Ruichong (Chloe) Shuai

Chloe Shuai is a current second year PhD student in Psychology, at the University of Exeter, under the supervision of Associate Professor Lee Hogarth and Professor Celia Morgan. Her research focuses on developing evidence-based brief interventions for preventing trajectories of alcohol/substance dependence from adolescence to emerging adulthood. During her undergraduate Psychology degree at the University of Exeter, she investigated the effect of a breath counting technique on resilience to alcohol-seeking behaviours in response to noise induced stress, in student drinkers. As part of her PhD, she has recently completed another study on reactive imagery training for young people who are at risk of developing alcohol dependence (under data analysis) and hopes to develop this further in the future.

Ultra brief breath counting (mindfulness) training promotes recovery from stress induced alcohol seeking in student drinkers

The therapeutic effect of mindfulness therapy on alcohol use and relapse is thought to be mediated by increased resilience to negative affective triggers for alcohol-seeking, but this claim needs further evidence. The current study tested whether briefly training one component of mindfulness – breath counting – would reduce student drinkers’ sensitivity to noise stress induced increases in alcohol-seeking behaviour. Participants were 192 undergraduate student drinkers. Baseline alcohol seeking was first measured by percentage choice to view alcohol versus food thumbnail pictures in two-alternative forced choice trials. Participants then listened to a 6-minute audio file which either trained breath counting (the breath counting group), or recited an extract from a popular science book (control group). All participants were then stressed by listening to a loud and unpleasant industrial noise (70dB), during which alcohol choice was measured again, as before. The breath counting group was told to deploy the breath counting technique during this stress test. Results showed that in the control group, noise stress increased alcohol-choice relative to baseline, across three time bins of the stress test. By contrast, for the breath counting group, noise stress increased alcohol choice relative to baseline at time bin one, and this effect declined linearly to over time bins two and three of the stress test, terminating at the same level as baseline. These results suggest that deployment of a briefly trained breath counting technique promoted recovery from acute stress induced increases in alcohol-seeking. Mindfulness therapies may improve drinking outcomes via this mechanism, and brief breath counting training may have therapeutic utility in its own right.

Poster link: Ultra brief breath counting (mindfulness) training promotes recovery from stress induced alcohol seeking in student drinkers