Humans suffer heavily from substance use disorders and other addictions. Despite much effort that has been put into understanding the mechanisms of the addictive process, treatment strategies have remained suboptimal over the past several decades. Mindfulness training, which is based on ancient Buddhist models of human suffering, has recently shown preliminary efficacy in treating addictions. These early models show remarkable similarity to current models of the addictive process, especially in their overlap with operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement). Further, they may provide explanatory power for the mechanisms of mindfulness training, including its effects on core addictive elements, such as craving, and the underlying neurobiological processes that may be active therein. In this review, using smoking as an example, we will highlight similarities between ancient and modern views of the addictive process, review studies of mindfulness training for addictions and their effects on craving and other components of this process, and discuss recent neuroimaging findings that may inform our understanding of the neural mechanisms of mindfulness training.
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