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Meditate to Medicate Mindfulness as a Treatment for Behavioural Addiction

Published on March 2017 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 4 | Comments: 0



Meditate to medicate: Mindfulness as a treatment for
behavioural addiction

Please note: A version of the following article was first published on addiction.com and was
co-written with my research colleagues Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that derives from Buddhist practice and is one of the
fastest growing areas of psychological research. We have defined mindfulness as the process of
engaging a full, direct, and active awareness of experienced phenomena that is spiritual in
aspect and that is maintained from one moment to the next. As part of the practice of
mindfulness, a ‘meditative anchor’, such as observing the breath, is typically used to aid
concentration and to help maintain an open-awareness of present moment sensory and
cognitive-affective experience.
Throughout the last two decades, Buddhist principles have increasingly been employed in the
treatment of a wide range of psychological disorders including mood and anxiety disorders,
substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. The emerging
role of Buddhism in clinical settings appears to mirror a growth in research examining the
potential effects of Buddhist meditation on brain neurophysiology. Such research forms part of
a wider dialogue concerned with the evidence-based applications of specific forms of spiritual
practice for improved psychological health.
Within mental health and addiction treatment settings, mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs)
are generally delivered in a secular eight-week format and often comprise the following: (i)
weekly sessions of 90-180 minutes duration, (ii) a taught psycho-education component, (iii)
guided mindfulness exercises, (iv) a CD of guided meditation to facilitate daily self-practice,
and (v) varying degrees of one-to-one discussion-based therapy with the program instructor.
Examples of MBIs used in behavioural addiction treatment studies include Mindfulness-Based
Cognitive Therapy, Mindfulness-Enhanced Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness-Based
Relapse Prevention, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Meditation Awareness Training.

Studies investigating the role of mindfulness in the treatment of behavioural addictions have –
to date – primarily focused on problem and/or pathological gambling. These studies have
shown that levels of dispositional mindfulness in problem gamblers are inversely associated
with gambling severity, thought suppression, and psychological distress. Recent clinical case
studies have demonstrated that weekly mindfulness therapy sessions can lead to clinically
significant change in problem gambling individuals. Published case studies include: (i) a male
in his sixties addicted to offline roulette playing, (ii) a 61-year old female (with comorbid
anxiety and depression) addicted to slot machine gambling (treated with a modified version of
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), and (iii) a 32-year old female (with co-occurring
schizophrenia) addicted to online slot-machine playing (treated with a modified version of
Meditation Awareness Training). Also, a recent study showed that problem gamblers that
received Mindfulness-Enhanced Cognitive Behaviour Therapy demonstrated significant
improvements compared to a control group in levels of gambling severity, gambling urges, and
emotional distress.
Outside of gambling addiction, case studies have investigated the applications of mindfulness
for treating addiction to work (i.e., workaholism) and sex. In the case of the workaholic, a
director of a blue-chip technology company in his late thirties was successfully treated for his
workaholism utilizing Meditation Awareness Training. Significant pre-post improvements were
also observed for sleep quality, psychological distress, work duration, work involvement during
non-work hours, and employer-rated job performance. However, as with any case study, the
single-participant nature of the study significantly restricts the generalizability of such
Key treatment mechanisms that have been identified and/or proposed in this respect (several
of which overlap with mechanisms identified as part of the mindfulness-based treatment of
chemical addictions) include:

A perceptual shift in the mode of responding and relating to sensory and cognitive-affective
stimuli that permits individuals to objectify their cognitive processes and to apprehend them
as passing phenomena.
Reductions in relapse and withdrawal symptoms via substituting maladaptive addictive
behaviours with a ‘positive addiction’ to mindfulness/meditation (particularly the ‘blissful’
and/or tranquil states associated with certain meditative practices).
Transferring the locus of control for stress from external conditions to internal metacognitive
and attentional resources.
The modulation of dysphoric mood states and addiction-related shameful and selfdisparaging schemas via the cultivation of compassion and self-compassion.
Reductions in salience and myopic focus on reward (i.e., by undermining the intrinsic value
and ‘authenticity’ that individuals assign to the object of addiction) due to a better
understanding of the ‘impermanent’ nature of existence (e.g., all that is won must
ultimately be lost, an attractive body will age and wither, a senior/lucrative occupational
role must one day be relinquished, etc.).
Growth in spiritual awareness that broadens perspective and induces a re-evaluation of life

‘Urge surfing’ (the meditative process of adopting an observatory, non-judgemental, and
non-reactive attentional-set towards mental urges) that aids in the regulation of habitual
compulsive responses.
Reduced autonomic and psychological arousal via conscious-breathing-induced increases in
prefrontal functioning and vagal nerve output (breath awareness is a central feature of
mindfulness practice).
Increased capacity to defer gratitude due to improvements in levels of patience.
A greater ability to label and therefore modulate mental urges and faulty thinking patterns.

Although preliminary findings indicate that there are applications for MBIs in the treatment
ofbehavioural addictions, further empirical and clinical research utilizing larger-sample
controlled study designs is clearly needed. Despite this, both the classical Buddhist meditation
literature and recent scientific findings appear to agree that when correctly practised and
administered, mindfulness meditation is a safe, non-invasive, and cost-effective tool for
treating behavioural addictions and for improving psychological health more generally.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit,
Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Further reading
Griffiths, M.D., Shonin, E.S., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). Mindfulness as a treatment for
gambling disorder. Journal of Gambling and Commercial Gaming Research, in press.
Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based interventions:
Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 194, doi:
Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment
of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 63-71.
Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mindfulness as a treatment for
behavioural addiction. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e122. doi:
Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Current trends in mindfulness and mental
health. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 113-115.
Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and
Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with
pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12,
Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical
psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 123-137.
Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The treatment of workaholism with
Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193195.
Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Practical tips for using mindfulness in
general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 624 368-369.
Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Mindfulness in psychology: A breath of
fresh air? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 28, 28-31.
Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., Griffiths M.D. & Singh, N. (2015). There is only one mindfulness:
Why science and Buddhism need to work together. Mindfulness, 6, 49-56.

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