Heavy drinkers who listened to a pre-recorded 11-minute training session on mindfulness techniques drank an average of 9.3 fewer units of alcohol in the week following the session, according to researchers at University College London (UCL).
The research team recruited 68 participants who drank heavily, but did not have an alcohol use disorder. Half of the participants listened to an 11-minute audio recording containing instructions from a mindfulness practitioner. The remaining participants listened to a recording that taught relaxation techniques. All participants were then asked to practise what they had learnt during the following seven days.
Unlike participants who received mindfulness training, those who were taught relaxation techniques did not report a decrease in alcohol consumption in the week following the trial.
Mindfulness promotes heightened moment-to-moment awareness of mental state and bodily sensations. Practitioners say it can help users gain more insight into their mental and physical responses to situations and stimuli.
Heavy drinking can precede alcohol use disorders, and so the researchers hope that mindfulness can be used to prevent heavy drinking turning into problem drinking.
Sunjeev Kamboj, the lead author of the study, said that while the research was at an early stage and could not yet be extrapolated into clinical use, “the results suggest that our instructions could be adapted as a self-help strategy to help people kick-start the process of reducing alcohol consumption when they experience craving”.
“Some might think that mindfulness is something that takes a long time to learn properly,” said Damla Irez, another author of the study. “So it is encouraging that limited training and encouragement could have a significant effect to reduce alcohol consumption.”
Kamboj said that pharmacists would be well-placed to recommend mindfulness to heavy drinkers, and added that there were several online resources or mindfulness apps available. But he stressed that “more serious levels of alcohol use disorder would need suitable professional intervention.”
The findings were reported in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology
 Kamboj S, Irez D, Serfaty S et al. Ultra-brief mindfulness training reduces alcohol consumption in at-risk drinkers: A randomised double-blind active-controlled experiment.Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 2017;pyx064. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyx064