Neurofeedback for Addiction Recovery:

"How Neurofeedback can help for Better Addiction recovery"
Alpha Theta Neurofeedback  Who would think that staring in front of a computer screen with sensors on one's scalp and getting feedback from one's brainwave activity would help in addiction recovery?

But is does.  It has an amazing history.  See the story in the book, A Symphony in the Brain, by Jim Robbins

When you see your brain in action, you can learn adjust your brainwaves to a desired state.
BrainPaint image generated by
Erik Bohlin's training session in Alpha Theta 

In 2005 in the The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, a study was published describing the effects of neurofeedback, specifically what is called "Alpha Theta" on a poly-substance using population.  The results?  77% of the experimental group had abstinence beyond one year when combined with 12 step recovery, whereas only 44% had abstinence with 12 step alone.  The neurofeedback made a significant difference. 

Click here to read the full article:  Effects of an EEG Biofeedback Protocol on a Mixed Substance Abusing Population

There were 121 participants in the study.  Inpatient treatment setting.  The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) was administered before the neurofeedback to measure baseline mental health functioning.  The Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA) was given to measure attention and focus.  The participants were split into two groups.  40-50 sessions of neurofeedback was given the the "experimental group" while extra therapy time was given to the control group.  The neurofeedback made a significant difference in abstinence, length of treatment time and also lowered 5 of the clinical scales on the MMPI.  The researchers hypothesize that Neurofeedback helps certain parts of the brain remain open to new information and not overact to new changes made in the recovery process.

 "I don't freak out like I used to."

"When the situation came up, I said, "Oh well, it is going to turn out how it supposed to be.  I let go and moved on."
SMR image BrainPaint Neurofeedback 
  Neurofeedback image from an SMR training session by Erik Bohlin using BrainPaint.

I  hear repeatedly from my clients who are doing the Alpha Theta protocol helped them deal with crisis better.  They say, "I would usually flip out, or freak out and I didn't.  It was strange.  I just said, 'Oh, well, I should just get back to work and things are going to work out how they are supposed to.'"

 We do ask after every session how things are going, so the feedback is solicited.  But the phraseology that is used is not.  It is reward to be helping people train the brains in the alpha theta protocol to help them deal with life better.

It appears that addicts tend to have too little alpha waves.  If the brain were a car, Alpha waves are like when the car is idling.  Not moving anywhere, but idling.  When the car is put into gear, we move into SMR (Sensorimotor Rhythm).  Our brain is engaged and ready to move, relaxed but focused.  SMR is similar to when a person drinks alcohol.  This is why we train for SMR with alcoholics.  It gives that relaxed but focused state. 

I knew someone who worked in a high stress job, who needed to focus.  Alcohol used was how they dealt with that situation.  Training for SMR according to the person said that it eliminated the need for alcohol in their life. 

Neurofeedback is not a stand-alone treatment for alcohol.  While it is powerful in training the brain get learn how to get into these states, it it not necessarily going to give you the tools and information to live differently.  This is why a 12 step support group is necessary for high success rates of (77% abstinence). 

What is an Alpha Theta training like?

"Wired for Addiction"
How Understanding Neurophysiology can help you Recovery from Addiction

Do you feel like the no matter what you do, you still fail at keeping sober?  Why do we relapse.  Someone said that when people use a drug or relapse with alcohol it is like their brain's are hijacked.  This is so true.  The addict feels very little choice. 

There is some information that may be really important for you to know.  Consider the notion that there are times when you are doing really well and others where you seem to have little control.  What made the difference?  This question is not a rhetorical as it sounds.  That means for you to successfully recovery, you have to think about what keeps you sober. . . and what doesn't. 

Let us have simple lesson in how our nervous systems work.  There is something called the Autonomic Nervous System.  This system is always functioning and helps us survive the stresses of live.  There are three divisions among the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS):  Sympathetic Nervous System (NS),  Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS),  and Enteric Nervous System (EN).

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is activated when we experience danger.  It kicks in automatically to help us survive by increasing our heartbeat, our breathing, and our adrenaline.  It stops digestion, stops our elimination, the blood leaves our extremities and goes to our core.  Hence, the term "break out into a cold sweat."    Our pupils dilate, the blood leaves our pre-frontal cortex (higher thinking) and goes to our survival center, the limbic system which is pretty binary.  It is "this"  or it is "that."  It is "fight" or it is "flight."  Our speech stops, "we are speechless." I remember the term "sympathetic" and what happens here by thinking I am sympathetic to someone running from a bear.  Parasympathetic Nervous System is like a "paramedic" to the rescue.  When we are rescued we calm down.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is the "rest and digest" systems.  We are calm, our blood goes to our extremities, arms and legs so that we can really relax and enjoy the warm sensation.  This is how mood rings measure temperature to determine our mood, by how our circulation is in our body and how warm we are.  This is why we relax so well in a hot tub, a nice bath or enjoying the warms of the sun.  In the PNS, we can digest our food properly, our sphincter muscles are relaxed we can eliminate waste.  Why is is so comforting to release urine.  Is it not just the emptying our our bladders or is our PNS activated.  Our pupils constrict and we have more blood flow go to our cortex.  We can think better.  Our speech is engaged.

So consider these facts when you are in recovery.  One has to be aware of their brain state through the day.  Often a person uses a drug to change the state of their brain.  Why not teach your brain how to go into a more positive resourceful state without the use of a drug or medication.  What if one could do this and have lasting results through neurofeedback training.  This is why I offer neurofeedback.