The Truth About Neurofeedback and Addiction
Substance Use Disorders are viewed as primary, chronic diseases of the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory circuits. Dysfunction in these essential neural pathways leads to characteristic biological symptoms such as an individual pathologically pursuing pleasure or relief through substance use and other behaviors. This is reflected by a person suffering from Substance Abuse when they pursue substances that provide them with instant gratification without regard for consequences like legal repercussions or social stigma.
Addicts are people who suffer from a Substance Use Disorder. This means that they are compulsively drawn to substances and behaviors which provide instant gratification, despite the negative consequences. Their brains have been altered by their addiction, leading them to pursue pleasure or relief at all costs. Recovery is possible, but it requires a lot of hard work.
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that requires treatment. Recovery is possible, but it takes a lot of hard work. There are many different methods of addiction recovery, but the most important thing is to find one that works for you and stick with it. Some of the methods and programs are listed below:
- 12 step programs
- Rehabilitation centers
- Support groups
- Behavioral therapy
Neurofeedback, or Neurotherapy, is a type of therapy that uses electrical signals to help the brain learn how to function better. It has been shown to be effective in treating addiction and other mental health disorders. There are many different methods of addiction recovery, but Neurotherapy may be one of the most effective.
Are There Underlying Issues?
Staying abstinent can be hard when people have underlying or co-occurring symptoms. For example, if someone has anxiety and depression they may use substances to help them feel better about themselves but this, in turn, makes matters worse because their mental health gets even worse from the substance abuse which then leads back to more drug usage that perpetuates a vicious cycle of bad feelings contributing to one another over time.
To stay sober it’s important for individuals with these issues not only to seek treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group support meetings like 12 step programs (like AA), counseling sessions with therapists who specialize in addiction disorders, medications to make withdrawal less difficult – all while trying to wean off drugs gradually rather than cold turkey so there are no painful side effects.
Those who use substances to cope with underlying mental health issues like anxiety and depression may need specialized treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group support meetings, medication management, and other forms of treatment to help them stay clean and sober. Neurotherapy is another potential option that can be very effective in treating addiction disorders.
There is a lot of excitement around the potential for neurofeedback to help people recover from addiction. However, there are also some underlying issues that need to be addressed before this treatment can be widely accepted and used.
One of the main concerns with using neurofeedback to treat addiction is that it may not be effective for everyone. This is because different people may respond differently to the treatment. Just like diets and nutrition, our bodies all respond differently to different methods and treatments. Much like someone who responds to dealing with stress through cooking another person might respond by going out for a run.
Can Neurofeedback Help?
Studies have shown that abstinence rates can be improved using Neurofeedback, making it a modality that both complements and enhances the efficacy of recovery programs for substance abuse. Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that uses brain waves to help regulate and optimize electrical activity in the brain. With training, individuals can learn to control their own brain waves, which can lead to improved focus, concentration, and mood.
For those in recovery from addiction, Neurofeedback can provide an additional tool for managing their addiction and compulsiveness.
1. Improves abstinence rates
2. Enhances the efficacy of recovery programs
3. Helps to control brain waves
4. Leads to improved focus, concentration, and mood
5. Provides an additional tool for managing addiction and compulsiveness
If you or a loved one has been struggling with an addiction and have been to support groups, rehabilitation centers, and programs and not seen lasting success. Neurotherapy might be something to look into.
Success Story from Quartz
by Laura Zera
Two years ago, I walked through the door of a Seattle therapist’s office with the goal of resetting my 45-year-old brain. A trauma survivor with a history of depression and anxiety, I was hoping that an alternative mode of therapy I’d heard about called neurofeedback might finally alleviate my more stubborn symptoms.
At the time, the simple act of swerving my car to avoid a pothole or tripping over my dog triggered my body’s fight-or-flight response—vestiges of a childhood spent with a psychotic mother. I had other issues, too: inadequate concentration, difficulty with decision-making, and strangely selective memory. I never forgot numbers, whether my seventh-grade boyfriend’s birthday or the six-digit codes of items I rang up as a cashier during college, but words proved trickier. Any meaningful vocabulary growth peaked at about age 15. For a writer, this is problematic.
Having given a fair shot to the more popular treatments, I was driven to seek one less common.
Neurofeedback wasn’t my first attempt at improving my mental health. I’d tried, or still used, psychotherapy, antidepressants, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, diet modifications, exercise, meditation, and acupuncture. Some modalities had a greater impact than others, and all of them helped me to some degree. But even when I was able to keep the worst symptoms in check, other lurking issues detracted from my sense of “being okay.” Having given a fair shot to the more popular treatments, I was driven to seek one less common.
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback or brain biofeedback, fit the bill. During a typical treatment, sensors are placed on the head to capture the frequency and power of the brain’s electrical activity, visually represented by the five types of brain waves: delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma. Very generally, neurofeedback is a process by which therapists attempt to regulate brain waves. They do this by tracking your brain activity on a computer and then repeatedly send this information back to the brain via computer imagery or an electrical signal. Because there are still a lot of questions about how exactly the treatment works—assuming it does work—the details can vary depending on the therapist, however. As the Washington Post explains:
A patient might watch a movie, for example, while hooked to sensors that send data to a computer. A therapist, following the brain activity on a monitor, programs the computer to stop the movie if an abnormal number of fast or slow brain waves is detected or if the brain waves are erratic, moving rapidly from fast to slow waves.
