It’s common practice to turn to alcohol after a stressful day. A glass of wine, can of beer, or shot or two of the good stuff offers an easy way to rid the mind of clutter. However, many of us rely too heavily on these beverages, quickly turning an affinity into an insatiable craving. Although alcohol helps us get things off of our minds, it turns out that mindfulness in and of itself can help us let go of that cocktail crutch.
A recent study from University College London has highlighted the positive effects of mindful meditation on alcohol cravings in heavy drinkers. Participants in one group were instructed to practice general relaxation techniques, while those in the second group were taught to use an 11-minute mindfulness meditation over the course of the week.
The researchers found that both groups experienced a significant reduction in cravings, but those who practiced mindfulness consumed substantially less alcohol. "We found that a very brief, simple exercise in mindfulness can help drinkers cut back, and the benefits can be seen quite quickly," said Dr. Sunjeev Kamboj, the lead author of the study.
Why Does Mindfulness Work?
Mindfulness is simply the state of living fully in the present. Ironically, we tend to lose this inherent skill when we’re too “in our heads.” Allowing stressful or repetitive thoughts to cloud the mind pulls us out of the present, out of logical thinking, and out of the body. When we’re in this state of disconnect, it’s much more difficult to practice self-care, or to notice harmful or irresponsible behavior.
When practiced regularly, meditation improves neural connections, which in turn helps us become even more mindful of our thoughts, bodies, and actions.
A 2012 study that explored the effects of mindfulness meditation on neuronal activity indicates that the practice “may alter the efficiency of allocating cognitive resources, leading to improved self-regulation of attention.” In layman’s terms, this means that mindfulness can help prevent one tequila from becoming three… or four.
As encouraging as it is that the scientific community is finally taking notice of the impact of meditation on the mind, many people are already tried-and-true believers. In fact, some progressive rehabilitation centers now weave mindfulness into their programs, considering it a holistic tool of the trade on the road to recovery.
While meditation may not cure addiction, it goes a long way towards reinforcing the mind-body connection, improving reckless behavior patterns and enhancing self-awareness.