Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore investigated the efficacy of adding qigong to a residential treatment program for substance abuse.
Qigong, which blends relaxation, breathing, guided imagery, inward attention, and mindfulness to elicit a tranquil, healing state, was introduced into a short-term residential treatment program.  At first clients chose to participate in qigong meditation on a voluntary basis during their evening break.  Later they chose to participate in either meditation or Stress Management and Relaxation Training (SMART) twice a day as part of the scheduled treatment.

Weekly questionnaires were completed by 248 participants for up to 4 weeks, to assess changes in treatment outcomes.  Participants in the meditation group were also assessed for quality of meditation to evaluate the association between quality and treatment outcome.

Most clients were amenable to meditation as part of the treatment program, and two thirds chose to participate in daily Qigong.  While both groups reported significant improvement in treatment outcome, the Qigong group reported a significantly higher treatment completion rate (92% versus 78%, p < 01) and more reduction in craving than did the SMART group.

Participants whose Qigong meditation was of acceptable quality reported greater reductions in craving, anxiety, and withdrawal symptoms than did those whose meditation was of low quality. Female meditation participants reported significantly more reduction in anxiety and withdrawal symptoms than did any other group.

The investigators conclude that Qigong meditation appears to contribute positively to addiction treatment outcomes, with results at least as good as those of an established stress management program.  Results for those who meditate adequately are especially encouraging. Meditative therapy may be more effective or acceptable for female drug abusers than for males.  Further study is needed to assess ways to improve substance abusers' engagement and proficiency in meditation.

Citation:  Chen KW, Comerford A, Shinnick P, Ziedonis DM. Introducing qigong meditation into residential addiction treatment: a pilot study where gender makes a difference. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 2010 Aug;16 (8):pp.875-82. [email protected]