Neurofeedback Therapy for Addiction Treatment
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Neurofeedback is a type of training that teaches people with an addiction to gain control over involuntary brain activity. It is a subdivision of biofeedback therapy where information about blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature allows people to regain control, manage stress, and practice relaxation. Neurofeedback is a type of operant conditioning which is critical to overcoming addiction by harnessing the power of the mind.
Biofeedback can be thought of as a general category and neurofeedback as its subtype. There are several types of biofeedback; neurofeedback is one of them. What is common to all types of biofeedback is that some type of monitoring device or sensor is used to obtain information about what is going on in the mind or body. Neurofeedback measures and maps activity in specific areas of the brain. This information is then used to regulate addiction and other medical conditions, such as anxiety, PTSD, and sleep disturbance.
Table of Contents:
- What is Neurofeedback Therapy?
- Underlying Principles of Neurofeedback Interventions
- Who Can Benefit from Neurofeedback Treatment?
- What to Expect in a Neurofeedback Session?
- Neurofeedback Techniques: An Overview
- Is Neurofeedback Effective for Addiction Treatment?
An Introduction to Neurofeedback Treatment
Neurofeedback is, simply put, biofeedback for the brain. The underlying principle of this therapy, which is also known as EEG biofeedback, is that it is possible to gain control over involuntary processes through conditioning. During this type of treatment, brain waves are mapped through EEG (electroencephalography). The information is used to assess specific areas of the brain and identify any misalignment or dysregulation. Neurofeedback is, therefore, a patient-centered technique that helps recovering addicts master control over abnormal brainwave patterns to manage stress and difficult emotional states.
Neurofeedback techniques train the brain to function more efficiently. Recovering addicts actively participate in learning to track changes in brain activity. This information allows them to make subtle alterations in their response to situations which are typically triggers for substance abuse. The ability to manage emotional stress is critical for addiction recovery because stress is frequently a powerful trigger for addicts. Neurofeedback allows recovering addicts to regulate the functioning of their brain and gain control over their recovery.
Sensors are placed on the patient’s head to monitor brainwave activity. The information thus obtained is used to fine-tune response to activity in specific areas of the brain. The machine detects normal and abnormal brain function and gives the patient feedback in real-time. Customized relaxation and stress-relief interventions are developed based on this assessment to benefit people struggling with addiction. Essentially, the brain is rewarded for changing to appropriate wave patterns. This gradual conditioning is a type of self-regulation.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Different parts of the human brain are active during different activities. Frequency bands called alpha, beta, delta, and theta become activated as a person goes about their daily activities. When someone is balancing their checkbook, the beta frequency may be active. When someone is relaxing and winding down after work, alpha waves may predominate. Neurofeedback training improves the ability of the brain to shift smoothly between the states of arousal and relaxation. The techniques identify the specific pathways that are over- or under-activated, misaligned, or dysregulated. Following this assessment, a variety of equipment is available to address the client’s specific needs.
A number of neurofeedback training protocols have been developed to help specific problems, such as anxiety and depression, sleep disturbance, cognitive function, seizures, migraine, and addiction. For example, the training may identify the underlying cause of anxiety and stress and the therapy can then be customized to address this specific dysregulation.
People with substance abuse issues learn and reinforce new capabilities. Certain disorders, such as dementia, Parkinson’s, and autism, require ongoing neurofeedback sessions for the training effects to last. Studies have shown that, over time, in addition to teaching good habits, neurofeedback works by inducing microscopic structural changes in the white and gray matter of the brain.
Conditions Treated by Neurofeedback Therapy
Neurofeedback interventions focus on brain activity and attempt to regulate function. Prolonged use of alcohol and drugs is associated with a disruption in brain activity. These abnormal brainwave patterns produce symptoms such as anxiety and depression which can trigger a relapse in recovering addicts. Neurofeedback training helps restore healthy brain activity and is an important adjunctive therapy in substance abuse recovery.
