What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback therapy that teaches individuals to control their dysfunctional brainwave patterns as an approach to treating a number of issues, including substance use disorders.
This article will explain what neurofeedback therapy is, how it works, and the advantages and disadvantages of this form of treatment.
What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback (NF) is a form of biofeedback. Biofeedback is a process in which an individual’s physical bodily processes can be measured and the data collected can be used to help the person gain control over certain types of feelings or even over certain types of behaviors.
Neurofeedback uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the patterns of brain waves an individual produces and to help them control certain types of feelings or behaviors. While most NF therapy monitor brain waves, treatment may also monitor other physiological responses, such as heart rate, respiration, and skin temperature.
Neurofeedback is sometimes referred to by sources as neurobiofeedback or neurotherapy. Despite these different terms, the process is essentially the same.
How Neurofeedback Works
The type of EEG that is used in neurofeedback is known as a qualitative EEG (qEEG). This measurement system analyzes the electrical activity in the brain in a manner that is believed to be useful in the diagnosis of issues with cognition or emotions.
QEEG will typically require more connections on the skull (known as surface electrodes) than the standard EEG. This technique will gather data from at least 24 different areas in the brain (sometimes more areas are incorporated) and the information is mapped onto a picture of the brain or head.
The technique used with neurofeedback is also referred to by a number of other names that include brain electrical activity mapping (BEAM), EEG biofeedback, and topographical EEG. and is hypothesized to work for a variety of reasons.
Neurofeedback and Substance Use Disorders
With respect to using neurofeedback for individuals who have substance use disorders, the technique is the same as the treatment for other mental health disorders. However, neurofeedback treatment for addiction is not generally considered to be a primary treatment method or intervention for substance use disorder.
NF is usually recommended to be used as an additional form of treatment to more conventional and traditional substance use disorder interventions, such as:
- Participation in support groups.
- Medical management for issues with cravings or withdrawal.
Research has failed to support claims that the regulation of brainwave patterns by using the technique adds anything useful to traditional substance use disorder treatment protocols. However, there is research to suggest that using the technique may reduce dropout rates in therapy, and one of the strongest predictors in successful outcomes of substance use disorder treatment is the length of time in therapy.
- One major drawback to the whole theoretical foundation of neurofeedback is that there are no identified specific patterns of brainwave activity that are associated with “normal functioning” in everyone — or with specific types of disorders, such as ADHD, substance use disorders, etc. Individual differences in specific areas of brain functioning in normal individuals result in quite a bit of variability in overall brainwave patterns in the general population
- Specific abnormalities and brainwave patterns are associated with individuals who have seizure disorders, but there are no specific brainwave patterns associated with general normal brain functioning that can serve as a template. While a number of dysfunctional brainwave patterns that are associated with brain damage or people who have epilepsy can be identified, attempts to ascertain qualitative differences in other disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety, etc., and normal patterns of brainwave functioning is much trickier to accomplish. Thus, the foundation for use of the technique may rely on some questionable theoretical assumptions.
- Some of the most positive claims for use of the technique are made regarding its ability to improve the concentration and cognitive abilities of individuals diagnosed with ADHD. These claims are not fully supported by research. For instance, a meta-analytic study looking at the treatment effectiveness of NF for the symptoms of ADHD failed to find any evidence that the technique was effective at controlling these symptoms.
- The neurofeedback technique may provide the type of enthusiasm needed for some individuals to remain in treatment programs for substance abuse; however, it may not be a cost-effective motivator in that the treatment is rather expensive, and there may be other ways to induce treatment adherence that are less expensive and just as effective.
Addiction Treatment Near Dallas, TX
While neurofeedback therapy can be a helpful tool, its use as a primary treatment for substance use disorders has not stood up to the rigors of analysis. However, there is effective evidence-based treatment available for people who are struggling with addiction or co-occurring disorders.
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