Neurofeedback is a drug-free, painless, non-invasive therapy that can locate and repair structural damage in the brain. Every time we experience change inside or outside of our bodies, our nervous system, including our brain, reacts. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, illegal drugs, and addictive substances makes the nervous system react in a negative way, affecting how the brain functions. Instead of serving as the control center that regulates concentration, self-monitoring, organization, personality, mental flexibility, and self-control, the brain then becomes imbalanced, highly reactive, anxious, and impulsive. By working to improve the way the brain functions, neurofeedback can help treat addiction and reverse some of its negative effects on the brain.
What Is Neurofeedback Therapy?
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback. Biofeedback is a form of therapy that uses sensors attached to the body to measure key body functions. For example, neurofeedback measures brain waves.
During a neurofeedback session, electrodes connected to a main computer will be placed on an individual’s scalp. This allows the neurofeedback technician to listen to brainwave activity. The length of the session can vary, but generally, the process lasts for half an hour. As technicians analyze the brainwave activity, they determine which brain frequencies are associated with positive or negative behaviors. From there, individuals receive a treatment plan that’s aimed at improving specific frequencies that negatively impact how well the brain functions.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Neurofeedback works by using EEG biofeedback to teach the brain how to self-regulate. EEG, or electroencephalography, is a monitoring method that records electrical activity in the brain. Although neurofeedback relies on complex scientific methods, the process used to collect brain activity is fairly simple. In fact, participating in a neurofeedback session can take the form of playing a computer game, watching a film, or listening to music.
As individuals participate in one of these activities, the electrodes on their scalp capture their brainwaves. When an individual’s brain waves are balanced, the computer “rewards” the positive brain activity with cheerful sounds. When the brain waves are imbalanced — too high or too low — the sound of the music decreases and the video game or film screen dims. The brain, which recognizes both the positive and negative feedback, works to receive the more positive feedback. This helps the brain learn how to regulate itself in order to stay balanced. As this happens, the brain “learns” to function more optimally, which helps reverse some of the negative effects of substance abuse. By using the brain’s ability to change and adapt new patterns, called neuroplasticity, neurofeedback can help rewire the neural pathways that reinforce addictive behaviors.
How Does Neurofeedback Help Treat Addiction?
Research shows that people grappling with addiction problems often have brainwave imbalances. Neurofeedback can help treat addiction by balancing and re-training these individuals’ brain waves.
When individuals abuse substances, the gamma, delta, and beta waves in their brains become imbalanced. Chronic use of depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, for example, can decrease gamma activity in the brain, causing memory problems, poor concentration, learning disabilities, and an increased risk of mental disorders. Excessive use of stimulant drugs can increase beta brain waves, making individuals anxious, overly energetic, highly reactive, and impulsive. Neurofeedback can help individuals balance these brain waves.
The computer software that collects individuals’ brain waves, rewards individuals every time their brains produce normal levels of gamma, alpha, and beta waves. When individuals’ levels are normal, they start winning the game. When their brain levels are outside of the normal range, they start losing the game. As individuals aim to win, their brains rewire new neural pathways to function more optimally, eliminating the need for self-medicating habits.
Neurofeedback also helps treat addiction by:
- Decreasing Reactivity and Impulsivity. As individuals work to receive “rewards” in neurofeedback sessions, they also learn to calm themselves down. When individuals are in “the game,” there’s no option for immediate relief when they receive negative feedback. Instead, individuals have to maintain a level head and think rationally. As they do, they receive positive feedback. This process helps decrease reactivity and impulsive behavior, which can, in turn, help individuals avoid relapse and impulsive behavior that reinforces addiction.
- Encouraging Emotional Regulation. During neurofeedback sessions, individuals have to control their thoughts, feelings, and breathing to stay within the normal brain wave range. As they play the game, they’ll both subconsciously and consciously recognize that poor emotional regulation yields negative biofeedback, causing them to lose the game. As they regulate their thoughts, emotions, and breathing, they’ll receive positive feedback, which helps them win the game. The more individuals practice this regulation inside the “game,” the more likely they’ll be to continue regulating their emotions in their day-to-day lives. As they do, they’ll learn to regulate their emotions in a healthy way instead of turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with distressing emotions and stressful situations.
- Teaching The Brain How To Relax. The early stages of addiction recovery can be extremely uncomfortable. When individuals stop using the drugs that their brain has become accustomed to receiving, they will likely experience symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, generally include anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Neurofeedback can help relieve these symptoms by teaching the brain to relax. When the brain is overly aroused, brain waves fall out of the normal range. This causes negative feedback, which compels individuals to do the opposite of what they’re doing. To start winning the game, hyper-aroused individuals will subconsciously relax. As individuals learn to relax on their own, they’ll be better able to manage anxiety and insomnia. Learning to relax can also help normalize the connections between nerve cells in the brain, decreasing the risk of seizures.
Innovative, Brain-Focused Addiction Treatment
Here at StoneRidge Centers, we pride ourselves on offering innovative brain-focused care for addiction treatment. Addiction can wreak havoc on the brain, but non-invasive brain-focused therapies like neurofeedback can help rewire connections in the brain and reverse a lot of the damage addiction causes.
The negative effects of addiction don’t have to continue to harm your brain. Let us help you overcome addiction by giving your brain the care, attention, and re-training it needs to function at the highest level. Contact us today to learn more.
Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies
Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.