Neurofeedback is useful for a number of medical conditions besides addiction treatment. For people with stroke, concussion, or PTSD, it can help locate the specific area of the brain that is not functioning properly. Essentially, this therapy is useful for any intractable brain problem, such as seizures, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and chronic pain.
It is a type of long-term training that enhances the brain’s capacity to function well. Some conditions, such as autism, require lifelong training, which can be prohibitive in terms of cost. In such situations, it is possible to undergo supervised home sessions after a series of in-office training sessions. This allows the patient to receive frequent, consistent therapy that is affordable and convenient.
What Happens During Neurofeedback Therapy?
Neurofeedback is a type of exercise for the brain. It is a drug-free, noninvasive training program that helps recovering addicts lead a more balanced, healthy life. It aids substance abuse recovery and helps prevent relapse by shifting the way the brain responds to stressful situations.
With neurofeedback therapy, clients must work with the therapist in the office as well as do their own work at home. It is important to understand that symptoms can be worsened if neurofeedback techniques are performed by someone who does not understand the brain or does not have proper training in this type of therapy. The interventions require specialized machines that are used during supervised sessions in the office as well as at-home devices designed for anxiety management. These interactive devices measure brain function through sensors and provide feedback. Recovering addicts use this feedback to manage stress and other symptoms by controlling involuntary brain activity.
During neurofeedback therapy, mental health professionals, therapists, and psychologists work with clients in one-on-one training sessions. Electrodes are placed on the scalp and connected to an EEG machine. The machine records electrical activity in the brain and provides real-time feedback via images or sounds. The addict learns to use this information to condition the brain to healthy brainwave patterns.
Neurofeedback Techniques: Training the Brain to Function Better
There are many different neurofeedback techniques, one of which is a CES machine. These FDA-regulated devices have been on the market since the 1950s and are proven to be effective and safe. It is a drug-free, portable, cost-effective therapy that is non-addictive and appropriate for people of all ages. The device provides gentle electrical stimulation to specific areas of the brain that have abnormal functioning. This helps reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia by calming down overstimulated areas of the brain.
Deep brain neurofeedback is an advanced tool used by trained therapists. It addresses specific goals and produces results in fewer sessions. QEEG brain mapping allows the training program to be tailored to the addict’s brain activity and symptoms. Comparisons are made to previous QEEGs to assess progress. A comparison can also be made to a baseline Z-score to evaluate how much training is required.
Real-time feedback with functional MRI (fMRI) is useful in treating addiction, depression, chronic pain, and schizophrenia. The treatment targets specific areas of the brain compared to pharmacotherapy which is more like taking a shot in the dark.
Teenagers with addiction problems may be asked to play a computerized video game during neurofeedback sessions. The game only proceeds to the next stage when the adolescent is focused and calm. If the EEG detects distracted brainwave patterns, the game stops. This method of reward conditions the brain to function with healthy brain activity patterns.
Neurofeedback Interventions for Substance Abuse: Do They Work?
Neurofeedback is a popular and widely available type of biofeedback therapy in the United States. It uses electroencephalography (EEG) to track brainwave patterns. The activity in different areas of the brain and the addict’s response to various actions are measured. The therapist then trains the recovering addict to self-regulate and obtain control over the autonomic nervous system.
Over two decades of experience with neurofeedback shows a good success rate for addiction treatment. If success is elusive or the gains are not permanent, there is usually a cause which needs to be addressed. Neurofeedback works for most people battling substance abuse problems because the human brain is designed to learn and acquire new skills. Yet, it is important to have realistic expectations and not be discouraged by slow progress.
For most recovering addicts, the outcome of neurofeedback techniques exceeds their expectations. In fact, for people with low expectations to begin with, the results can feel almost miraculous. The changes brought about by EEG biofeedback are, in fact, not miraculous but simply a harnessing of the incredible power of the human brain to adapt and recover function.
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