Mindfulness meditation might help people who are struggling with gambling problems

The use of mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention continues to garner attention as a treatment approach among diverse groups.

Canadian researchers recently published a study examining how mindfulness meditation may be used to treat problem gamblers. The study, published in the Asian Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health, adds to the growing research indicating the effectiveness of mindfulness practice.

Grounded in the Buddhist concept of nonjudgmental awareness, mindfulness involves a self-regulation of attention, contributing to an increased awareness of thoughts and feelings. The intent of the present study, in part, was to examine how mindfulness may reduce the gambling urge. As noted by the study authors: “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.”

Participants in the study took part in weekly 2 hour group sessions held over the course of 8 weeks. Sample topics addressed in the sessions included “Automatic Pilot and Relapse”, “Mindfulness in High Risk Situations,” and “Acceptance and Skillful Action.”

Dr. Peter Chen and his colleagues found that after the 8 week program, all of the 17 study participants who completed the program demonstrated improvement in mindfulness practice, based on both qualitative and quantitative feedback. Quantitative feedback was assessed pre and post intervention via the “Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale,” a 15-item measurement used to assess openness to present awareness and attention.

Among qualitative data, participants provided feedback in several content areas, including “Mindfulness Techniques,” “Improved Self-Discipline,” “Control or Control over Gambling” and “Better Interpersonal Skills.” Participants noted an overall receptiveness to mindfulness practice, providing feedback such as: “now I can recognize what [s]happening internally and separate myself from what I’m thinking” and “[I am a] much better listener and not affected by small things. Conflicts are less severe when you don’t react right away.”

The research team noted several limitations of the study, including the short-term nature of the mindfulness intervention, as no long-term impact was assessed. Additionally, potential changes in gambling behavior among participants was not measured after implementing mindfulness practice.

Nonetheless, findings reveal that mindfulness practice can be successfully taught within a group setting to those struggling with gambling problems. Chen and his colleagues advocate that “further study is needed to determine how effective this program is in terms of improving the outcome for treatment and reducing relapse . . . these techniques may open up other potential avenues for research and treatment for the problem gambler.”