New treatment techniques that can help those who struggle with substance abuse are always welcome news to those impacted by addiction. One of the most exciting developments in addiction treatment is neurofeedback therapy. Based on biofeedback, which has been in use for decades, this therapy has been shown to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, and other disorders of the brain. More and more evidence is mounting that it can help addicts, too.
What Is Neurofeedback Therapy?
Neurofeedback is based on a technique called biofeedback, which is used to treat physical problems. Undergoing biofeedback therapy involves being attached to devices that measure and display certain body processes like your temperature, your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. A trained therapist helps you to change these normally involuntary processes in order to improve certain health conditions.
Biofeedback is used to treat headaches, urinary incontinence, high blood pressure, chronic pain and other medical issues. Neurofeedback is simply a subclass of biofeedback therapy that focuses on the brain.
During neurofeedback, you are attached to an electroencephalography machine (EEG), which reads your brain’s activity. The information read by the EEG is sent back to you and you learn to respond and adjust your brain’s activity. You may not be aware you are even doing anything, but the machine reads you and tells you and the practitioner whether you are adjusting appropriately. This process has been shown to help people with certain conditions improve.
Anyone affected by addiction might reasonably ask when neurofeedback will be used to help addicts. Like PTSD, ADHD and epilepsy (another disorder treated with this type of therapy), addiction is a disease of the brain. If neurofeedback can help retrain the brain to be calmer, to forget or manage painful memories, to focus and concentrate or to prevent seizures, it should be able to help addicts resist cravings for drugs or alcohol.
The good news is that neurofeedback is already being used by many addiction treatment centers around the country. Some facilities using this therapy for addicts’ report relapse rates as low as 25 percent. Among traditional addiction therapy participants, relapse occurs in closer to three quarters of all those in recovery. The difference is significant and worth investigation. As with all uses of neurofeedback, research is still limited, but as evidence grows, more research with larger pools of participants is inevitable.
For anyone suffering from a disorder of the brain, whether addiction, epilepsy, ADHD or another condition, neurofeedback is a promising therapy. With more attention and more research time and money devoted to it, we may start seeing more people healed and treated with this innovative technique.
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Belair Clinic utilizes an amazing tool called neurofeedback, or EEG biofeedback, to help identify and treat co-occurring disorders, which in turn raises abstinence rates substantially and helps those in recovery stay clean and sober. Neurofeedback is a safe, comfortable way to dramatically reduce clients’ vulnerability to relapse.
Client’s that are in a program at the clinic are given the opportunity utilize the neurofeedback suite as an adjunct to their recovery program without having the additional costs usually associated with neurofeedback training. This product is offered without charge as an additional modality for clients interested in this approach at the end of the regular individual session.
Most people suffering from substance abuse disorders are also struggling with underlying issues, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and trauma. These co-occurring disorders often trigger relapses for clients in recovery (or prompt clients to leave treatment prematurely), so it is extremely important for clients to be treated for both their substance abuse disorder and any underlying conditions.
In a UCLA study (published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in 2005), 77 percent of participants who received neurofeedback in conjunction with a 12-step program remained abstinent at 12 months, compared to 44 percent of those who didn’t receive neurofeedback, but who stayed in treatment longer. This study has also been successfully replicated by other research teams.
Another study of homeless male crack cocaine users showed that after receiving 12 months of neurofeedback (along with a 12-step program), 12 men graduated from the program per month. Before the study, only 12 men graduated per year.
Max Whipple, Certified Addiction Registered Nurse and Program Development Director, explains that neurofeedback uses sound and visual frequencies to correct areas of hyper- (over) and hypo- (under) arousal in brain activity. “Over time, neurofeedback sessions help correct symptoms exacerbating psychological states that develop the inertia for the substance abuse issues”
- Max D Whipple