Can Meditation Help Gambling Addictions?
Meditation is a trending topic. It’s popping up in the media pretty often. And that will probably continue for the time being.
While some people are probably sick of hearing about it, the research world is busy applying meditation to studies of attention, emotional control, and awareness.
Recently, I even wrote an article where researchers were studying the effects of meditation to see if it could help people quit smoking.
In that same vein of research, scientists are seeing if it has effects on other types of addictions.
So they rolled the dice and decided to see if a little mindfulness couldn’t help people with gambling.
There are many, many different types of meditation. However, a lot of recent research, including this study, focuses on mindful meditation.
This type of meditation has its roots in contemplative Buddhist practices. Other key characteristics include awareness of thoughts and feelings, being in the moment, and a non-judgmental attitude.
It is a practice that requires people to maintain focus for extended periods of time. Which is a lot harder than it might sound.
The scientists behind the study think that the increased self awareness may help people with their gambling urges:
“We believe that if people learn how to be aware of their thoughts by practicing mindfulness techniques, the urges and cravings that often drive a person to gamble, or relapse to gambling, can be overcome.”
One of the big goals of the study was to see how well the practice of meditation could be integrated into treatment for gambling in a group setting.
Individuals performed two hour group sessions, once a week, over the course of 8 weeks.
The study started with 27 participants that was split among 3 groups. In the end, however, only 17 followed the program to completion.
Each week the groups would meet to practice meditation techniques. They would also learn how mindfulness could help with problems related to gambling and increase their ability to cope with urges. This included areas such as stress management and impulse control.
Researchers found that those that finished the program improved their ability to be mindful in their meditation practice. Surveys done before and after the program showed increased awareness and attention using a 15 item measurement.
Participants also gave qualitative feedback during and after the process, which also showed levels of improvement.
The Effectiveness Gamble
The study has some pretty big limitations.
First, the number of people in the study was small. You won’t have concrete findings or results from 17 participants – the number that finished the program.
Probably the other biggest limitation – at least in my mind – is that the study didn’t measure gambling activity after the program. It would seem to be a key factor in determining how successful meditation would be in curbing addictive behavior.
Other limitations include short study length (8 weeks) and no follow up.
However, the study was also testing how well meditation could be integrated into established treatment services in a group setting. Here, at least, the data from the research was very positive. Enough evidence where it’s worth the time to follow up with better studies.
The research into meditation and addictive behaviors is still new. There have been a few clinical cases that have had positive results in regards to gambling addictions. Largely, researchers are taking there first steps into this area, so it’s hard to say if this really works yet.
Emerging Area of Research
Mindfulness meditation, in theory, allows people to shift from automatic to more controlled responses to stimuli. An individual gains more control Among other things this helps resist urges and control impulses.
This is important because some of the big reasons gamblers persist with their addictions is due to anxiety and stress related feelings. These also can cause a relapse into previous addiction behavior.
Randomized trials – considered the gold standard in research – also need to be done. It remains to be seen if mindfulness alone can help gambling problems. It could also possibly aid relapse or recovery in conjunction with other proven methods.
So while this may give researchers hope of discovering new avenues for addiction, there’s still plenty to discover. But there seems to be some positive evidence. It’s nice to be optimistic. But realistically its effectiveness has yet to be proven.