I spent the first weekend of March escorting a dozen Psi Chi students to the annual conference of the Eastern Psychological Association. A pleasant surprise awaited me: Wandering around an early poster session presenting applied research of various stripes, I encountered several posters presenting mindfulness-related research in progress.
First, there was very intriguing research on how mindfulness can be used to reduce alcohol abuse in college students. Mindfulness programs have already been shown to reduce substance abuse, at least among former prisoners, and that college who are naturally more mindful are less likely to abuse alcohol, but we’re a long way from knowing exactly how mindfulness helps and who it can help the most. Now we have new evidence that mindfulness may be particularly helpful for people who drink because they’re in a bad mood.
Often studies will find that people who report more negative moods are also more likely to abuse alcohol, but it’s never absolute; not every upset or stressed person will turn to alcohol for comfort. Counselors obviously would love to know who’s at risk and who will get through a bad day without relying too much on that glass of wine….and they might just be able to do it with a mindfulness questionnaire. It’s just one study, with 100 college students and many analyses still left to run, but the link between bad mood and drinking was entirely accounted for by mindfulness: Students who were in a bad mood but were more mindful had relatively low risk of abuse alcohol, while students who were a bad mood and not particularly mindful had high risk.
In addition, there were two posters reporting different facets of one large study considering mindfulness and that scourge of roadways, texting while driving. College students who were more mindful also believed that texting while driving was more dangerous, and were less likely to report getting into “near accidents” when they were texting. We shouldn’t start petitioning the DMV to required mindfulness training programs just yet – one caveat to all this research is that we can’t know if the benefits of being naturally more mindful are going to happen if we try to force you to be mindful – but confirming seemingly obvious relationships like this is an important first step.
I really shouldn’t really be surprised to have mindfulness so well-represented at a regional psychology conference; with recent appearances in the Washington Post and several top-tier journals, it’s becoming downright mainstream. But it will probably remain exciting for several years to come.