According to the Washington Post, in addition to depression and anxiety, neurofeedback is currently being used to treat a number of other conditions including attention deficit disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, addiction, autism spectrum disorder, chronic fatigue, learning disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, tics and seizures, and traumatic brain injuries. This wide application spectrum is part of the reason I was drawn to the treatment. I wondered if some of my brain’s problematic tendencies might be attributed to conditions beyond depression and anxiety. Could neurofeedback be a complete 60,000-mile service for the price of an oil change?
Anyone who has suffered from mental illness knows how important hope is during the search for solutions.
To be clear, I made a deliberate choice to be hopeful about neurofeedback’s possibilities. I think anyone who has ever suffered from a mental illness knows how important hope is during the often long and frustrating search for solutions. People’s responses to the “tried-and-tested” treatments vary. It’s not unusual for those treatments to fail, or at least, to not fully succeed. Even after 60-plus years of ever-increasing use, antidepressants and their efficacy remain a debated topic. Indeed, researchers continue to attempt to answer the most basic questions, like why people get depression. Brain science remains so fluid that I’m surprised no one has written a book called “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter” yet.
Those who question neurofeedback’s potency point to a lack of conclusive evidence that its effects are permanent, or even long-lasting, after treatment has ceased. This is a fair critique and much more research needs to be done in order to figure out what exactly neurofeedback is accomplishing. But my experiences with psychotropic medication have shown similar problems. I started on paroxetine (the Paxil generic) in my 20s. It abruptly stopped working in my 30s—while I was taking it—and I slogged through five other medication trials before I found an effective replacement. Since then, paroxetine has been identified as having anti-cholinergic effects, which can include cognitive impairment and memory loss.
Those who question neurofeedback’s potency point to a lack of conclusive evidence.
At the same time, the pharmacological revolution has stifled interest in electrophysiology for decades, as Dr. Bessel van der Kolk notes in his 2014 book The Body Keeps The Score. An additional challenge lies in the lack of available grant money for studies. Dr. Mary Lee Esty, who has researched and practiced neurofeedback in Maryland for 25 years, told Quartz that she’s had to self-fund several research projects. As she put it, “How else was it going to get done?”
Today, neurofeedback research is on the upswing. Most studies to date have examined its use in treating ADHD in children. Other studies heralded as promising by neurofeedback advocates have failed to convince skeptics either because they weren’t large enough or because they weren’t a double-blind, randomized controlled trials—the so-called “gold standard” for new treatments. However, outcomes are solid enough that in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics approved biofeedback as a Level 1 “best support” treatment option for children with ADHD.
Neurofeedback as a treatment for PTSD in military vets is also being studied. Data collected in 2011 by “Homecoming for Veterans,” a no-cost neurofeedback initiative of California’s The EEG Institute, has proved positive. In 2015, Esty and her research partner Dr. David V. Nelson published outcomes of two different studies in the journals Military Medical Research and Military Medicine respectively. Though the sample sizes were quite small, again due to funding constraints, the findings reported a significant reduction in symptoms for all but one study participant.
As neurofeedback graduates from what Esty calls its “late adolescence,” she feels it’s finding a wider audience in the brain-health field. She cites her invitation to present at the Nevada Psychiatric Association’s 22nd National Psychopharmacology Update in February 2017, as an example.
As neurofeedback graduates from its “late adolescence,” it’s finding a wider audience in the brain-health field.
As for my own experience, I continued treatment once a week for three months—with a six-week break in the middle—before tapering to every two weeks for another two months. The therapist shared data with me at intervals, first collecting a baseline of the 21 sites on my brain and then tailoring my treatment based on what we saw.
More than half of the sites lacked any measurable electrical activity. The therapist called this “suppression,” a common pattern for a trauma survivor. If a brain is triggered enough times for protection and survival, and the stress hormone cortisol is released, cell and neuron development are altered, and an excess of myelin, or white matter, develops. Communication slows between the amygdala (responsible for emotional processing) and the prefrontal cortex (responsible for memory, learning, decision-making, and the like), while it increases between the amygdala and the hypothalamus, where fight-or-flight begins.
I had the unfamiliar sense that all the parts of my brain were at the party—and not a frat-house fiesta, either.
When the therapist focused my treatment on reengaging the suppressed sites, electrical activity returned—score a win for neuroplasticity. I stopped treatment once the improvement in my sense of well-being seemed to plateau. But I felt clearer: instead of stumbling, I could glide through my days.
This shift took up full-time residence somewhere around my eighth session. I had the unfamiliar sense that all the parts of my brain were at the party—and not a frat-house fiesta, either. This translated into a respite from the normal cognitive grind as my decision-making struggles abated and I experienced days of intense (for me) productivity. I felt more certain about my actions in general—the analysis paralysis and second-guessing that had always been a big part of my “technique” quieted.
What didn’t change was my hair-trigger fight-or-flight response, nor did my memory or learning retention improve. That was disheartening, but only for a moment. Rather than attribute the unresponsiveness to a neurofeedback failure, I view it as further confirmation of the brain’s complicated circuitry.
In terms of longevity, my very anecdotal assessment has been that most of the gains I made have stuck around, albeit not as pronounced. I still have occasional days of frustrating fog and lack of clarity. But none of these setbacks have derailed me from my overall quest for mental health solutions. Doing layperson research is part of being my own best mental health advocate, and I’m keeping my ear to the ground.
Does Neurotherapy Help with Addiction
Based on research and success stories the answer is yes, but as discussed above that might not always be the case and it really just depends on the person. I hope you found this article helpful in exploring the potential of Neurotherapy as a treatment option for addiction.
If you are interested in learning more about Neurotherapy and whether it can help with your own addiction, please reach out to Wasatch Neurotherapy today. Our team would be happy to answer your questions and see if Neurotherapy is the right option for you on your road to recovery.