MindfulnessNobel-Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman considers your decisions a balance of two brain systems – system one is fast and intuitive; system two is slow and logical. In addiction, think of this like “want” and “should”. System one wants a substance and system two knows you shouldn’t. A study on early view at the Journal of Counseling Psychology shows how young adults can override system one so that you or your loved one can stay sober. Specifically, there are two ways: a strong connection with a parent and/or a young adult’s mindfulness. Mindfulness, at its essence, connects or synthesizes the two systems described above so that the person practicing the mindfulness makes more wise decisions.

Let’s take a step back: we’ve thought for years that conflict between young adults and parents are correlative with drug-related problems. But, of course, not all young people with challenging family situations go on to struggle with addiction. The question this study wanted to answer is, what protects these young people with family discord from drug abuse? Why do some young people with parent-child conflict fall into addiction while others do not?

Emory and John Hopkins posed the question to 928 female Georgia State undergrads. They had these students take four tests: the Parent Environment Questionnaire, the Self Control and Management Scale, the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, and the Drug Use Disorders Identification Test. Then they looked inside these numbers for patterns: what factors made non-users from challenging families different than users with similar backgrounds?

First, it seems that conflict with a parent is not the direct path to substance abuse you might think. Instead, more young adults who have parent-child conflict also have low self-control – and it was this deficit in self-control, not just fighting with mom or dad or caregiver that predicted substance abuse.  In fact, it is that same low self-control that leads to the conflict since the young adults don’t manage the impulse to argue.

Look at it from the other side of the numbers: young adults who happened to have high self-control despite the risk factor of family conflict had the same low rate of substance abuse as young people with strong family connections.

Knowing that, the real question becomes: how can young adults have high self-control despite family conflict? How can you create the same self-control of people with strong parent-child connection?

The answer is mindfulness.

In this study, young adults who were especially mindful had the same low rates of substance abuse as young adults who were close with their parents. It seems that learning to attend to thoughts with intention offers young people a higher chance of staying free from addiction.

In the words of the authors, “Mindfulness as a tool against drug use may have potential to limit the negative effects of low self-control brought on by parent-child conflict.”


Eric Schmidt is the CEO of New Roads Treatment Centers, affordable drug treatment programs for young adults.

For further discussion, tips, and research on mindfulness, visit DBT blog series of Kristen Sroczynski.