A research project at the University of Illinois is examining the use of mindfulness therapy in preventing drug abuse relapse among marginalized young adults.

Jordan Davis, a doctoral student in social work at the U. of I., has been awarded a $100,000 grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study the effectiveness of Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention at helping young adults stay sober after substance use treatment. The institute is a unit within the National Institutes of Health.

Modeled after the mindfulness based cognitive therapy used to treat depression, MBRP is a group-based treatment that targets the negative emotions and cravings that often lead to relapse, including the physiologic and behavioral symptoms of chronic stress. The treatment protocol teaches participants to recognize thought patterns and physical symptoms that typically lead to relapse, fostering greater tolerance of these various states and reducing the need to engage in substance use to alleviate discomfort.

Davis’ research project is the first study to investigate MBRP’s efficacy with young adults, although a handful of clinical trials have been conducted with adults, Davis said.

The study focuses on marginalized populations, particularly people who experienced early childhood trauma and have been dually diagnosed with mental health and substance use problems.

About 80 percent of the participants are involved with the criminal justice system and about 90 percent live below the federal poverty line, Davis said.

“This is a population of individuals who face extraordinary challenges throughout their lives and in their efforts to stay sober after treatment ends,” Davis said. “Many have experienced severe trauma such as neglect, abuse and sexual trauma as children. These experiences, coupled with a substance use disorder, make it very difficult to remain abstinent. We are investigating whether MBRP impacts both physiological and behavioral measures of chronic stress, and if it works equally well for individuals who have experienced significant early childhood trauma.”

“Mr. Davis’ project brings to bear cutting-edge science to help an underserved population and address one of the most intractable problems in treatment – how to keep people well once they have started the path to recovery,” said psychology professor Brent Roberts, one of Davis’ advisors and the principal investigator on the project. “This grant is a direct reflection of Mr. Davis’ insights, hard work and already remarkably prolific research career as a doctoral student. He represents the type of social scientist we aspire to produce at the University of Illinois.”

A native of Cumberland, Maryland, Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Auburn University and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Syracuse University before entering the doctoral program in social work at Illinois.

While at Illinois, Davis has been a co-author on several research papers, including studies that examined the efficacy of treating withdrawal symptoms among cannabis users, links between bully victimization and substance use, and the use of motivational interviewing and normative feedback in treating adolescents with alcohol use problems.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign