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Using Neurofeedback to Support  Addiction Recovery

Neurofeedback Therapy is an intervention that is becoming increasingly popular within substance abuse treatment facilities, helping many people change the brainwave patterns that are often associated with anxiety, depression, and insomnia.  Additionally, there are advanced neurofeedback protocols that have specifically been shown to help improve treatment outcomes for those people dealing with alcohol and other addictions. 


The Evolution of Neurofeedback in Addiction-Related Conditions

In 1989, Drs. Eugene Peniston and Paul Kulkosky developed a therapeutic alpha-theta protocol for addiction recovery and prevention of its relapse. Based upon the earlier groundbreaking work of Elmer Green, Alyce Green and Dale Walters, Peniston and Kulkosky modify the original alpha-theta protocol. They created a program that included a variety of different inventions (guided imagery, constructed visualizations, and neurofeedback training -specifically Alpha Theta Training) that was used in conjunction with the 12-Step program.    The protocols have also been referred to as the Peniston-Kulkosky Protocols and the Peniston Protocols. The design was based on anecdotal observations by Dale Walters. - It was the first neurofeedback study for an addictive population.  The results of this study were dramatically better than using the 12-Step program by itself, and resulted in 79% abstinence for neurofeedback group 12 months after treatment (based on collateral contacts, in addition to self-report), as well as significant improvements in 5 of the 10 MMPI-2 scales (personality tests used within mental health).   These outcomes were presented to the neurofeedback community in 1991, and this lead to subsequent studies that assessed the effect that neurofeedback could have on various addictions.  [This study, as well other research, can be found on the Research page.]

The largest and most efficacious addiction study to date involved 121 subjects in a randomized controlled trial conducted by UCLA, which was published in a 2005 edition of The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, titled, “Effect of an EEG Biofeedback Protocol on a Mixed Substance Abusing Population“.  The results of this study has been replicated multiple times.  The finding of this study showed that, "Of the experimental subjects completing the protocol, 77% were abstinent at 12 months, compared to 44% for the controls."  The conclusion determined that, "This protocol enhanced treatment retention, variables of attention, and abstinence rates one year following treatment."  

These protocols were reviewed in 2013 by Ross in an article entitled, "Neurofeedback: an integrative treatment of substance use disorders." It was concluded that the addition of the Peniston Alpha-Theta protocol and (and the subsequent protocols designed thereafter) with traditional Substance Use Disorders "has the potential to improve measurable parameters and significantly increase positive outcomes".

Another study from 2013 concerning neurofeedback and addiction was titled, "Neurofeedback Training for Opiate Addiction: Improvement of Mental Health and Craving" by Dehghani-Arani, Rostami and Nadali, and was carried out to examine the effectiveness of this therapeutic method for opiate dependence disorder. The specific aim was to investigate whether treatment leads to any changes in mental health and substance craving.  The conclusion showed that "the experimental group achieved improvement in somatic symptoms, depression, and total score in general mental health; and in anticipation of positive outcome, desire to use opioid, and relief from withdrawal of craving in comparison with the control group. The study supports the effectiveness of neurofeedback training as a therapeutic method in opiate dependence disorder, in supplement to pharmacotherapy."

Our Approach to Addiction Related Conditions

Our goal for all our patients is to help them reach their highest potential in a safe and supportive environment.  This holds especially true for this population as well.  To help with this, we have created a training template that helps minimize the potential for abreactions to occur.


First, we utilize a qEEG brainwave evaluation that will help provide information about specific brainwave patterns that the person demonstrates within the major neurological networks within the brain.  Using this information, we first look to train in the occipital region to restore appropriate sleep patterns and reduce rumination, then train in the frontal region to decrease anticipatory worry and increase executive function, and then look to train the temporal region to help decrease emotional over-reactions and increase social connections.  Once this is done, then we look to add in the Alpha-Theta protocols outlined above.  This program can range between 20 and 40 sessions. 


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