Can Neurofeedback Treat Addiction?

Neurofeedback has been used as a brain-training technique since the 1960s. Through the decades, it has helped treat people struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and a host of additional mental health concerns. Experts have also used neurofeedback in addiction treatment. When incorporated into a comprehensive plan for addiction treatment, neurofeedback can help people establish a strong foundation for successful, long-term recovery.

What is Neurofeedback? 

Neurofeedback is a treatment technique that uses brain wave tracking. This brain wave tracking can help people exert greater influence over how their brain functions. 

Also referred to as neurotherapy, neurofeedback falls within the category of biofeedback. Other types of biofeedback involve the measurement of body temperature, heart rate, muscle tension, perspiration, and breathing. The goal of biofeedback is to help people take control of bodily functions to for improved physical or mental health. 

How Does Neurofeedback Work? 

Neurofeedback therapists use noninvasive devices to measure patients’ brain waves. This procedure is known as electroencephalography, or EEG.

Brain waves are identified by their speed. Units called Hertz, or Hz, express the speed or frequency of brain waves.

  • When you’re in a deep sleep, the frequency of your brain waves will typically fall between 1-4 Hz. These waves are called delta waves. 
  • If you’re awake but sleepy, or in a light sleep stage, your brain waves will measure at 4-8 Hz. These are theta waves.
  • Alpha waves, which measure 8-12 Hz, are present when you’re in a calm, relaxed state. 
  • The presence of beta waves, which can range from 12-35 Hz, indicates that you’re concentrating or focusing. 
  • Gamma waves, which exceed 35 Hz, are usually present when you’re in the process of learning new information or solving a problem.

EEG devices identify which types of brainwaves are active at a given moment. With the guidance of an experienced therapist, neurofeedback patients can use this information to retrain their brains.

Can Neurofeedback Treat Addiction? 

Several studies indicate neurofeedback as an effective tool in helping those whose lives have been disrupted by substance abuse and addiction. Neurofeedback can also be effective in treating those with both a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression and a co-occurring substance use disorder, an occurrence known as dual diagnosis.

A study published in the April 2016 edition of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience noted that neurofeedback can be a beneficial element of addiction treatment. The authors of this study reported that neurofeedback may ease temptations and cravings that can otherwise undermine an addict’s ability to remain drug-free.

A study in the July 2020 edition of Addictive Behaviors also noted the ability of neurofeedback to help people with alcohol and drug addictions. The authors of this study advocated for the use of neurofeedback in alcohol addiction treatment. They wrote that neurofeedback “enhance[s] the cognitive abilities required to maintain abstinence more specifically, with a focus on inhibition and attentional skills.”

Neurofeedback in addiction treatment commonly focuses on alpha and theta brain waves. Empowering people to produce alpha or theta brain waves can lead to improved emotion regulation and stress management.

What Happens in a Neurofeedback for Addiction Treatment Session? 

Neurofeedback is a safe, painless, and noninvasive technique. 

During a neurofeedback therapy session, patients sit in a comfortable chair. Before the session begins, the neurofeedback therapist or another professional will attach several sensors to the patient’s scalp. These sensors will record the patient’s brain waves. Aside from the adhesive used to attach the sensors, the patient should feel nothing else from these sensors. Their function is solely to record.

With sensors attached, the patient listens to certain sounds or watches something on a computer screen. While doing this, both the patient and the therapist have access to information from the EEG sensors tracking the patient’s brain waves.

When the patient produces the desired type of brain waves, they see or hear some kind of reward. The screen they are watching may become brighter, or they may hear certain pleasurable sounds. 

When the patient isn’t producing the types of brain waves that are the focus of the session, the screen they are watching may grow dimmer and the special pleasurable sounds may fade away. Over the course of several sessions, the patient learns how to produce the desired type of brain waves. 

For example, if a person receives neurofeedback therapy to help them manage stress or remain in recovery, the goal of the sessions may be to produce alpha brain waves. These waves are all about serenity, relaxation, and trauma healing. Trauma healing can be another beneficial reason to include neurofeedback in addiction treatment.

Find Neurofeedback for Addiction Treatment in South Florida

The Neuroscience Institute provides innovative, evidence-based services for people who have been struggling with mental health disorders and addiction. Neurofeedback is one of many treatment options that can help people achieve and maintain successful, long-term recovery from addiction.

If you or someone you care about needs professional care for addiction in South Florida, our team is here for you. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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