Transcendental Meditation for Addiction

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Addiction is a behavioral disease with a strong psychological component. In practice, this means that anything with a strong mental and emotional impact on an addict can have an effect.

After all, we credit stress and the pressures of life as pushing someone deeper into addiction; we shouldn’t then be surprised if things that mitigate stress may help some addicts.

Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation is a branded product. It is owned by the estate of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and is used by various organizations he founded. They offer certification in a technique developed by the founder in India, circa 1955.

In the most basic form, TM is a type of chanting or mantra-based meditation that is practiced twice a day in 15- to 20-minute sessions. Once the techniques are learned, adherents are expected to practice on their own.

The basic course consists of 10 hours of instruction (three to four hours of introduction and then “check-ups”). This is followed by additional training over a year and a half. The course fee listed on their site is currently $90 down and $90 a month for 18 months.

The Claims

It is difficult to pin down exactly what TM proponents claim regarding meditation and addiction. Many of the stories are personal anecdotes, and studies have been controversial.

In one extended interview, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a psychiatrist, discusses how TM may be beneficial for addiction.

There are 18 studies. Now, whenever you look at literature, you always are going to get a mixture in quality. But a meta-analysis of those 18 studies does show that Transcendental Meditation works for addictions like alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and drug abuse, in varying populations, done by varying groups. And if you look at it as a whole, I, as a researcher, come away with a sense that there is really something going on here. Any specific study can be picked apart, of course. But if you take the sum total of studies, they are all pointing in the same direction, to a powerful, anti-addiction effect.

Criticisms

Not everyone agrees. Dr. Steve Novella wrote a strong criticism, stating in part:

Interestingly, one study on TM (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23204989) contained the following statement: "Transcendental Meditation and TM are trademarks registered in the US. Patent and Trademark Office, licensed to Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corporation and are used with permission." I noticed that few other studies of TM contained this statement, and realized it was probably because the studies were all conducted at the Maharishi University of Management… In looking over the literature on this question, however, I ran into a significant problem. All of the primary research into TM is conducted at one or another Maharishi institution. Every one. Perhaps this has something to do with their patent. I could not find any truly independent replication.

Is it then just an argument between experts? In an era of science-based medicine, it comes down to this: “If you are offering a treatment, tell us exactly what it is supposed to accomplish, and then – prove it.” And that’s where things stand for now.

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