Breaking the Cycle of Addiction

Many times, people use the misconception that addiction or becoming addicted is due to not having the will power to stop. Further adding to the myth that if those people wanted badly enough to stop, they could. However, each case is different and this rationale is not necessarily true. 

Addiction is a disease (not a choice) and it changes the way the brain works.  Many people require the help from a professional to learn the necessary tools and skills to learn how to cope with the symptoms, overcome cravings, change their thoughts and actions, being mindful of their triggers and rebuild their lives. 

While it may have been their choice to initially start using drugs or alcohol, after using these substances, it changed the way their brain worked and brainwaves became dysregulated from over exposure to these substances and they became less in control.

This can include those experiencing long-term stress, anxiety or other mental health concerns as well. When adding new chemicals or adding emotional or behavioral habits are formed due to a variety of reasons, the brain makeup changes, brainwave dysregulation occurs and it is really difficult to change without the use of professional help.

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EEG investigations of individuals suffering from alcohol dependence (and their children) have documented that even after prolonged periods of abstinence, they have lower levels of alpha and theta waves and an excess of fast beta brainwaves in their EEG’s. This means that individuals suffering from alcohol dependence and their children tend to have a difficult time relaxing. Following the use of alcohol, the levels of alpha and theta brainwaves increase thus individuals with a biological predisposition to develop dependence (and their children) are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Without realizing it, individuals suffering from alcoholism tend to try to self-medicate and self-treat their own brain pathology with alcohol or drugs. The relaxing mental state that occurs following alcohol use is highly reinforcing to them because of the manner in which their brain is functioning.

Neurofeedback Can Help Break the Cycle of Addiction

Several research studies now show that the best predictor of relapse is how excessive the beta brainwave activity is in alcoholics and cocaine addicts (Bauer, 1993, 2001; Prichep et al., 1996; Winterer, 1998). Neurofeedback training to teach alcoholics how to achieve stress reduction and profoundly relaxed states through increasing alpha and theta brainwaves and reducing fast beta brainwaves have demonstrated promising potential as an adjunct to addiction treatment.

Peniston and Kulkosky (1989) used such training with chronic alcoholics compared to a nonalcoholic control group and a traditional alcoholism treatment control group. Alcoholics receiving 30 sessions of brainwave training demonstrated significant increases in percentages of their EEG record in alpha and theta rhythms, and increased alpha rhythm amplitudes. The brainwave treatment group also demonstrated sharp reductions in depression compared to controls. Alcoholics in standard (traditional) treatment showed a significant elevation in serum beta-endorphin levels (an index of stress and a stimulant of caloric [e.g., ethanol] intake), while those with brainwave training added to their treatment did not demonstrate an increase in beta-endorphin levels.

At the four-year follow-up (Peniston & Kulkosky, 1990), only 20% of the traditionally treated group of alcoholics remained sober, compared with 80% of the experimental group who received neurofeedback training. Furthermore, the experimental group showed improvement in psychological adjustment on 13 scales of the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory compared to traditionally treated alcoholics who improved on only two scales and became worse on one scale. On 16-PF personality inventory, the neurofeedback training group demonstrated improvement on 7 scales, compared to only one scale among the traditional treatment group. Thus, neurofeedback training appears to hold encouraging promise as an adjudicative module in the treatment of alcoholism, and in re-mediating damage done through drug abuse.

A UCLA study found that neurofeedback can improve the rate of abstinence. It relied, in part, on addiction research that shows: (1) that individuals with a history of addiction tend to have a very difficult time changing their behavior (hence the 40-60 percent drug relapse rate), and (2) the brain usually experiences instability in the early stages of recovery.

A UCLA study revealed that neurofeedback treatment plus participation in a 12-Step program could help recovering individuals accept the needed change (addiction to recovery) and re-regulate the brain to become stable and balanced. In specific, results showed an improvement in the participants’ rates of abstinence at the one-year recovery mark. The participants were able to achieve this positive outcome, in part, because neurofeedback helped to keep the brain’s cortex active when they felt like relapsing. The study noted that neurofeedback is best utilized in conjunction with an outpatient drug treatment program or a support service, such as a local 12-Step program. 


Addiction & Brain Mapping

In view of the brain disease model of addiction, it makes sense that neurofeedback can treat addiction. A neurofeedback specialist who is working with a recovering person can create a brain map to locate any areas in the brain where electrical activity is abnormal. From there, the specialist can create a targeted training program to redress inactivity, underactivity, or over-activity. As the physiological hallmarks of the addiction improve, the symptoms of addiction should as well, including relapse.

All it takes is 3 Easy Steps to regain control of your life

1st Step

All you have to do is pick up the phone and call 630-762-9606.

2nd Step

Provide insurance information for verification. This is 100% Free.

3rd Step

Make an appointment for a diagnostic evaluation. We never share confidential information without a release and consent.

Not ready for help but need more resources?

Check out the National Helpline or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

What is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families. 

Alcohol and Drug Addiction Happens in the Best of Families

It It Feels So Bad – It Doesn’t Have To