How to cut the costs of addiction

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Addictions cost the U.S. $700 billion per year, including $120 billion in lost productivity for businesses. There’s also the incalculable cost to families who struggle with the addictions of loved ones.

New evidence shows that applying mindfulness to addictions has yielded results far superior to conventional treatments.

By practicing mindfulness, people who wrestle with addictions learn to gain more perspective on their own emotions, thoughts, and behavior. They figure out how to separate themselves from their cravings so they are not controlled by these seemingly overwhelming urges.

In so doing, they can observe their cravings without needing to satisfy them. While they can recognize the strength of these cravings, they recognize that the cravings will soon pass, and they’re able to ride out the sensation.

One of the most unyielding addictions is created by taking nicotine. Smokers can attest to how difficult quitting is. Even though the costs of smoking are well known (over $6 for each pack and more than five times that in health care costs per pack), nicotine addiction clings to smokers like hot tar on asphalt.

That’s why the success rate of mindfulness as treatment is all the more astounding. One study showed that over four months after treatment had ended, 31% of those who had practiced mindfulness had abstained from nicotine while only 6% of those who had done a more conventional treatment approach had been able to resist. That means mindfulness was five times more effective than conventional treatment, a truly remarkable outcome.



Another study focused on young adults who both smoke and engage in binge drinking. Those who practiced mindfulness showed significant reductions in smoking and alcohol consumption compared to the control group. Increased awareness of one’s own actions and emotions, a main benefit of mindfulness, has been linked to reduced alcohol consumption.

Even with illicit drugs such as marijuana and crack cocaine, mindfulness has bested traditional methods of treatment among participants. People who were incarcerated and taught mindfulness had superior reductions in drug use compared with those who took more conventional treatments. After being released, the mindfulness practitioners also showed decreases in psychiatric symptoms.

Given the staggering costs of addiction and growing evidence of mindfulness’ efficacy, we would be wise to expand mindfulness as treatment. Businesses and other organizations can cut costs and improve society and families by offering mindfulness as a solution to those struggling with addiction. The return on such an investment would benefit all of us.  

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