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Lions Roar : November 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2011 75 study in which people imprisoned for drug- and alcohol-related crimes were monitored after their release. While inside, some had attended a ten-day meditation course in which they were trained to carefully observe how their body and mind interact. The con- trol group received no such training. The study revealed that those who learned to meditate were much less likely to go back to drugs, whether alco- hol, marijuana, or crack. They also had fewer alcohol-related problems and fewer psychiatric symptoms. Not because they felt fine all the time—they didn’t. Urges arose, and the same depressive symptoms. But by learn- ing to be mindful they could recognize the internal triggers that might signal a relapse. Closely watching their sensa- tions—without responding to them— made an enormous difference. Instead of automatically reacting and spiraling back into drug use, people were “aware of what was happening, able to stay with it, and have some choice and respond skill- fully rather than react habitually,” Bowen said. “There wasn’t so much grabbing for something to fix it: the substance abuse.” Bowen, Marlatt, and other center ADDICTED PEOPLE are doing what we all do at times— even though we know what makes us happy, we choose to do something else. There’s a reason for that, says Massa- chusetts psychiatrist Lawrence Peltz, who for twenty-five years has been teaching mindfulness techniques to people struggling with addiction. “We don’t want to grow up,” he says. “We’re trying to be happy, but it’s hard to have a mind and body. So we don’t want to grow up. Instead we look for magical solutions.” Ah, magic: faith in the instant delivery of a sense- blowing, thought-stopping Something Else. We all turn to this, of course. And Peltz says there’s nothing wrong with the occasional blast of a favorite indulgence: TV, ice cream, whatever. The problem is when this becomes a reaction, a bad habit, and is chosen over more healthy options. “When we have found a thing to feel better, but we are not facing life—that is addiction.” One of life’s toughest afflictions, addiction mocks hope, kills people, destroys families. In 2009, there were 22.5 million Americans struggling with substance abuse or dependence. Two- thirds of these were hooked on the most popular drug: alcohol. Of the rest, almost half were struggling with both alcohol and illegal drugs. Some people try, over and over, for years to move beyond an addiction. “Mindfulness is the microscopic ver- sion of One Day at a Time,” Peltz says. “It’s One Moment at a Time.” Some of the most impressive scientific research into addiction and mindful- ness is being conducted at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the Univer- sity of Washington in Seattle. Alan Marlatt led the center for more than thirty years, doing exacting work on addictive behav- iors. Books such as Relapse Prevention and Harm Reduction solidified his place as a national leader in the field. Before he died this year, Marlatt set a team in place that is carrying on his work and taking it in new directions. One of its research scientists is Sarah Bowen, whose primary focus is on mind- fulness-based techniques for prevent- ing relapse. She helped conduct a major One Moment at a Time BY DAVID SWICK The Mindful Society Top: Alan Marlatt and Sarah Bowen. Bottom: Lawrence Peltz; Neha Chawla. PHOTO©WWW.ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/ALACATR