2019 Bennett Lecture discusses how mindfulness can help people with addiction

Stephanie Lanza, director of the Edna Bennett Prevention Research Center and interim director of the Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse, presented a plaque to Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, in appreciation of her presentation at the 2019 Bennett Lecture in Prevention Science, on Oct. 15
Stephanie Lanza, director of the Edna Bennett Prevention Research Center and interim director of the Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse, presented a plaque to Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, in appreciation of her presentation at the 2019 Bennett Lecture in Prevention Science, on Oct. 15

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In today’s busy world, it’s important to step back and feel connected to yourself in the present moment — a practice called mindfulness.

Mindfulness was the topic at hand for this year’s Bennett Lecture in Prevention Science, held on Oct. 15 in 110 Henderson Building. The Bennett Lecture is an annual fall event hosted by the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. This year’s speaker, Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, gave a presentation to students, faculty, staff and community members titled “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Addiction: Making a Better Band-Aid.”

Practicing mindfulness, according to Witkiewitz, involves observing ourselves and letting our minds wander in a non-judgmental space. She said the core of mindfulness for addiction is that whatever triggers people to use substances is not going to go away, so to instead hold onto that trigger in our awareness and in the present moment in a non-judgmental space.

“I think a lot of recovery work focuses on treatment that attempts to provide skills for increasing coping or directly targeting relapse. But it does not teach people coping skills or self-awareness to handle life situations that cause them to relapse in the first place. This is where mindfulness can come in and help give people the strength to deal with life,” she said.

Building upon years of research beginning in the 1970s, Witkiewitz and her colleagues coined the term “mindfulness-based relapse prevention” (MBRP) instead to reach a wider audience. She helped develop MBRP sessions for clinicians to use with their patients. She noted that compared to gold-standard relapse prevention treatment, MBRP does help prevent relapse of alcohol or drug use.

Witkiewitz conducted a second talk, “Alcohol Harm Reduction is Health Promotion: A 15-year Journey Examining Patterns and Predictors of Alcohol Treatment Outcomes,” at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Oct. 16, as part of the Child Study Center speaker series. She discussed how abstinence from alcohol is often viewed as the most desirable and ideal outcome for individuals with alcohol use disorder; however, most individuals with alcohol use disorder do not want to abstain from drinking and do not seek treatment. She explained that reductions in drinking are a viable alternative to abstinence as a harm reduction strategy and are a significant public health priority.

This year's Bennett Lecture presenter, Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions, discusses her research on the benefits of meditation in addressing substance misuse, and relapse in particular.

This story originally appeared in Penn State News.