Meditation Course Helps Native Americans Sustain Recovery

G. Alan Marlatt, PhD, 2001 Innovator Combating Substance Abuse

    • July 23, 2009

G. Alan Marlatt, PhD
Director, Addiction Behaviors Research Center
Professor of Psychology
University of Washington
Seattle, Wash.

The project: G. Alan Marlatt's prior work has explored factors that lead many alcohol- and drug-addicted people to relapse within weeks of completing treatment. His concepts are embodied in most addiction treatment programs designed to sustain long-term abstinence.

The award: In 2001, Marlatt received an Innovators Combating Substance Abuse award to expand prevention and treatment services for Native American adolescents by securing interest from two Native American tribes and creating a treatment manual targeted to Native Americans. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) created the Innovators program to nurture and promote innovation in combating substance abuse. Between 2000 and 2003, some 20 senior researchers, practitioners and policy-makers received Innovators awards. See Program Results for more information on the program.

Marlatt also evaluated the effect of "Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention" on people struggling with addiction. Marlatt and colleagues conducted a study in a prison in Seattle in which inmates were given the opportunity to participate in a 10-day Vipassana meditation course (Vipassana means mindful awareness of what is happening at the present moment and addresses the root cause of craving).

Results: According Marlatt in his report to RWJF, his Innovators award yielded the following results:

  • Native adolescent project. Marlatt and colleagues wrote a treatment manual for Native Americans, Canoe Journey, Life's Journey: A Life Skills Manual for Native Adolescents. They disseminated the manual to tribes in the Pacific Northwest and in British Columbia, Canada, who expressed an interest in replicating the model.
  • Mindfulness meditation project. Based on three-month follow-ups, investigators concluded that inmates who completed the 10-day meditation course, compared to a case-matched control group who did not take the course, showed significantly less alcohol and other drug use, reduced episodes of depression, and an increased optimism about the future of their lives.