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Updated on December 28, 2022
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Neurotherapy/Neurofeedback for Addiction Treatment

What is Neurotherapy?

Neurotherapy, also called neurofeedback therapy, is a drug-free treatment that modifies brainwave activity without using drugs. This therapy aims to alter electrical activity in the brain to treat various mental health conditions, including addiction.

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What Does Neurotherapy Treat?

Neurotherapy alters brain activity and treats emotional dysregulation. It’s often used to treat the following conditions:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Addiction and substance use disorders 
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Migraines and cluster headaches

Neurotherapy helps the brain naturally balance brainwaves to limit the side effects of many mental health conditions.

What to Expect When Getting Neurotherapy

The process of neurotherapy is painless. During a session, a person will sit in a chair with electrodes (conductors through which electricity flows) on their scalp. While in the chair, a therapist will have them engage in an activity, such as watching a video or playing a game. 

Next, the therapist will watch a screen connected to the electrodes on the scalp that light up during harmonious brainwave patterns and dims for less harmonious ones. The brainwaves being monitored and recorded are called electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback patterns.

Over time, the brain will learn how to produce more harmonious patterns and minimize the production of undesired ones. This therapy is especially beneficial in treating emotional dysregulation. These conditions make you unable to control mood swings or emotional responses, amongst others.

Can Neurotherapy Treat Addiction?

Neurotherapy has been shown to treat addiction.1 That’s because neurotherapy can help you have a more positive mindset, which can help you make better decisions. While neurotherapy shouldn’t replace psychotherapy and medications, it’s an excellent addition to these treatments.

Studies show that neurofeedback therapy can decrease cravings associated with substance use disorders. In addition, this therapy can improve overall mental health in substance dependant people.2

How Does Neurofeedback Work for Addiction?

Someone addicted to drugs or alcohol often struggles with feelings of over or under-arousal. If a person feels under-aroused, they may feel:

  • Depressed
  • Lethargic 
  • Hopeless

This may cause someone to begin using drugs that stimulate the brain, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and other stimulants.

On the other hand, someone who is over-aroused may feel:

  • Anxious
  • Reactive
  • Uncomfortable
  • Impulsive

These feelings may cause someone to begin taking substances that calm these states, such as alcohol, opiates, and benzodiazepines.

Primary Benefits

Neurotherapy aims to balance out brain inconsistencies without using drugs or alcohol to reward the brain and nervous system. During neurofeedback therapy, a therapist may reward the brain by playing a pleasant sound or showing an exciting image on a screen. 

The results of neurotherapy can be incredibly beneficial. Over time, this therapy can help the brain seek rewards and train itself to self-regulate and relax. It can help a person produce calmer or higher-frequency brain waves, similar to what drugs have done for them in the past.

Ongoing treatment has been shown to prevent relapse.8 That’s because neurofeedback therapy teaches people to be more rational and calm and less impulsive and reactionary.3

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Types of Neurotherapy

Different types of neurotherapy are used for different conditions. These include:

Type of TreatmentWhat It’s Typically Used ForWhat it Does
Frequency/power neurofeedbackA variety of mental health conditions, including addictionCalled “surface neurofeedback” and is the most simple and common type of therapy. It involves attaching two to four electrodes to the scalp to detect brain frequencies related to mental conditions.
Slow cortical potential neurofeedback (SCP-NF) ADHDAims to reduce the excitation threshold through electrical shifts in the brain.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)To understand brain functionUses magnetic resonance (MR) imaging to track and measure tiny changes in blood flow in active brain parts to detect abnormalities.
Low-resolution electromagnetic tomography (LORETA)Concussions, teaching the brain new skills, increasing resilienceA way to mathematically analyze various EEG signals to determine the source.
Hemoencephalography (HEG) neurofeedbackMigraines, ADHD, autism, overall cognitive performanceA form of brain exercise that detects changes in the brain's energy consumption rather than brain electrical activity. This is done by attempting to increase blood flow activity to the brain.
Live Z-score neurofeedbackA variety of mental health conditions, including addictionUses a large database of different people to identify a person’s specific areas of dysregulation, which may allow for quicker diagnosis and more effective treatments.
Low-energy neurofeedback system (LENS)
Issues with the Central Nervous System (CNS), including ADHD, depression, and addictionStimulates the brain to reset itself and work towards optimal performance. Works to clear the brain of blockages related to stress and trauma. 

Is Neurotherapy Right for You?

While there are many potential benefits, there are also some side effects.

Potential benefits of neurotherapy include:

  • It’s noninvasive and doesn’t impact the brain
  • It can provide long-lasting effects even when training has stopped
  • It often has no negative side effects and is considered safe for all people

Potential side effects of neurotherapy are rare but include:

  • Temporary increased nervousness while electrodes are attached to their scalps
  • Headaches due to brain waves moving more quickly
  • Feeling “disconnection” from the mind and body due to an increase in awareness
  • Temporary depression due to changes in brain waves
  • Fatigue due to change in brain wave patterns
  • Muscle tension

If you think neurofeedback therapy may be right for you, consult your doctor. There are many different neurotherapy routes, and a professional can help you understand your options.

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Summary

  • Neurotherapy is a drug-free treatment that modifies brainwave activity without using drugs.
  • Neurotherapy is a painless and non-invasive therapy that involves attaching electrodes to the scalp to measure and understand brain activity.
  • Neurofeedback therapy is especially helpful in treating emotional dysregulation or conditions that affect moods and emotions.
  • Addiction, ADHD, depression, anxiety, autism, and migraines are some of the conditions that can be treated using neurotherapy.
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Updated on December 28, 2022
8 sources cited
Updated on December 28, 2022
  1. Rempala, H.A., et al. “Neurofeedback for opioid dependent patients in an outpatient setting: a pilot feasibility study.” Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy 17, 2022.
  2. Dehghani-Arani F, et al. “Neurofeedback training for opiate addiction: improvement of mental health and craving.” Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 2013.
  3. Addiction.” AboutNeurofeedback.
  4. What Are The Neurofeedback Side Effects?” True Life Center, 2021.
  5. Marzbani H, et al. “Neurofeedback: A Comprehensive Review on System Design, Methodology and Clinical Applications.” Basic Clin Neuroscience, 2016.
  6. Orndorff-Plunkett F, et al “Assessing the Effectiveness of Neurofeedback Training in the Context of Clinical and Social Neuroscience.” Brain Science, 2017.
  7. AnnaWeber, Lydia, et al. “Predictors of neurofeedback training outcome: A systematic review.” NeuroImage: Clinical, 2020. 
  8. Dousset, Clémence. “Preventing relapse in alcohol disorder with EEG-neurofeedback as a neuromodulation technique: A review and new insights regarding its application.” Addictive Behaviors, 2020.

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