Neurofeedback – An Effective Tool in Addiction Treatment
Most people suffering from substance abuse disorders are also struggling with underlying issues, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and trauma. These co-occurring disorders often trigger relapses for clients in recovery (or prompt clients to leave treatment prematurely), so it is extremely important for clients to be treated for both their substance abuse disorder and any underlying conditions.
In a UCLA study (published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in 2005), 77 percent of participants who received neurofeedback in conjunction with a 12-step program remained abstinent at 12 months, compared to 44 percent of those who didn’t receive neurofeedback, but who stayed in treatment longer. This study has also been successfully replicated by other research teams.
Another study of homeless male crack cocaine users showed that after receiving 12 months of neurofeedback (along with a 12-step program), 12 men graduated from the program per month. Before the study, only 12 men graduated per year.
With just a small laptop and a few simple sensors, neurofeedback utilizes sound and visual brain frequencies to correct areas of hyper- (over) and hypo- (under) arousal in brain activity. Over time, neurofeedback helps correct symptoms of co-occurring disorders such insomnia, depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorder. The software—created by a company called BrainPaint—also features an intensive assessment that incorporates 12-step language, making it a perfect fit for Promises clients.
Dr. David Sack, Addiction Psychiatrist and CEO of Promises, explains that neurofeedback uses sound and visual frequencies to correct areas of hyper- (over) and hypo- (under) arousal in brain activity. “Over time, neurofeedback sessions help correct symptoms of attention-deficit disorder, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety, which in turn helps correct vulnerabilities for relapse,” he said.
At Promises, neurofeedback is used in a very effective, straightforward way: “The people at BrainPaint found a way to make the software user friendly and effective clinically, so we can use the system in the context of a residential treatment center, not a science lab,” says Dr. Sack.
Neurofeedback can also help improve people’s attention by improving concentration and one’s ability to focus, which is critical in early recovery. “If you can’t concentrate or pay attention, treatment will not be as effective for you,” explained Dr. Sack. “After several sessions, clients begin to realize that their feelings aren’t facts, and they can begin to be more objective and present in their lives.”
“Receiving neurofeedback three times a week can increase a client’s attention dramatically, making them far more likely to stay in treatment,” Dr. Sack explained.
Although neurofeedback is not a magic bullet, people who seem “untreatable” are getting better with neurofeedback. Depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, chronic pain are problems that can be reduced in 60 sessions. People with chronic pain may need up to 80 sessions and people whose trauma has become a personality disorder may need up to 180 sessions.
For clients who do need more sessions, neurofeedback is easy to continue when they return home. Clients can lease a laptop from BrainPaint and continue to work on their issues after leaving residential treatment.