What is mindfulness-based relapse prevention?

For those in addiction recovery, learning about how to prevent relapses is likely a primary concern. Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP), when paired with traditional support groups and other long-term treatment methods, is a means of helping people in recovery critically think about their addiction and avoid relapses. Studies published by its founders reveal that MBRP appears to have a significant success rate. When incorporated into a comprehensive treatment regimen, MBRP has the ability to be an integral part of reducing relapses in the long term.

Statistics on relapses 

Unfortunately, relapses are prevalent in addiction recovery, with approximately half of those who seek treatment returning to abusing drugs or alcohol within a year, according to the University of California, Berkeley. The National Institutes of Health note that relapse rates for drug addiction are similar to those of many other chronic diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, and thus should be acknowledged in the same fashion.

One of the challenges with researching relapses into drug and alcohol abuse is that most studies historically have a relatively short follow-up period after treatment. According to the National Development and Research Institutes, many studies only have a one- to 24-month follow-up period, which isn’t that large of a window when considering the chronic nature of addiction. While the source found that the risk of relapsing may be reduced in those who had remained abstinent for five years, fighting addiction remains a lifelong challenge, and those in recovery can relapse years after receiving treatment. What does help to improve relapse rates? Studies show that longer stays in residential care, as well as a continuing care plan that includes evidence-based relapse prevention practices (such as MBRP) are among the best methods for reducing relapse rates.

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How does MBRP work?  

MBRP is a long-term continuing care strategy for helping recovering addicts take control of their addiction and consciously choose not to relapse. MBRP was developed by psychologists at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington and, as the name suggests, mindfulness is the main focus of this treatment program. MBRP combines standard relapse-prevention skills with thought-based practices such as meditation and non-judgmental critical thinking. Essentially, MBRP encourages those in recovery to mentally address negative thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding their addiction.

The founders of the program think that one of the reasons MBRP works particularly well is because the main tenet of mindfulness expands well beyond one’s addiction. Mindfulness can be used in all aspects of life to gain a fuller perspective on any situation and allows people to approach subjects with more awareness. What’s more, practicing mindfulness is rather simple, so a person can utilize this idea at any time without much difficulty.

What does the research say?

MBRP has been researched extensively, and the developers of MBRP at the University of Washington have published some of their research findings in JAMA Psychiatry, concluding that MBRP could significantly reduce the risk of relapse. To conduct the study, the team found more than 280 participants who had completed an initial treatment program at private facilities for substance-use disorders. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three different types of continuing care and were monitored for 12 months. These participants could voluntarily report relapses and were also subject to regular urinalysis testing for drugs and alcohol.

At the six-month and year-long marks, the researchers found that those in the MBRP group were less likely to have relapsed into drug abuse or heavy drinking, and of those that had relapsed, members of the MBRP group reported significantly fewer days of abuse. Though this is just one initial study, the results suggest that mindfulness may be a critical tool in providing better outcomes for those recovering from addiction. Numerous other studies have yielded similar results and expanded on the work done by UW researchers. Comprehensive evidence-based research suggests that MBRP potentially reverses and repairs neurological changes caused by addiction.