A study using brain scans suggests prayer may help Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) members reduce cravings.
“Our findings suggest that the experience of AA over the years had left these members with an innate ability to use the AA experience — prayer in this case ― to minimize the effect of alcohol triggers in producing craving,” senior author Dr. Marc Galanter of NYU Langone Medical Center said in a statement. “Craving is diminished in long-term AA members compared to patients who have stopped drinking for some period of time but are more vulnerable to relapse.”
The study included 20 long-time AA members who said they did not have any alcohol cravings in the week before the study began. On two occasions, participants sat in an MRI scanner and looked at pictures of alcoholic drinks and people drinking alcohol. They saw the first set of pictures after reading a newspaper, and the second set after reading prayers from “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book.”
While all participants said they experienced some degree of alcohol cravings after reading a newspaper and seeing the pictures, cravings were significantly reduced after reciting an AA prayer, Medical Daily reports. Researchers saw changes in the MRI scans that indicated differences in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls attention. They also saw changes in the areas that control emotion, the article notes.
“We wanted to determine what is going on in the brain in response to alcohol-craving triggers, such as passing by a bar or experiencing something upsetting, when long-term AA members are exposed to them,” Galanter said. “This finding suggests that there appears to be an emotional response to alcohol triggers, but that it’s experienced and understood differently when someone has the protection of the AA experience.”
The findings appear in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.