Biofeedback as a tool for substance abuse cessation

Electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback has been employed in substance abuse treatment for over three decades. But can this alternative modality of neurofeedback therapy work for addicts and the treatment of addiction?

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Biofeedback Basics

Biofeedback.  Quantitative EEG.  ERP. Cognitive-behavioral treatment.  For years, medical professionals have used biofeedback treatments to teach people to recognize how their bodies are functioning and to control patterns of physiological functioning.  But what is biofeedback exactly?  During a biofeedback session, instruments measure physiological activity such as brainwaves, heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature. This information is rapidly and accurately “fed back” to the user. The presentation of this information – often in conjunction with awareness of thinking, emotions, and behavior – supports desired physiological changes. Over time, changes can endure without continued use of an instrument.


Biofeedback Review

In a joint university study published in January 2008, spanning thirty years of research to review the efficacy of biofeedback, researchers recently conceded that:

Alpha theta training-either alone for alcoholism or in combination with beta training for stimulant and mixed substance abuse and combined with residential treatment programs, is probably efficacious.  Treatment approaches that have been evaluated and shown to produce beneficial effects in multiple observational studies, clinical studies, wait list control studies, and within-subject and between-subject replication studies merit this classification.”

Probably efficacious.  Gotta love academia.

According to the The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) studies have shown that people who have alcohol abuse problems produce different patterns of brain waves than do people who do not have these problems. Training using neurofeedback (brain wave biofeedback) techniques can result in the abnormal patterns becoming normal. The joint university study also indicated that alpha-theta training, when combined with inpatient rehab treatment for people with long standing alcohol and substance abuse dependency, may lead to psychometric and abstinence improvement.

I for one, am an optimistic believer in the power of re-training the body-brain connection.  But how many treatment centers are suing biofeedback and how many people actually benefit from long-term abstinence?  And what are the necessary attitudes addicts must adapt in order to biofeedback to be of benefit?  Suspended disbelief, openness, willingness and non-judgmental attitudes might be a start.  What do you think?  Can biofeedback work as a way to help addicts and alcoholics learn more about themselves?  Or is the science simply quackery?

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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