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.
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.
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.
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.