Biofeedback therapy, also known as neurofeedback therapy, is a method of training the brain to function more efficiently.
This therapy can be used for a number of disorders including sleep disorders, behavior disorders, anxiety and depression. This form of therapy is most often used by mental health professionals to teach patients mind-body awareness and control. Since many who suffer with substance dependencies also suffer from mental health disorders, biofeedback therapy assists in developing a program to correct stress-evoked psychological responses that may be associated with and/or trigger drug and alcohol use.
How Does Biofeedback Work?
During biofeedback therapy, electrodes are applied to the scalp in order to listen to brainwave activity. A biofeedback device called an electroencephalograph (EEG) detects the brainwaves responsible for cognitive and emotional activity. EEG rhythms produce shapes based on how many times neurons send electrical messages to other neurons each second. These signals are transferred onto displays so that patients are made aware of their brain’s activity. There are a variety of rhythms that have different meanings. For example, beta rhythms appear when an individual experiences anxiety and worry. A treatment strategy for this may include helping an individual replace beta activity associated with specific emotional states with alpha or theta activity, which is associated with a calm state of mind.
In treatment, clients’ physical and mental health is assessed to identify dependencies and treatment needs. An individualized treatment plan is created to help the client withdraw safely from drugs and alcohol, prevent relapse and treat health problems associated with substance abuse. Biofeedback therapy can also assist in monitoring a client’s vitals including temperature, heart rate and stressors during recovery. For example, in treating a recovering alcoholic, an EEG may find shallow, rapid breathing, increased sweat gland activity, reduced heart rate and excessive beta rhythms (those associated with anxiety and worry). These findings provide an in-depth look into the experiences of a recovering individual so that treatment may be modified to support their needs throughout the process.
Benefits of Biofeedback Therapy for Substance Use Disorders
Neurofeedback therapy helps identify and treat co-occurring disorders, which substantially improves the recovery process, helping individuals stay sober. Many who struggle with addiction also have an underlying co-occurring mental health disorder that may trigger relapses in recovery, making treatment for these disorders a critical component of the recovery process. Over time, engagement in neurofeedback therapy corrects symptoms of many disorders including depression, anxiety, attention-deficit and sleep disturbances. In addition, this form of therapy helps improve attention spans and concentration, which is critical in early recovery. Biofeedback therapy is also effective in helping the brain overcome triggers that may lead to relapse. Therapy is designed to help the brain avoid reactive states, which in turn, helps an individual avoid relapse. This also helps individuals overcome unconscious thoughts of “not feeling like” participating in recovery activities.
While biofeedback therapy is not a cure for addiction and other disorders, it can help the brain better function long-term. Neurofeedback therapy can be easily continued throughout the recovery process and in life after treatment, if needed. Depending on the nature of the disorder, an individual’s needs in biofeedback therapy may vary and the number of sessions required to elicit change may fluctuate. In conjunction with a 12-step program, biofeedback therapy has proven to be an important tool in the recovery process, greatly improving long-term sobriety rates. By helping clients be more present, focused and objective, biofeedback therapy allows them to be more open-minded to the recovery process, less defensive and experience an increased sense of peace and connectedness.