Finding Relief Beyond the Pill: Mindfulness Shows Promise for Military with Chronic Pain

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Chronic pain and opioid dependence can be a debilitating double whammy for military personnel and veterans. But a recent study offers a beacon of hope: mindfulness training, coupled with therapy techniques, can significantly reduce both pain symptoms and opioid use in this population.

The research, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, compared two approaches to treating chronic pain in military personnel who were taking opioids. One group received traditional supportive psychotherapy, while the other participated in a program called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE). MORE combines mindfulness practices like mindful breathing and meditation with cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques and education about chronic pain and opioid misuse.

The results were striking. The MORE group not only reported greater reductions in chronic pain symptoms and opioid use, but also experienced improvements in their ability to manage pain without catastrophizing, increased positivity, and reduced craving.

This is particularly significant because chronic pain often leads to negative thinking and emotional distress, which can fuel the cycle of opioid dependence. MORE seems to break this cycle by equipping individuals with tools to reframe their relationship with pain and manage their emotions more effectively.

The researchers highlight several key takeaways:

  • Mindfulness training offers a promising non-pharmacological approach for managing chronic pain and reducing opioid use in military personnel.
  • MORE effectively reduces pain interference, severity, and daily opioid dosage compared to supportive psychotherapy alone.
  • The program improves emotional well-being by reducing negative thoughts and increasing positive affect.
  • MORE can be a valuable tool for veterans and military personnel seeking to safely reduce their dependence on opioids while managing chronic pain.

This research is a step forward in addressing the complex challenges faced by military personnel with chronic pain. It paves the way for wider implementation of mindfulness-based interventions and offers a potential path towards improved pain management and reduced reliance on opioids.

For those struggling with chronic pain and opioid use, remember:

  • You are not alone. Many veterans and military personnel face similar challenges.
  • Help is available. Mindfulness training and other non-pharmacological approaches can offer effective tools for managing pain and reducing opioid dependence.
  • Reach out for support. Talk to your healthcare provider, connect with veteran support groups, or explore resources like the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Finding relief and reclaiming control over your life is possible. Take heart from this promising research and explore options that empower you to manage your pain and thrive beyond the limitations of opioids.


Alert, P. N. (n.d.). Mindfulness training reduces opioid use, craving among military experiencing chronic pain. Psych News Alert.

Garland, E. L., Nakamura, Y., Bryan, C. J., Hanley, A. W., Parisi, A., Froeliger, B., Marchand, W. R., & Donaldson, G. W. (2024a). Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement for veterans and military personnel on long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain: A randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Psychiatry.