Spirituality/Medicine Interface Project

Meditation and Alcohol Use

Authors: G. Alan Marlatt, PhD, Neharika Chawla, MS


A model of alcohol use that has been supported by a substantial body of research is the self-medication hypothesis.1 Based on this hypothesis, alcohol use often arises as a means of coping with or medicating other psychiatric problems, and individuals with psychiatric disorders use alcohol to reduce and manage their symptoms.2 This may be explained in terms of negative reinforcement, which suggests that the reduction in aversive symptoms such as anxiety, following alcohol use, increases the likelihood of future use.3,4 From this perspective, meditation may serve as a useful alternative to alcohol use and may result in some of the same positive consequences, including tension reduction and relaxation. In keeping with this, Glasser has described meditation as a “positive addiction” that may not be especially reinforcing in the short-run, but which is associated with long-term rewards such as greater psychological balance and wellbeing.5 This is contrasted with “negative addictions,” such as heavy drinking, which are immediately rewarding but related to a variety of negative consequences in the long run.6

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