May 27, 2020

Mindfulness May Help Patients Reduce Suboxone Dose

Rather than fighting or avoiding the difficult states of mind that arise when withdrawing from a substance, mindfulness helps people name and tolerate craving and negative emotion.


A mindfulness-based pilot program at the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion at the Cambridge Health Alliance is helping people trying to reduce their dose of the opioid medication buprenorphine/naloxone, or Suboxone; come off of it completely; or come to a place of acceptance with their medications.

According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, the program consists of 13 sessions where participants talk about their medication, then practice mindfulness exercises and become aware of sensations of craving in the body and of ruminative thoughts in the mind. Mindfulness, or paying attention “on purpose” to the present moment without judgment, allows patients to help participants to name and tolerate craving and negative emotion. 

“We talk about how you can be kind to yourself, to reduce self-judgment, because people struggling with addiction have a tendency toward self-criticism,” said Zev Schuman-Olivier, medical director for addictions and executive director of the center. 

Of the first five people who participated in the program, three have reduced their buprenorphine dose, and two have been able to stop taking it completely with no relapse for six months with the help of another non-dependence forming addiction medication, naltrexone.

“It was really important to me to have something in place that would help me to deal with intense emotions that feel like being on a rollercoaster you can’t get off of,” a participant in the program, who successfully stopped taking buprenorphine, told the Partnership. “Drugs used to help me get off the rollercoaster, and now mindfulness allows me to do that. The breathing exercises and bodily observations let you slightly detach and observe your emotions, and de-escalate catastrophizing thoughts, such as ‘I’ll never be able to do this.’”
Mindfulness, she says, “makes you more empowered to create changes within yourself.”

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