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Do Mindfulness Approaches Have the Potential To Prevent Substance Use and Abuse in Youth?

May 04, 2016
Eve Reider, Ph.D.
Eve Reider, Ph.D.

Program Director
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

There is a great deal of interest in the use of mindfulness approaches for the prevention and treatment of psychological and physical health conditions in youth. In recent years, mindfulness approaches are being used with youth in different settings, such as schools and families. For example, mindfulness approaches have been implemented in schools with the goal of improving cognitive performance and resilience to stress in youth and and reducing stress and improving performance in teachers. Another approach has been the use of mindfulness interventions with parents, with the goal of improving their parenting skills and having a positive impact on child outcomes.

However, very little is known about the efficacy of these approaches. Efforts over the last several years have focused primarily on examining whether these interventions can have an impact in preventing different types of difficulties in children and youth at different ages; examples include mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, substance use and abuse, and physical health problems, like obesity.

At the upcoming 2016 International Congress on Integrative Medicine & Health (ICIMH), the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is sponsoring a symposium on May 18, “Do Mindfulness Approaches Have the Potential to Prevent Substance Use and Abuse in Youth?” This session will examine initial research efforts to determine whether mindfulness approaches in youth populations can prevent initial substance use and abuse. We will highlight examples of prevention approaches implemented in pilot and efficacy randomized controlled clinical studies in school- and family-based settings. The studies we will review include:

  1. A school-based mindfulness and yoga intervention to prevent substance use among fifth and sixth grade disadvantaged, urban children
  2. A mindfulness-enhanced version of the efficacious and effective Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth ages 10–14
  3. A school-based adapted vigorous yoga intervention to prevent substance use in high-risk adolescents.

Our discussion will focus on lessons learned from these studies and next steps and priorities for this area of research. We hope this session is of interest, and that you can join us at the ICIMH meeting. We look forward to having a robust dialogue on this important topic!


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Why does the title of the first study you refer to have to label the children “disadvantaged” rather that simply urban?  What characteristics are being assumed every one of the children has? It eliminates respect for some possible advantages their families may actually exhibit. The use of that term  seems to set them up in a way that marginalizes them all and establishes a picture for the audience that neglects/negates  strengths they may well have.  

I know that we as a society must offer a politically correct approach to any subject. I am not political nor am I correct at all times and by no means perfect. For this cause I will do my best, I live with chronic pain the type that causes nerves to burn like fire, my entire back to throb, spinal flashes that cause my legs to kick all night long and and AVM in my brain that is not helping either. Yes, I need medication on a regular basis but needing medication and seeking medication (drugs) without reason is another matter. So, with that confession out of the way I will try to explain my position.All children from age six to fifteen need a “feel safe” place to work on and understand the horrors of addiction. We have been stressing, screaming and kicking the message not to get involved with drugs. Yet, we still have dead kids in our homes, schools and streets that were involved with the use or trade of drugs. We have cemetaries filling up with children and young adults who were fed the words “Don’t Do Drugs”. A lot of help that empty slogan was without the mental tools not to take the road of addiction. What is the world losing to the epidemic of illegal drug use and drug trade involvement, that answer just might be everything. Without our children our society is doomed.If yoga and other calm forms of exercise might help then it must be given a try. Why must we try, because any human young or old is more apt to pay attention when in a calm focused mental state. Their reasoning skills may not be as honed but their memory is very sharp. The information may not be recalled in the exacting requirements of a classroom test, but it will be remembered. Then the same message is to be set before them again and again calmly without stress. Take the stress out of learning anything and the message is remembered for a lifetime. We must teach a positive mental start to our children. The stressing the facts of addiction did not work. Imprinting the message just might work a lot better. The ancients would set around fires at night. Stories were told things were learned, survival of their ways were passed to them. We can’t build fires anymore with children around but we can sit them down in a yoga circle and imprint the idea that addiction is not the life to choose.  Now for my yoga experience. Keep reading there is a lesson learned the hard way. I started with a small exercise routine (when only the dog was watching) :), no sounds, no music, no idiot box that is a television not an X-Box, and no other stressful distractions. Bills were paid, dishes washed, dog let out, dog let back in etc. Legs crossed on a foam mat sitting up straight, deep breath, then hands to the floor. Started a low back arch slowly, then the dog (a 45 pounder) wanted to play and knocked my 59 year old butt over and twisted my back then hip slammed to the floor. Picking myself up with my normal giggle, my back popped, hip cracked then the back again. I waited for that deep burning pain to start but it did not happen. That thump actually helped. So who do I thank, the dog, myself for being brave enough to try yoga or the floor for being there to break the fall. I do not really care. What I learned was that I should have started yoga long ago. What I now do is a lot more yoga and have a lot less pain. What my learned choice is to not take the pain meds if I do not need them. No pain no gain, nope, more like no pain, less drugs, more life.  If I had a chance to be in a group of kids learning to take better care of my body, my mind and soul, without someone cramming some message down my throat. I would have listened a whole lot better. I would have had a greater quality of life. I would have also had wiser mental tools to better this world in some small way. I see the world as a massive village, it will take this village to use every positive tool it has to bring up our young making better choices.Thank you all for reading. I will now gently step off my soap box.Apologize for any gramatical errors, my Harcort-Harbrace was lost some 41 years ago. Joe 

What a wonderful idea to address substance abuse. As a yoga aficianado, I can attest to its wonderful benefits for mind and body.

The UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine has a successful Mindfulness for Urban Youth program, in collaboration with Larkin Street Youth Services:

Let include in this conversation Qigong, one of the five branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine - it is a very powerful way - includes mindfulness and moves on from there moving the body in ways that stimulate, stretch the “avenues of energy” channels or meridians while continuing the mindfulness meditation.These 12 major channels are connected to the organs and end or begin in the fingers and toes and can be easy stimulated.  This is infact a more direct route to accessing the Relaxation Response as well as the other benefits associated with it.  I think Yoga is great and do some part of it almost daily but to access the Relaxation Response i do mindfulness, to access the other benefits I do Qigong and an abbreviated form of Tai Chi called Tai Chi Easy (five postures - 7 including the opening and closing) 

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