Can a Mindfulness-Based Therapy Replace Opioids?

As opioid addiction rates continue to climb, some chronic pain patients find that mindfulness helps by opening up space for acceptance and curiosity.


Emily Johansson takes opioids to help with her myofascial pain syndrome. While the medication provides some relief from daily chronic pain, five years ago she noticed a dangerous pattern: She had begun taking them to curb her anxiety as well. Mindfulness, Emily says, helped her emerge from a very dark place. “Pain wants to control your brain and get your full attention until you give it a pain med,” she says.

Since 2016, Emily’s used techniques she learned in the Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) program, pioneered by University of Utah professor Eric Garland, PhD. Aimed at decreasing patients’ use (and misuse) of prescription drugs, the program teaches mindfulness and savoring techniques to ease pain and craving, while shifting awareness toward pleasant emotions. Johansson learned to “drink in” the sights, sounds, and smells in her present moment as they flow through her body. Sometimes instead of a pill, she’ll opt for a walk to the park. “When I am feeding the baby ducks and geese, I don’t think about the pain,” she says.

Pain and the Opioid Epidemic

Chronic pain—experiencing pain every day for at least three months—afflicts more than 20% of American adults. But pain itself…