There are new and improved ways to treat addiction as technology continues to evolve. The most recent hype is centered around the success stories from neurofeedback for addiction and alcoholism. Neurofeedback is a method of treatment for various mental illnesses, disorders, and ailments that utilizes a computer-based model to stimulate responses in the brain that rewire it in a healthy way. In other words, a computer guides the brain’s natural ability to heal itself and boost efficiency functioning on a scientific basis. The subject receiving the feedback is hooked up to a virtual reality and instructed to play a video game without using his/her hands. The brain is the sole controller. Since we all want to “win” on an instinctual level, the brain strives to win the game which requires emitting certain brain waves and reducing output of others. If the brain does not pattern itself accordingly, the person loses the virtual game. As the brain begins to respond to visual and audible cues that are provided, a “learning” of new brain wave patterns takes place,” says a recent article from the San Antonio Business Journal.
Since the central nervous system operates at a certain level based on outside factors such as stress and addiction, the goal of neurofeedback is to help readjust its functioning in a way that regulates and equalizes brain waves. For example, in the Peniston/Kulkosky protocol, a scientific method of neurofeedback, an electrode is placed at a specific occipital lobe site on the scalp. The subject is trained to “increase alpha and theta brainwaves to induce a profound relaxation effect that occurs when the theta amplitude crosses over, or becomes higher, than the alpha amplitude,” says Karen Trocki, PhD, Emeryville, California Alcohol Research Group scientist. To simplify – through neurofeedback, therapists monitor which brain waves are most active and which are least active. Then, through a series of sessions, they equalize those waves into a healthy pattern, allowing for the regulation of symptoms or the clearing of the mind for peak performance. Thus, those who have artificially triggered their brain to crave cocaine over a period of substance abuse, naturally retrain their circuitry to desire abstinence. Similarly, those who are afflicted with alcoholism play the game to restore its brain capacity to its purest, original composition.
Karen continues by commenting on the success of neurofeedback. She believes it has emerged as a tool “ideally suited for delivery within treatment settings by mid-level licensed profesionals such as nurses, social workers, counselors, or physical therapists. This is a treatment approach that has shown strong, positive results in long-term follow-ups but the spread has been glacially slow.” Karen hypothesized a mysterious conspiracy hindering neurofeedback’s integration into more medical facilities and addiction centers. She recognizes its success in treating patients with a wide variety of afflictions.
Although neurofeedback has been successful in treating everything from autism to ADD, it has achieved staggering results with alcoholic patients. The San Antonio Business Journal references a month-long experiment in which 80% of neurofeedback participants abstained from alcohol during treatment. In a follow-up study, 70% of the participants were still practicing abstinence. This is incredible, given the astounding rate of relapse both alcoholics and addicts are privy to. Overall, neurofeedback is a powerful tool, and it’s benefits should not be discounted. We hope that with continued research on the topic, there may eventually be a more effective treatment options for alcoholism and drug addiction in addition to the existing medications available today.
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