Effectiveness of Neurofeedback for Addiction Recovery

Woman sitting by the sea with opioid addiction

Neurofeedback is a type of therapy where treatment normalizes the alpha and theta brain waves which are disrupted by substance abuse. In neurofeedback, patients learn to change their brain wave patterns which can increase relaxation and reduce stress.

Neurofeedback training can help teach a patient to self sooth by connecting to the rational regions of the brain, especially during stressful events/situations. This works by rewarding functional brain waves as they occur.

For example if a person does one action and is rewarded for completing that action, then typically the person will repeat that same action for continued reward. In this similar way, the healthy brain waves are being rewarded each time they occur to increase the number of functional brainwaves for behavioral changes.

Understanding the Effectiveness of Neurofeedback in Treatment

There have been several research studies to look at neurofeedback as a part of addiction treatment and recovery. They show that there is a much higher success rate and lower relapse rates to those without neurofeedback as a part of the treatment and recovery process.

During neurofeedback a patient is attached to an electroencephalography machine (EEG) which reads brain activity. This information is sent to the machine, and then back to the patient who learns to respond and adjust their brains activity. It may feel to the patient like nothing is occurring, but the administrator of neurofeedback monitors the machine’s readings and how the patient responds to the feedback.

One study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, looked at the effectiveness of neurofeedback on opiate dependence. In this study, the researchers investigated if neurofeedback treatment leads to any changes in mental health and substance cravings. 20 opiate dependent patients were examined and randomized into two groups, a control group who received usual maintenance treatment, and the experimental group who received 30 sessions of neurofeedback treatment in conjunction with usual maintenance treatment.

Woman in TreatmentThe results showed that the experimental group found improvement in somatic symptoms, depression, and a relief from withdrawal of craving. In a different stud, published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 121 patients were studied using Neurofeedback and an AA/12-step program, found that 77% of patients in the experimental group had 12 months abstinence after the completion of the study compared to 44% who 12 months of sobriety from the control group.

This study showed that neurofeedback treatments are cost effective and are highly effective in successful treatment and lower rates of relapse, when coupled with traditional treatment programs.

Pros and Cons of Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback can help treat addictions by teaching the brain to operate in a calm, rational state in stressful situations. It can help improve patient’s ability to focus, regulate behaviors, and reduce impulsivity. Neurofeedback is a non-invasive treatment which can be alluring to patients seeking alternate recovery programs.

By using brain maps to determine parts of the brain that are ‘malfunctioning” a customized brain training program will target the regions of the brain that are under or over-aroused as well as increase connectivity. Neurofeedback helps correct some of the physiological aspects of addiction. Neurofeedback can be helpful to patients to help learn maladaptive coping patterns, triggers, and destructive behavior patterns in conjunction with therapy.

Even though neurofeedback has been shown to be effective in the treatment of addiction recovery, there are some drawbacks. One is that it can take up to 25-30 sessions to see changes or feel relief from the neurofeedback work. Another con is the administration of the therapy itself.

Practitioners of neurofeedback utilize different methods when applying treatment and machines are variable, so no one treatment is the same. Electrodes can be placed in different places on the head and some feedback systems are not as reliable as others.

Lastly, there are cost concerns with the obtainment of equipment and length of time the treatment can last. Neurofeedback can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars for treatments. Due to the duration it takes to see results, many patients find that programs or outpatient therapy can yield faster results.

Man considering treatmentIn conclusion, neurofeedback can be an effective tool when recovering from addiction. It is most effective when utilized in conjunction with a treatment program and/or outpatient therapy.

Results seen are a reduction of somatic concerns, relearned behaviors and maladaptive coping skills to reduce trigger relapses, decrease depression, and cravings for substance use. It can bring results in approximately 25 sessions with lower relapse rates even up to 1 year following treatment completion.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you ever used neurofeedback? What are your thoughts on its effectiveness for addiction treatment?

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) who works with individuals and families in the area of eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons works in the metropolitan St. Louis area and has been practicing in the field for 11 years. Libby is also trained in Family Based Therapy (FBT) to work with children-young adults to treat eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons has prior experience working with the United States Air Force, Saint Louis University, Operating Officer of a Private Practice, and currently works with both Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute within their Eating Disorders Program and Fontbonne University


[1]: Dehghani-Arani, Fateme, Rostami, Reza, Nadali, Hosein. Neurofeedback Training for Opiate Addiction: Improvement fo Mental Health and Craving. Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. 2013
[2]: Retrieved from www.addictionrecoveryguide.org 2016
[3]: Retrieved from www.centerforbrain.com 2016
[4]: Retrieved from www.poly-substanceabuse.com 2016
[5]: Retrieved from www.aboutneurofeedback.com 2016

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 28, 2016
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.