Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is a program created by the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, designed specifically for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Incorporating elements of evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness meditation, MBRP targets negative emotions and cravings in order to help prevent relapse.
MBRP’s eight-week program is designed for those who have completed a detox period and who are stabilized and in recovery. In groups of eight to fifteen who meet for two hours a week, MBRP participants learn practices that raise awareness of potential triggers, destructive habits and automatic and impulsive reactions. Meditation skills are combined with applied cognitive and behavioral skills to focus on coping with the physical aspects of craving.
MBRP helps to address issues of mental discomfort by cultivating skills to tolerate these states. Feelings of discomfort, sadness, or boredom can trigger cravings and lead to relapse. By recognizing these feelings, and relating differently to them, behavior can change. Through incremental training that increases awareness of environmental cues as well as internal thoughts and feelings, those in recovery can halt impulsive, habitual responses that can result in relapse. Research has shown that treatments based on mindfulness have also been effective in treating depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The first few weeks of the MBRP program focus on raising awareness of one’s physical, emotional and cognitive dynamics. Later sessions cultivate practices to recognize and cope with triggers and thoughts that may lead to relapse. The last sessions focus on compassion, self-care, balanced lifestyle and social support.
While requiring further testing to evaluate its effectiveness, a 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that, “Compared with TAU [treatment-as-usual], participants assigned to MBRP and RP [cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention without mindfulness techniques] reported significantly lower risk of relapse to substance use and heavy drinking and, among those who used substances, significantly fewer days of substance use and heavy drinking at the 6-month follow-up. Cognitive-behavioral RP showed an advantage over MBRP in time to first drug use. At the 12-month follow-up, MBRP participants reported significantly fewer days of substance use and significantly decreased heavy drinking compared with RP and TAU.”
Dr. Sarah Bowen, one of MBRP’s developers and a clinical psychologist at Pacific University in Oregon, said in an interview with HuffPost Science, “…from what I see and experience, [the program is] helping people become really aware of what’s happening in their minds. Once they see that, they have a choice and they have some freedom. We’re trying to teach people to become experts on themselves so they can see these processes unfolding and how they lead to places they don’t want to go. Then, they see the places where they can intervene. How do we become aware of how we feel, and practice sitting with things that are uncomfortable — things we feel like we can’t tolerate? In fact, we can tolerate them. We just need to practice.”