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Feasibility Pilot of a Brief Mindfulness Intervention for College Students with Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms and Problem Drinking

  • Helen Valenstein-MahEmail author
  • Tracy L. Simpson
  • Sarah Bowen
  • Matt C. Enkema
  • Elizabeth R. Bird
  • Hye In Cho
  • Mary E. Larimer


A significant subset of college students experience PTSD symptoms, and many engage in problematic alcohol use. Some college students with PTSD symptoms may use alcohol and other substances to cope with their symptoms, and those with PTSD experience more negative alcohol and drug consequences than those without PTSD. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been successfully utilized for individuals with PTSD or substance use disorders. However, to date, no studies have evaluated MBIs for college students with co-occurring PTSD symptoms and problem drinking. This study was a feasibility pilot of a 4-week group loving-kindness meditation (LKM) intervention, a practice of intentionally directing well wishes to oneself and others. LKM was compared to referral to treatment as usual (RTAU) for non-treatment seeking college students (N = 75) with PTSD symptoms and problem drinking. Overall, the LKM group had low to moderate feasibility and acceptability among college students, as recruitment was lower than expected and attendance at LKM groups was modest. Participants’ PTSD symptoms, drinking quantity, and negative drinking consequences decreased, and state mindfulness increased over the course of the study, but there were no significant differences between LKM and RTAU on these outcomes. Additionally, higher coping drinking motives predicted greater PTSD symptoms and more drinking consequences over the course of the study. Effective interventions for college students with PTSD symptoms and problematic alcohol use are needed, especially for individuals who drink to cope with their PTSD symptoms. Future research on LKM that addresses the limitations of the current study is warranted.


Mindfulness Loving-kindness meditation PTSD symptoms Problem drinking College students 



This paper is derived from a doctoral thesis by Helen Valenstein-Mah submitted to the University of Washington.

Authors’ Contributions

HVM: Designed and executed the study, conducted data analyses, and drafted the manuscript. TLS: Collaborated on the design of the study, helped with study execution, and provided feedback on the manuscript. SB: Collaborated on the design of the study, helped with study execution, and provided feedback on the manuscript. MCE: Helped with study execution and provided feedback on the manuscript. ERB: Helped with study execution and provided feedback on the manuscript. HIC: Helped with study execution, assisted with data analyses, and reviewed the manuscript. MEL: Collaborated on the design of the study, helped with study execution, and provided feedback on the manuscript.


This study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (F31AA023420-01A1).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All study procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Washington Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Minneapolis VA Healthcare SystemMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.VA Puget Sound HealthcareSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.School of Graduate PsychologyPacific UniversityHillsboroUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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