Treating addiction can be tough; there are no two ways about it. Addiction takes a physical and emotional toll on your entire body and mind, and, as you probably already know, this can be a years-long ordeal. So, how do you treat something that has been such a driving force in your life for so long? How do you gain control over something that might make you feel out-of-control?
There are many ways of treating substance use, including 12-step programs and 12-step alternatives. One such alternative is neurofeedback therapy, and it is showing a lot of promise for helping people become and remain sober. But how does it work? Might it work for you or your loved one? Let’s kick back and talk about how neurofeedback works for people struggling with addiction.
What is Neurofeedback Therapy?
You’re probably wondering just what is neurofeedback is and how it can help treat addiction. Neurofeedback is also known as electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback. It utilizes a computer-based software program that provides immediate feedback, giving you insight into your own unique brainwave activity. This software program utilizes visual and/or auditory signals to re-train these neurological signals. This essentially teaches you how to enhance and regulate your brain’s functions, thereby relieving the symptoms that contribute to substance use.
Neurofeedback is used on both adults and children with a variety of different conditions affecting the brain. These conditions include:
- Birth trauma
- Acquired brain injuries
- Developmental delays
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Stress-related conditions
- Sleep disruption (including insomnia)
- Age-based cognitive decline (including dementia)
How exactly does neurofeedback work though? Our cerebral neurons are loaded with data regarding our brains’ activities. These neurons are activated by electrical impulses that help send messages throughout the brain and the rest of the body. When electrodes are placed on your scalp, the brain’s electrical activity (EEG) is recorded into the software program.
EEG gets generated by pyramidal neurons, and the output from these electrical impulses is reflected on the skin of the scalp. The different brainwaves are recognized by their frequencies and amplitudes. Electrodes are placed all around the scalp in order to obtain this information.
There are seven different types of neurofeedback. Frequency/power neurofeedback is the most common type and is used for treating ADHD, insomnia, and anxiety. Migraines, epilepsy, and ADHD can be treated with slow cortical potential neurofeedback (SCP-NF). A third type is Low-energy Neurofeedback System (LENS), which sends a small electrical signal to alter the brainwaves while you are still and have your eyes closed. Migraines can also be treated by hemoencephalographic (HEG) neurofeedback, as it interacts with cerebral blood flow. Live Z-score neurofeedback is also sometimes used for insomnia, and low-resolution electromagnetic tomography (LORE-TA) is the go-to option used to treat addiction. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is also used to regulate cerebral activity.
The History of Neurofeedback Therapy
Evidence-based technology is at the heart of neurofeedback for addiction. Over the past decade, studies like the one conducted by Dehghani-Arani, Rostami, and Nadali in 2013 show that neurofeedback therapy can reduce the craving for an addictive substance (in this case, opiates) and restore a person’s mental health and well-being. But how did all of this come into being?
In the 1920s, German psychiatrist Hans Berger revolutionized quantitative EEGs. American neuroscientist, M. Barry Sterman, and biologist, Wanda Wyrwicka, spent time in the 1960’s analyzing EEGs on cats, conditioning them to receive food by pressing a lever after hearing a sound cue. Sterman further developed his work to help reduce seizure activity in human patients.
Around the same time, Joe Kamiya popularized neurofeedback in a Psychology Today article. Barbara Brown also wrote several books in the 1960s and 70s, in which she likened self-regulation of brainwaves to the relay switch that turns on an electric train.
Within the past decade, neurofeedback for addiction and other conditions has risen to prominence as scientists have gained a better understanding of the brain’s neuroplasticity. Now, scientists are able to monitor how someone’s brainwaves exist while the person is under stress.
What other types of therapy is this similar to?
There are different types of biofeedback therapy, to which neurofeedback is somewhat similar. EEGs are just one way to get biofeedback. Contraction of the muscles, heart rate, breathing, temperature, and sweat gland activity can also be monitored for different purposes.
There are also different types of neurofeedback. These types include:
- SMR (Traditional) Neurofeedback
- Alpha/Theta Neurofeedback (A/T)
- Neuro-Gen HPN Neurofeedback
- Hemoencephalography (HEG)
- Beta Reset
- Coherence Training
Is Neurofeedback an accepted form of therapy?
Today, neurofeedback is an accepted form of therapy. While some researchers question whether neurofeedback has a placebo effect, studies suggest that it produces statistically significant results in controlled therapy settings, especially for treating symptoms of ADHD. Of course, further research is needed to show truly strong validity.
All three have proven to be safe and effective as long as they are combined with counseling and behavioral therapy. The medications normalize brain chemistry and block the euphoric effects of heroin. They also reduce psychological cravings and normalize body functions which can minimize the heroin withdrawal symptoms. It is very important that MAT is used with therapy and medical supervision in order to be successful.
The Goal of Neurofeedback Therapy
The goal of neurofeedback therapy is to teach the brain how to self-regulate the entire Central Nervous System (CNS). This means that you might be able to gain control over the shifting between states of excitation and relaxation as well as establishing and maintaining flexibility. With regard to how neurofeedback works for addiction, it might help regulate the areas of the brain that control the emotions and impulses that drive the craving.
Neurofeedback sessions involve having sensors placed around your head to get brainwave readings. They only gather output and do not give off any sort of input. These electrodes are painless to have attached and removed and are only placed by a trained specialist.
Sessions can last about 30 minutes with in-office sessions totaling less than an hour. Extended sessions are sometimes done but typically go no longer than 45 minutes. Afterward, clients report feeling more relaxed and focused and less stressed, but results will vary by client.
How long does this therapy last?
Neurofeedback therapy for addiction can last for two months or longer. It all depends on the client’s treatment goals. Addiction can call for longer treatment plans. In some cases, progress might be seen within just 15 sessions. Most people require somewhere between 20 and 60 sessions. Those coping with addiction can expect to be on the higher end of that spectrum. Some clients might need two or three sessions per week.
Therapies That Pair Well with Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback can be paired with many different therapies, ranging from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). One of the therapies we use at Defining Wellness is Experiential Addiction Therapy. In this type of therapy, we use expressive activities and tools to help clients re-experience traumatic moments from their pasts.
Why does this combination work well? Experiential Addiction Therapy can bring about some negative thoughts, memories, and emotions, but we provide the tools to confront them. Neurofeedback allows us to figure out just how well this therapy is working and provide extra relief for clients.
Addiction doesn’t have to beat you; you can beat it. We here at Defining Wellness are able to use neurofeedback for addiction in conjunction with other forms of therapy. Our committed staff is here to help you or your loved one succeed along the journey to sobriety, so please reach out and ask for assistance.