Yoga and Alcohol Abuse

Dr Karel Nespor, MUDr (Prague)

Yogic practices have a favourable effect on drug addicts, and this fact may prove very useful in the treatment of patients dependent on drugs.

Reports from medical literature

The effects of meditation have been investigated by scientific methods fairly extensively and deeply. There are several papers dealing with the influence of mantra japa meditation on drug abusers.*1 They report that drug abuse, including the consumption of alcoholic beverages, decreased markedly in those who practised mantra japa meditation.*2 The appearance of such parameters as alpha waves on the electroencephalogram, decreased respiration and metabolic rate, increased galvanic skin resistance, seem to indicate that deep relaxation is achieved during meditation practice.*3

It is an interesting fact, that decreased consumption of alcoholic beverages was found also in Czechoslovakian yoga practitioners, who mostly perform asanas (postures) rather than meditative exercises. Merhaut investigated the consumption of alcoholic beverages in members of one yoga club (37 persons), and found 27% were total abstainers.*4 Repeated research on a larger sample of 250 yoga practitioners revealed 28.5% were total abstainers *5 (estimated number of total abstainers in Prague for the year 1961 was according to Skala 9.6%).*6 Ninety percent of the yoga practitioners stated that their consumption of alcoholic beverages was much higher before starting yoga, and "the yogis themselves were surprised, when examining questions revealed that their consumption of alcoholic beverages decreased to one third and then to one tenth in the course of several years of yogic training".

Effective factor

How is yoga responsible for decreased drug abuse? The removal of psychosomatic tension and relaxation may be of prime importance. The ability to cope with life crises and stress is enhanced, and the escape to drugs, which could otherwise take place, is prevented. The other effective factors include increased awareness of body and mind, self-control and change of lifestyle and attitude. To consider other more subtle mechanisms is difficult, in fact yoga as a whole deserves more intensive scientific research.

Our first experience

A modest attempt is being made at the internationally renowned Alcoholic Treatment Centre, Prague (director Dr J. Skala). From November 1978 lessons have been given once a week for one hour with voluntarily participating patients. The attendance per lesson is 3 to 8 men. Alterations in attendance are due mostly to the fluctuation of patients (institutional treatment lasts usually 3 months). Surya namaskara, simple asanas, relaxation and elementary breathing exercises are taught. The aim of this un-intensive training is to let the patients take the first few steps and to create motivation for more regular practice at home. The list of yoga clubs are at the patients' disposal, and books about yoga are recommended.

Patients need some beneficial, or at least harmless hobby and also suitable company after discharge. Yoga offers them both and much more. Unfortunately we have not as yet attempted to verify how many of the former patients continue with yoga practice at home after they are discharged from the centre.


Drug abuse is a serious and growing problem in many countries all over the world. According to investigators, yogic practices represent very good prevention. We believe such practices may also become a valuable component in treatment procedures in drug dependent patients.


*1. Benson H., "Yoga for Drug Abuse', 'N. Engl. J. Med. '281:1133, 1969. Shaffi M., LavelyR., Jaffe R., "Meditation and Marijuana" 'Amer. J. Psychiat.' 131: 60-63, 1974.

*2. Shaffi M., Lavely R., Jaffe R., "Meditation and the Prevention of Alcohol Abuse", 'Amer. J. Psychiat.' 132:942-5, 1975.

*3. Wallace R.K., et al., "A Wakeful Hypometabolic Physiological State", 'Amer. J. Physiol' 221:795-799, 1971.

*4. Merhaut B., "The Prevention of Alcoholism and Smoking by Yoga", (Czech.) 'Veda a zivot' (Prague), pp. XCIX - C, 1978.

*5. Merhaut B., "Smoking and Yoga, Workshop", 'Yoga and Medicine', Prague, 1978.

*6. Skala J., "Bottoms Up" (Czech.), 'Avicenum, Prague, 1977.