Teaching participants to be mindful, savor life and think differently can improve their odds for success, a clinical trial shows

WEDNESDAY, May 8, 2024 (HealthDay News) — Using mindfulness to help people trying to overcome opioid addiction can boost their odds of continuing treatment, new research shows.

The approach helps folks how to deal with tension, savor life and reframe their thinking, the researchers explained.

“Better treatment protocols could save thousands of lives per year, and the data we have from our pilot study and this phase II trial suggest mindfulness training may create a genuinely better treatment protocol,” said study author Nina Cooperman, an associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.

Her team found that supplementing standard opioid addiction treatment with an intervention called Mindfulness Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) cut dropout rates by 59% and relapses by 42%. MORE is an intervention that includes mindfulness training, savoring skills and cognitive reappraisal.

Success rates for standard treatment with the anti-addiction meds methadone or buprenorphine — alone or along with cognitive behavioral therapy — are poor. Half of participants quit within a year, and half of those who stay with the program continue using opioids, researchers said.

“Opioid use disorder changes your brain so that opioid use becomes the only thing that feels rewarding,” Cooperman explained in a news release. “MORE helps people retrain themselves to find healthy experiences rewarding again by focusing mindfully on the taste of a meal, the beauty of a landscape or the smell of a flower.”

Mindfulness training teaches people to focus, without judgment, on the present moment, and on senses such as how it feels to inhale and exhale. Studies showing that such training can prevent opioid addiction prompted Cooperman and her team to investigate whether similar strategies could help those who already have a drug problem.

A pilot study found good results when mindfulness training and methadone tretment were combined. That led to the current trial, which has spurred a pair of large-scale studies that researchers said could change standard care.

In the trial, 77 of 154 patients in treatment for opioid use disorder received 16 hours of training in MORE. The program literally included observing and smelling roses.

Researchers suspect the success of mindfulness training that they saw owes to its ability to help patients manage pain. Most participants entered the study with chronic pain, but patients in the group that received MORE training reported a 10% reduction in pain over the study’s course.

Cooperman and her team plan larger studies, with an aim to offer further evidence of MORE’s benefit and to develop best protocols for its use.

“We still have lots of open questions,” she said in the news release. Those include how to train clinicians to use MORE and the best way for offering it — be it in-person or virtually.

“The findings from this study suggest MORE really can improve outcomes for a lot of people in substance abuse treatment,” Cooperman said.

Teaching people in treatment for drug problems how to use mindfulness strategies may benefit their recovery.

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