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Mindfulness app associated with brain function and less smoking

Posted 06.26.2019 | by AMRA

Although most cigarette smokers want to quit, only 5% succeed in doing so each year. One reason for this low success rate is that smoking-related cues stimulate strong urges to smoke. Cues include observing someone else smoking, or engaging in activities previously associated with smoking (e.g., work breaks, meals, a cup of coffee, sex). Finding ways to reduce cue-induced urges may help more people quit.

Research shows that a brain area called the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) becomes activated whenever cigarette smokers are exposed to smoking-related cues. Research also indicates that mindfulness meditation as an intervention reduces PCC activity. Janes et al. [Neuropsychopharmacology] tested whether a smartphone mindfulness app reduced smokers’ PCC reactivity to smoking-related cues and their smoking behavior.

The researchers recruited 83 adult smokers who were interested in quitting, 67 of whom completed the study and were included in the final data analysis (average age = 44; 67% female; 91% Caucasian). PCC-reactivity to smoking cues was assessed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and participants were then randomly assigned to either mindfulness training or a control condition. Both conditions used smartphone apps for 4 weeks to help quit smoking. Participants’ PCC reactivity to smoking-related cues was re-assessed via fMRI after the intervention.

The mindfulness app consisted of 22 modules that offered daily training videos and on-demand exercises to teach the core elements of mindfulness. The app also helped participants identity triggers, monitor smoking habits, increase awareness of urges, and use mindfulness as a coping mechanism.

The control group used the National Cancer Institute’s QuitGuide App to help monitor motivation and triggers, as well as offer inspirational messages and tips for dealing with cravings and […]

June 26th, 2019|News|

Mindfulness training reduces smoking, brain mechanism uncovered

Posted 11.14.2016 | by AMRA


Life expectancy of tobacco smokers is cut by 10 years, and smoking is responsible for nearly a half-million deaths in the United States each year. The vast majority of smokers want to quit, but unassisted attempts usually fail, and those that succeed often end in relapse. Studies show that acute stress increases both the likelihood of smoking and the risk of relapse. That is the reason why stress reduction techniques are often offered as a key component in smoking cessation programs.

Kober et al. [Neuroimage] investigated differences in the brain’s response to stress in cigarette smokers participating in one of two smoking cessation interventions: mindfulness training for smoking (MT) or the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking (FFS) program.

The study reported on 23 adult smokers (average age = 48, 70% male, 58% Caucasian) who volunteered for a smoking cessation intervention. The participants were randomly assigned to either MT or FFS, and the relative success of these interventions was reported on in a separate publication (both interventions were effective, with MT participants demonstrating a greater improvement in smoking reduction). Both group interventions met twice a week over a four-week period. The MT program emphasized present-moment awareness and acceptance as strategies for coping with negative emotions and cravings and utilized mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations. The FFS program emphasized self-monitoring, identifying triggers, developing individualized quitting plans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and cognitive-behavioral coping strategies.

The participants underwent functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI) immediately after smoking cessation treatment. The participants listened to recordings of individualized stressful and neutral scenarios during their brain scans. The individualized scenarios were developed based on actual stressful life events the participants had […]

November 14th, 2016|News|

“Urge Surfing” Helps Quitters on First Day of Smoking Abstinence

Posted from archive: 04.23.2013 | by AMRA


The frequency and intensity of cravings is one of the main predictors of failure in smoking cessation attempts. Nosen & Woody [Drug and Alcohol Dependence] reported on the effects of two brief interventions on nicotine withdrawal cravings during the first day of abstinence from smoking. One group of smokers received a mindfulness intervention that stressed acceptance of cravings, allowing them to come and go without attempts to control. A second group received a standard psychoeducational intervention. Both brief 60 to 90 minute interventions were delivered via computer slide show with voice-overs. A third group served as a no-treatment control.

The day after the intervention, one half of the group of 176 smokers quit smoking, and quitters were paged at various intervals throughout the day to rate their cravings. Participants also completed a questionnaire on their beliefs about cravings (e.g., whether they viewed cravings as signs of personal weakness or thought they needed to be controlled).

Both interventions significantly lowered cravings upon awakening the next morning. Both groups also experienced rising levels of craving throughout the day, so that after 2-3 hours their cravings equaled those of controls. After 10 hours, however, the standard psychoeducational intervention group continued to experience increasing cravings, whereas the mindfulness group experienced a significant drop in craving intensity. The mindfulness group also endorsed significantly fewer dysfunctional beliefs about cravings.

These results suggest that even brief training in “urge surfing” may significantly help quitters during their first day of abstinence.


Nosen, E., & Woody, S. R. (2013). Brief psycho-education affects circadian variability in nicotine craving during cessation. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 132(1-2), 283-89. [PMID: 23478153]

[Link to abstract]

December 31st, 2013|News|

MBIs Show Promise for Reducing Substance Use, Especially Smoking

Posted from archive: 04.05.2013 | by AMRA


Chiesa & Serretti [Substance Use & Misuse] comprehensively reviewed 24 quantitative, controlled studies of mindfulness-based and associated interventions (MBIs) on different types of substance abuse and misuse. The MBIs studied included MBSR, MBCT, MBRP, DBT and ACT, as well as other modalities. Substance abuse types included alcohol, tobacco, opiates, cannabis, methamphetamines, and mixed substance abuse. Retention rates were generally moderate to high (e.g., 50-90 for alcohol abusers, 63-100 for cigarette smokers, and 57-82 for opiate abusers) and there were no reported adverse effects.

There was some limited evidence that MBIs can reduce substance use over and above wait-list controls, nonspecific educational support groups, and some specific controls, but conclusions were hampered by methodological limitations including small sample size, lack of either randomization, blind assessment, or objective measures of substance use, and insufficient information on treatment adherence and follow-up. Some of the best evidence for efficacy was with the use of MBIs for smoking cessation, where all 4 reviewed studies showed significant benefits over and above controls.

There were also some surprising findings: three studies (one using MBSR, 2 using ACT) failed at significantly reducing stress. Two of the 3 studies using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) failed to observe significant differences in mindfulness, while a third observed only transient differences on a single subscale. The authors emphasize the need for future replications with larger sample size and improved methodological rigor before firmer conclusions can be made.


Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2013). Are mindfulness-based interventions effective for substance use disorders? A systematic review of the evidence. Substance Use & Misuse. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2013.770027 [PMID: 23461667]

[Link to abstract]

December 30th, 2013|News|