Neurofeedback Therapy and Its Benefits in Addiction Treatment

Man walking a trail in the mountains

Most individuals struggling with substance abuse disorders are also dealing with underlying issues, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and trauma.

Such co-occurring disorders are often responsible for relapses in patients or force clients to leave treatment incomplete.

Hence, while patients are receiving treatment for addiction, their underlying conditions need to be addressed simultaneously. This is where neurofeedback comes into play in an addiction treatment setting.

What is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback belongs to the category of biofeedback, a method of gaining information by monitoring body condition, such as blood pressure and brain waves, to gain control over usually involuntary bodily processes through conditioning or relaxation.

This is usually achieved through computerized monitoring devices along with electronic sensors to convey information regarding the body functioning.

Where neurofeedback is considered, feedback is collected about specific brain waves to keep an eye out for any dysregulation that may exist.

Neurological biofeedback (EEG) is known as neurofeedback.

Neurofeedback helps with several neurological issues, such as a stroke/aneurysm, brain surgery, concussion, anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, PTSD, Parkinsons and movement disorders.

Neurofeedback is able to assess the functioning of the brain and where it is not functioning correctly. It can locate a specific location if there is one, or it can identify neural dysregulation of the various neural hubs.

Neurofeedback looks for the cause, such as what specific pathways are dysregulated or over or under activated. Once this type of assessment locates the cause of the symptom, then a wide variety of methods and equipment can be chosen based on what is the best one specifically for your needs and neurological issues. [1]

An Evidence-based Addiction Treatment

Research on biofeedback can be traced back to the early 20th century, but neurofeedback gained popularity later in the 1960s and 1970s. By the early 1990s, it was being tested in trials to help patients with PTSD.

In 1993, a groundbreaking study of veterans with PTSD and alcoholism found that treatment with neurofeedback allowed patients to not only increasingly distance themselves from their trauma, but all of the 24 patients’ PTSD symptoms significantly diminished. 79 percent of the vets remained abstinent for the next 12-24 months.

Scott later published the first large randomized controlled trial in the field of EEG biofeedback in 2005.

This UCLA study discovered 77 percent of participants receiving neurofeedback in addition to a 12-step program remained sober at the 12-month interval, compared to 44 percent of those who didn’t receive neurofeedback, but stayed in treatment longer. [2]

Effectiveness of Neurofeedback in Addiction Treatment

Addiction is finally understood for what it really is: a brain disease and mental issue rather than misunderstood as moral or disciplinary failing.

Woman sitting in the desertBased on this, neurofeedback targets the dysregulations caused in the brain due to substance abuse and aims to retrain the addict’s brain.

Since stressful incidents are a major cause of relapse among recovering addicts, neurofeedback constructs a solid base of prevention by teaching the brain to calm, relax, focus and rationalize.

Essentially this therapy, imparts to the patient valuable coping skills that can help maintain sobriety long-term.

Through the utilization of brain maps in order to identify the specific malfunctioning areas, an individualized brain-training plan is formulated keeping in mind the unique needs of the patient. Treatment specialists make use of their knowledge of different brain waves when designing these neurofeedback protocols.

These regions are then retrained through varying conditions characterized by under-arousal and over-arousal, alongside connectivity.

Neurofeedback can assist in the modulation of under-arousal (sleepiness, depressed feelings or crying) and over-arousal (aggression, heart palpitations, and teeth-grinding).

Normally, over-arousal problems affect alcoholics, whereas under-arousal issues influence methamphetamine and other stimulant addicts.

It is normal for specialists to confer with their patients regarding any changes they may have noticed since the last meeting and discuss goals for the next session. Neurofeedback helps replace harmful behaviors with more healthy patterns.

Addiction treatment is all about managing triggers and symptoms effectively, and neurofeedback offers new ways to do so. A person can learn to be more conscious of triggers that initiate destructive behavioral patterns and ultimately relapse.

Neurofeedback has, in recent times, gained a solid grounding in addiction treatment due to its non-invasive nature with no involvement of any drugs and minimal or no side-effects.

Research has shown that more than 85 percent of such clients gained an improved ability to focus, regulate behavior and reduce impulsivity. [3]

Since neurofeedback helps a person manage emotions and mood and improve sleep, adding neurofeedback to an addiction treatment program gives people the necessary tools to help them be more in control, achieve success, and avoid relapse. [4]

Man walking a trailBrain-computer interface technologies are proving to be especially important for addiction treatment. “It can be a tool that’s part of a larger therapy,” says Johnny Liu, director of NeuroSky’s developer program.

“By understanding [your] overall emotional states, you can learn how to focus, calm yourself — and with that focus and calm can come not only abstinence, but growth and healing.”[2]

Sana Ahmed photoAbout the Author:

A journalist and social media savvy content writer with wide research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana Ahmed has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute focusing on mental health and addiction recovery, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. The art of using words to educate, stir emotions, create change and provoke action is at the core of her career, as she strives to develop content and deliver news that matters.



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.

Published on February 5, 2018

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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.