This study investigated the psychological mechanisms of how mindfulness helps people quit smoking. It found that mindfulness helps people not act on smoking urges -to “be” with them rather than habitually react.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US, while abstinence rates remain modest. Smoking has been shown to be perpetuated by operant conditioning, notably negative reinforcement (e.g., smoking to relieve negative affective states). Mindfulness training (MT) shows promise for smoking cessation, by potentially altering an individual’s tendency to smoke in response to craving. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of MT and mindfulness practice on the relationship between smoking and craving after receiving four weeks of MT.
33 adults received MT as part of a randomized trial for smoking cessation. Individuals in the MT condition recorded formal and informal mindfulness practice during treatment using daily diaries.
Analyses showed that strong correlations between craving and smoking at baseline (r = 0.582) were attenuated at the end of treatment (r = 0.126). Mindfulness home practice significantly predicted cigarette use (formal: B = −1.21, p = 0.007; informal: B = −1.52, p < 0.0001) and informal practice moderated the relationship between craving and smoking at the end of treatment (B = 0.52, p = 0.03).
These findings suggest that MT may be effective as a treatment for smoking cessation and that informal mindfulness practice predicts a decoupling of the association between craving and smoking.
Elwafi, H. M., Witkiewitz, K., Mallik, S., Thornhill, T. A., Brewer, J. A., (2013) Drug and Alcohol Dependence 130(1-3): 222-29.
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