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Mindfulness May Help Patients Taper Off Opioid Use, Study Reveals

Mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness: Can we stop talking about mindfulness?

No, actually… we can’t.

I know it seems like the word mindfulness has suddenly saturated the internet, but the reality is mindfulness has a major impact on our psychological health.

In fact, a new study examined the impact practicing had on opioid use, and the results were shocking. The study revealed that mindfulness could actually help patients taper off their use of opioid pain relievers.

The study looked at 343 patients who were at high risk for developing chronic pain and having a long-term opioid use after surgery. The two-year study discovered that all patients showed a reduction in pain and anxiety. However, those who received psychological care also had a reduction in opioid use and an overall mood improvement.

The patients were part of the pain program at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) and University Health Network (UHN). Researchers believe the study highlights a critical need for doctors to focus on the quality of life as they help patients decrease their dependence on opioids.

“If we lower how many opioids patients are taking, but leave them disabled and not able to live their lives, that is not helpful,” said Dr. Aliza Weinrib, one of the authors of the study. “Patients can learn to respond to their pain in a different way, making it less overwhelming. They don’t have to be so tied to their medications.”

Patients receiving a high dose of opioids and were willing to taper off learned coping skills grounded in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The therapy encourages patients to engage in meaningful activities instead of focusing on reducing pain. It also teaches them mindfulness to accept difficult experiences.

“There’s the pain in your body, and there’s the pain in your heart about not being able to do the things that you love,” Dr. Weinrib said. “We can help people move towards what is important to them, even through their pain. We can help people reduce their pain of not living.”

Initially, patients who participated in the program saw higher opioid use, anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to pain. Soon after the program, these same patients saw greater reductions in opioid use, depression and fewer disruptions in their daily lives as a result of their pain, than those who received physician-guided treatment alone.

Paul Ross, 60, who participated in the study, explained how the program affected his life:

“This program has given me the tools to live a fuller life despite my pain,” he said. “I practice mindfulness; I can talk to people there who understand me. For the first time in a long time, I have alternatives to simply increasing opioids and practical tools to counter my despair. They gave me hope.”

With all that said, what exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of having an awareness of what you are doing and the space you’re moving through. That may seem like a simple explanation, but the reality is we often veer from what is happening in our lives by thinking of a million obsessive thoughts or fretting over the future. These thoughts make us anxious.

There are a variety of ways to practice mindfulness, but it is usually done through meditation practices.

Here is one way to get started:

  • Take a seat: Find a nice, quiet relaxing place to sit.
  • Set a time limit: For beginners, set aside a short time, only 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Be aware of your body: Choose a position you can be comfortable and stable for a while.
  • Feel your breath: Follow your breathing patterns as you inhale and exhale.
  • Bring awareness to your wandering mind: Your mind will wander to other places, but this is okay. Take a second to return your attention back to your breath.
  • Be kind to your mind: Do not judge yourself or obsess over the content of your thoughts. Just find yourself in a constant state of refocusing on the moment.

It is important to note that mindfulness is not everyone’s cup of tea and it isn’t a full solution. However, incorporating it into your routine can make a world of difference.  If you are struggling with mental illness or addiction, please call now 1-800-777-9588.

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