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Humans suffer heavily from substance use disorders and other addictions. Despite much effort that has been put into understanding the mechanisms of the addictive process, treatment strategies have remained suboptimal over the past several decades. Mindfulness training, which is based on ancient Buddhist models of human suffering, has recently shown preliminary efficacy in treating addictions. These early models show remarkable similarity to current models of the addictive process, especially in their overlap with operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement). Further, they may provide explanatory power for the mechanisms of mindfulness training, including its effects on core addictive elements, such as craving, and the underlying neurobiological processes that may be active therein. In this review, using smoking as an example, we will highlight similarities between ancient and modern views of the addictive process, review studies of mindfulness training for addictions and their effects on craving and other components of this process, and discuss recent neuroimaging findings that may inform our understanding of the neural mechanisms of mindfulness training.

Stress is important in substance use disorders (SUDs). Mindfulness training (MT) has shown promise for stress-related maladies. No studies have compared MT to empirically validated treatments for SUDs. The goals of this study were to assess MT compared to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in substance use and treatment acceptability, and specificity of MT compared to CBT in targeting stress reactivity. Thirty-six individuals with alcohol and/or cocaine use disorders were randomly assigned to receive group MT or CBT in an outpatient setting. Drug use was assessed weekly. After treatment, responses to personalized stress provocation were measured. Fourteen individuals completed treatment. There were no differences in treatment satisfaction or drug use between groups. The laboratory paradigm suggested reduced psychological and physiological indices of stress during provocation in MT compared to CBT. This pilot study provides evidence of the feasibility of MT in treating SUDs and suggests that MT may be efficacious in targeting stress.

There has been an increased interest in mindfulness and meditation training over the past decade. As evidenced by exponential growth in the number of publications since the beginning of the 21st century, progressively more is becoming known about both the clinical efficacy and underlying neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness training. This paper briefly highlights psychological models of stress that converge between ancient and modern day (e.g., operant conditioning); identifies key brain regions that, with these models, are biologically plausible targets for mindfulness (e.g., posterior cingulate cortex); and discusses recent and emerging findings from neuroimaging studies of meditation therein, including new advances using real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback in neurophenomenological studies.