Meditation Could Help Patients Beat Addiction

First Posted: Dec 27, 2013 09:02 AM EST

Addiction can be tough to tackle for patients, so finding effective therapies is crucial for recovery. Now, scientists have used a computational model of addiction to show that rehabilitation strategies coupling meditation-like practices with drug and behavior therapies are more helpful than drug-plus-talk therapy alone.

In order to better understand addiction, the researchers surveyed animal and human studies and conducted a computational experiment. This theoretical approach using virtual subjects is somewhat unusual, but offers some strengths. In particular, it relies on the increasing amount of available data and knowledge and can offer quick, preliminary tests before full-scale experiments are launched.

"I am a theoretician, so I use other peoples' studies and try to see how they work together and how experiments fit in," said Levy, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This work follows a knowledge repository (KR) model, where the knowledge comes from other peoples' theories and experiments. By consolidating them, we propose some hypotheses that we hope will subsequently be tested by experts in the field."

In this case, the scientists explored the allostatic theory of addiction by combining two existing computational models--one pharmacological and the other a more behavioral-cognitive model. The allostatic theory describes changes in the brain's reward and anti-reward systems and reward set points as substance misuse progresses.

What did the researchers find? The allostatic theory says that when someone takes a drug, he stresses the reward system and it loses its homeostatic or equilibrium state. Then a second mechanism kicks in; the person enters an allostatic state when the anti-reward system kicks in. 

In order to bind the two theories and test how they could work together, the researchers followed three virtual case studies, each representing a different trajectory of allostatic state during escalation of cigarette smoking. In the end, the researchers found that meditation could be a viable part of treatment for addiction.

"This investigation provides formal arguments encouraging current rehabilitation therapies to include meditation-like practices along with pharmaceutical drugs and behavioral counseling," write the authors in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

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