completed the 8-week meditation course supplemented by at-home meditation and “standard of care” therapy. Outcome measures included surveys and 2 stress-responsive biomarkers.

Results: Subjects (N = 19, 38.4 standard deviation [SD] = 8.6-year-old) were abstinent for 30.9 (SD = 22.2) days at enrollment. Completers (N = 15) attended 82% of meditation course sessions and meditated on average 4.6 (SD = 1.1) days per week; they were abstinent on 94.5% (SD = 7.4) of study days, with 47% reporting complete abstinence and 47% reporting 1 or more heavy drinking days. Their severity of depression, anxiety, stress (P < 0.05), and craving (P < 0.08), documented relapse triggers, decreased, and the degree of mindfulness increased (P < 0.05). The meditation course was rated as a “very important” (8.7/10, SD = 1.8) and “useful relapse prevention tool” (8.5/10, SD = 2.1); participants reported being “very likely” to continue meditating (9.0/10, SD = 1.5). “Gaining skills to reduce stress,” “coping with craving,” and “good group support” were the most common qualitative comments about the course value. Compared with baseline, at 16 weeks, interleukin-6 levels decreased (N = 12, P = 0.05); cortisol levels (N = 10) were reduced but not significantly. There were no adverse events or side effects.

Conclusions: Meditation may be an effective adjunctive therapy for relapse prevention in alcohol dependence, worthy of investigation in a larger trial. The study methods are appropriate for such a trial.

From the Department of Family Medicine (AZ, DR, MZ, MM, MF), University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI; Department of Psychology (CC), University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI; NewStart Alcohol & Drug Treatment Program (MM), Meriter Hospital, Madison, WI.

Received December 27, 2007; revised February 11, 2008; accepted February 12, 2008.

AZ is the clinical research fellow on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)-sponsored fellowship (5T32 AA014845).

Send correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Aleksandra Zgierska, Department of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, 777 S. Mills Street, Madison, WI 53715. e-mail:

Supported by funding from American Academy of Family Physicians/Foundation (Research Stimulation Grant), Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians (Research Stimulation Grant), and University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine (Small Grant Award).

© 2008 American Society of Addiction Medicine