Mindfulness Found to Reduce Opioid Use

A new program for people with chronic pain helps individuals reduce the need for opioid medications.

Researchers from the University of Utah developed a program called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) that applies mindfulness techniques to alleviate pain and craving.

The MORE intervention concentrates on helping people to recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in everyday life, embracing its pleasures, and pain without turning to substance use as a coping mechanism.

The program integrates the latest research on addiction, cognitive neuroscience, positive psychology, and mindfulness. Dr. Eric L. Garland and colleagues say the program works to strengthen positive emotions and the sense of reward and meaning in life.

The research is published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Participants in Garland’s study received eight weeks of instruction in applying mindfulness-oriented techniques to alleviate pain and craving while strengthening positive emotions and the sense of reward and meaning in life.

For example, to enhance their sense of reward in life, participants in Garland’s study were taught a “mindful savoring practice,” in which they focused attention on pleasant experiences such as a beautiful nature scene, sunset, or feeling of connection with a loved one.

In a meditation session, participants were taught to focus their awareness on colors, textures, and scents of a bouquet of fresh flowers and to appreciate joy arising from the experience.

As part of their daily homework, they were then asked to practice the meditation technique as a way to enjoy other pleasant life experiences.

Researchers discovered that after participation in the program, chronic pain patients with a history of misusing opioids exhibited increased brain activation on an EEG to natural healthy pleasures.

The more their brains became active in response to natural healthy pleasure, the less the patients craved opioids.

“These findings are scientifically important because one of the major theories about how and why addiction occurs asserts that over time drug abusers become dulled to the experience of joy in everyday life, and this pushes them to use higher and higher doses of drugs to feel happiness,” said Garland.

“This study suggests that this process can be reversed. We can teach people to use mindfulness to appreciate and enjoy life more, and by doing that, they may feel less of a need for addictive drugs. It’s a powerful finding.”

Garland’s latest study builds on earlier work published in February in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in which the MORE intervention was found to reduce opioid misuse among a sample of chronic pain patients compared to another sample of chronic pain patients participating in a conventional support group.

Source: University of Utah

Woman meditating photo by shutterstock.