Brief Mindfulness Lesson Cuts Heavy Drinking

September 7, 2017

After just 11 minutes of mindfulness training, people who drank heavily consumed less alcohol over the following week, and less than people who were taught relaxation techniques, according to a study published online in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

“We found that a very brief, simple exercise in mindfulness can help drinkers cut back,” said study lead author Sunjeev Kamboj, DClinPsy PhD, University College London, England, “and the benefits can be seen quite quickly.”

The randomized, double-blind study involved 68 people at risk of harm from alcohol use. Half were assigned 11 minutes of supervised mindfulness instruction delivered through audio recordings. During the brief session, participants received strategies for focusing on the present moment and then encouragement to continue practicing mindfulness over the next week. The other participants were taught relaxation strategies.

Stress Biomarkers Drop After Mindfulness Meditation Training

Over the next week, participants who learned mindfulness drank 9.3 fewer units of alcohol—the rough equivalent of 3 pints of beer—compared with the week before the study, researchers reported. Participants who learned relaxation strategies, however, had no significant reduction in alcohol consumption.

“Practicing mindfulness can make a person more aware of their tendency to respond reflexively to urges,” said Dr. Kamboj. “By being more aware of their cravings, we think the study participants were able to bring intention back into the equation, instead of automatically reaching for the drink when they feel a craving.”

“We’re hopeful that further studies will replicate our findings and provide more insight into how mindfulness training could be most effective in practice,” added study coauthor Shirley Serfaty, DClinPsy, University College London. “Our team is also looking into how mindfulness might help people with other substance use problems.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Kamboj SK, Irez D, Serfaty S, Thomas E, Das RK, Freeman TP. Ultra-brief mindfulness training reduces alcohol consumption in at-risk drinkers: a randomized double-blind active-controlled experiment. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 August 2;[Epub ahead of print].

11 minutes of mindfulness training helps drinkers cut back [press release]. London, England: University College London; August 24, 2017.