Neurofeedback for Addiction: An Alternative Treatment?

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Substance abuse addiction is complex and involves many different social, environmental and personal factors. In order to be able to effectively treat addiction and promote recovery, the treatment of addiction in of itself needs to be multi-faceted. An emerging tool that is being used more frequently in substance abuse addiction treatment is the use of neurofeedback. Based on biofeedback techniques which have been used for decades, neurofeedback is showing promise in relation to the treatment of those addicted to drugs and alcohol.

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What is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is based on a technique called biofeedback, which is used to treat physical problems. Undergoing biofeedback therapy involves being attached to devices that measure and display certain body processes like your temperature, your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. A trained therapist helps you to change these normally involuntary processes in order to improve certain health conditions.

During neurofeedback, you are attached to an electroencephalography machine (EEG), which reads your brain’s activity. The information read by the EEG is sent back to you and you learn to respond and adjust your brain’s activity. You may not be aware you are even doing anything, but the machine reads you and tells you and the practitioner whether you are adjusting appropriately. This process has been shown to help people with certain conditions improve.

Advantages of Neurofeedback in Addiction Treatment


Treatment centers are increasingly turning to neurofeedback therapy to add to their arsenal of tools. Those who use neurofeedback techniques claim that the technique helps normalize brain waves. By participating in therapy it is believed that addicts can retrain their brains to behave normally and by learning to control brain waves the compulsion to use substances decreases. Neurofeedback is also seen as a tool to help in the treatment of any co-occurring mental disorders that may be present. Most people who have substance abuse issues have a co-occurring mental disorder that lies at the root of the problem.

Disadvantages of Neurofeedback in Addiction Treatment

While neurofeedback has gained momentum in popularity in the treatment community, there have also been concerns raised with this technique. For example, neurofeedback has gained a bad reputation because of assumptions that it would provide instant relief when in fact it can be a lengthy process. In a study published by the Journal of Neurotherapy, it can take up to 25 sessions before any significant change is seen by the addict.

Another drawback is the actual administration of the technique itself. Many neurofeedback practitioners use different methods when they provide treatment. Some place the electrodes in different places on the head while others use feedback systems that might not be as effective. Some even provide take-home machines that provide no accurate electrode reading at all and as a result, addicts may face wildly different recovery rates.

Additionally, there are cost concerns. Because of the equipment used and the length of time that the process can last, the use of neurofeedback can cost into the thousands of dollars. The cost of performing neurofeedback can be seen as wasteful especially given the fact of the length of time it can take before any type of result is seen (if any) as well as how practitioners administer this technique.

Does Neurofeedback Have a Place in Addiction Treatment?

Since the prevailing model being used in the treatment of substance abuse is the medical model which states that addiction is seen as a disease, neurofeedback seemingly can be integrated into the model. However, much like diseases like cancer, the treatment of addiction needs to be seen as multi-faceted in order to be truly effective. While neurofeedback does show promise as a tool used to help treat addiction, to view it as a stand-alone treatment would be short-sighted. At best, neurofeedback should be seen as a supplement to a more comprehensive and all-encompassing treatment plan.

If you or someone you know is in need of treatment for a drug & alcohol addiction please call The Palm Beach Institute at 1-855-534-3574 or contact us online today and let us help you take the first step towards recovery from addiction.

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