Mindfulness intervention enhances brain activation for healthy pleasures

Mindfulness intervention enhances brain activation for healthy pleasures
Mindfulness intervention enhances brain activation for healthy pleasures

There has been a growing interest in the value of mindfulness intervention to help improve the well being of people. The University of Utah reported that participants in a novel drug intervention program have increased brain activation to healthy pleasures. What this means is that people who are dependent on prescription opioids can decrease their cravings by learning to enjoy other aspects of their lives.

Eric L. Garland, associate professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work and associates investigated how an intervention program for chronic pain patients which is called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) lowered patients’ desires for prescription drugs.
The intervention in MORE concentrates on helping people to recover a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment in their everyday life. These people are taught to embrace lives pleasures and pain without having to turn to substance use as a mechanism to cope.

MORE integrates the most recent research on addiction, cognitive neuroscience, positive psychology and mindfulness. The participants who were in Garland’s study were given eight weeks of instruction in applying mindfulness-oriented techniques aimed at helping to alleviate pain and craving while enhancing positive emotions and a sense of reward and meaning in life.

As an example participants in Garland’s study were taught a “mindful savoring practice” which was aimed at enhancing their sense of reward in life. With this practice they focused their attention on pleasant experiences such as a beautiful scene in nature or a feeling of being connected with a loved one. During a meditation session the participants were taught to focus their awareness on nice colors, textures and scents of a bouquet made up of fresh flowers and to take the time appreciate joy which arises from the experience.

The results from this study showed after a sample of chronic pain patients abusing opioids went through MORE they displayed increased brain activation on an EEG to natural healthy pleasures. The more the brains of these people became active in response to natural healthy pleasure, the less the patients experienced a craving for opioids. This has been sited as being very important because over time drug abusers are observed to become dulled to the experience of joy in their everyday life. They therefore use higher and higher doses of drugs in order to feel happiness.

This study has been published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. This study shows that we can teach people to use mindfulness in order to develop an appreciation of life and to enjoy life more. In this way people may feel less of a need for addictive drugs. This certainly is a very significant finding.

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