Researchers look into the benefits of using neurofeedback as a treatment for addiction. How effective is it?

Neurofeedback might be a type of treatment you have not heard of yet. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, animal therapy, and even EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) are rather well-known at this point. On the other hand, neurofeedback is still an uncommon form of treatment still in early exploration phases with addiction.

It may sound futuristic or foreign but neurofeedback treatments have helped individuals with brain injuries, anxiety, stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. The first question any treatment provider faces when it comes to neurofeedback is just that: what is it exactly? Most people have yet to hear about the treatment, much less understand what it means.

Do you know what neurofeedback is or are you still in the dark? Continue reading to learn more about what it is, how providers use it as a form of treatment, some benefits it offers, and how it might help those with substance abuse issues.

What is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a subset of the broader practice of biofeedback. Biofeedback refers to the process of gathering information by measuring different bodily functions and reactions: heart rate, blood pressure, brain waves, skin temperature and more. The collected information is used to attempt to control bodily functions that are normally involuntary.

Biofeedback that collects and uses information from specific brain waves is what makes up the practice of neurofeedback. Researchers and clinicians look for regular or normal patterns in brain waves. Using these averages they can determine when someone’s brain is functioning abnormally and, sometimes, the specific areas causing the issue.

A more advanced form of neurofeedback, or quantitative EEG (QEEG), essentially maps out a person’s brain. A clinician can then analyze the “brain map,” or a processed EEG, and determine the problematic areas to target. Once targeted, treatment can begin with the focus on these areas that do not function properly.

Fernando Manon During EMDR session
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Which Disorders Does Neurofeedback Treat?

Neurofeedback works best for people who have conditions that affect their brain activity. Usually these are problems that come as a result of some outside event. Clinicians use this type of treatment to effectively help people who struggle with symptoms of:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems

Rather than looking at the symptoms produced by these issues, though, neurofeedback treatment looks directly at the cause. Irregular brain activity leads to any number of different symptoms such as anxiety or depression. Clinicians aim to target the problem directly rather than “band-aid” the resulting symptoms.

How Does Neurofeedback Work?

Once you have a brain map and know which areas to target, what do you do? Basically, you are rewarded when your brain activity shifts in the right direction during a course of treatment using neurofeedback. Once your doctor collects a baseline of your brain activity, they attempt to target the troublesome areas.

During treatment, sensors attached to your head actively monitor the processes in your brain and display them on a monitor. They provide some type of visually stimulating reward like a movie or a video game. As you sit through a treatment session, the movie plays or the game stays active as long as your brain waves remain within relatively normal boundaries.

The reward system encourages your brain to remain within these levels so you continue receiving the reward. Through repeat sessions over a period of time, clinicians and doctors work to reform broken down pathways in your brain.

Neurofeedback at Hawaii Island Recovery

During treatment, sensors attached to your head actively monitor the processes in your brain and display them on a monitor. (Source: Hawaii Island Recovery)

Can Neurofeedback Cure Addiction?

Since neurofeedback effectively treats some people with neurological issues, can it help those with substance dependence issues? A 2005 study conducted by the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse studied the effects of neurofeedback on people with drug addiction. Researchers wondered whether EEG practices could positively affect treatment results and reduce relapse.

A total of 120 people participated in the study. Half of the participants received 40 to 50 sessions of neurofeedback treatment. The control group half received time in general treatment equivalent to those in the neurofeedback group.

Of those who participated in the study, 77 percent of the neurofeedback group were still clean and sober after 12 months compared to 44 percent of the control group. Participants in the EEG group also showed higher rates of remaining in treatment compared to the control group.

Neurofeedback is also used with those with substance use disorders to reduce the painful emotional conditions involving anxiety and depression that often drive the desire for relief sought in drugs and alcohol. The abnormal brain waves represented in over arousal, under arousal, or unbalanced arousal of the brain, and the symptoms they cause such as anxiety and depression, can be changed via neurofeedback training.

Other Methods of Addiction Treatment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), particularly with individuals with a history of trauma, abuse, or abandonment/attachment, are evidence-based treatments successfully used in the treatment of addiction.

If you’re looking for a center to help you get clean and sober with neurofeedback treatment, Hawaii Island Recovery offers a treatment facility on the Big Island. Using a wide range of treatment methods, we work with individuals struggling with substance abuse issues, mental health disorders, and dual diagnosis cases.

If you want information on the types of treatment available, call us at 877-721-3556 to speak with someone who can help you find the help you need.