Mindfulness as a Strategy for Coping with Cue-Elicited Cravings for Alcohol: An Experimental Examination


  • Cara M. Murphy,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
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  • James MacKillop

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
    2. Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
    • Reprint requests: James MacKillop, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-3013; Tel.: 706-542-3033; Fax: 706-542-3275; E-mail: jmackill@uga.edu

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Mindfulness has been identified as a promising strategy for managing cravings for alcohol and other drugs, but little controlled experimental research has directly studied whether this approach is effective. The current study systematically examined the effects of an acute mindfulness manipulation on craving for alcohol during prolonged exposure to alcohol cues.


Heavy drinkers (= 84, 50% male) underwent a prolonged alcohol cue exposure paradigm in a simulated bar environment and received either a mindfulness-based strategy, a distraction (DST)-based strategy (active control), or no strategy (passive control) to cope with alcohol cravings and discomfort associated with craving.


No baseline differences were present between conditions. Manipulation checks revealed that participants in the 2 active conditions reported using the recommended strategies. Across groups, the initial exposure to alcohol cues was associated with significant increases in craving, urge distress, and heart rate. Mixed analyses of variance on these indices following the experimental manipulation revealed significant differences based on condition over the course of the bar laboratory protocol. The DST strategy was significantly more effective at acutely reducing craving and urge distress than the other 2 conditions, which did not significantly differ from each other.


Contrary to our prediction, these findings suggest that an acute DSTstrategy is beneficial for coping with alcohol cravings. The potential importance of protracted mindfulness training to detect significant effects on in vivo craving, additional implications, and methodological considerations are discussed.