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Biofeedback Therapy for Addiction

Biofeedback therapy is an alternative treatment focused on gaining control of the mind and body. It has been used to treat many mental and physical ailments, such as anxiety, depression, asthma, and diabetes.

The relationship between biofeedback and drug addiction has also been explored. Studies have found biofeedback to be particularly beneficial for helping those addicted to drugs and alcohol understand their involuntary behaviors, resulting in a better ability to fight cravings and withdrawal symptoms.1

What is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a noninvasive medical approach that uses different sensors to monitor and measure vital body functions. It helps patients understand how their bodies react to various stimuli and stressors by adopting a state of mindfulness.2 This allows therapists to help you understand how your body works and begin to control particular health concerns and body functions.

Biofeedback takes a “mind over matter” approach and focuses on improving health holistically.2 It has been found to be particularly effective for addressing issues influenced heavily by stress and utilizes techniques that combat it and promote relaxation. A licensed biofeedback therapist will teach you how to monitor your body’s reactions and functions and guide you through regulating them.

The effectiveness of biofeedback for drug and alcohol addiction has been in question since the early ’70s. Early studies looked at how patients with alcohol addiction responded to treatment. Many of these studies had positive results regarding changes in behavior but were difficult to replicate because of methodological differences.3 Today, solid research exists on the efficacy of this treatment for alcohol and drug addiction, but further research is still recommended.3

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What Does Biofeedback Therapy Treat?

Biofeedback has been used for symptom management of many chronic mental and physical health ailments including:4

  • Stress or anxiety.
  • Asthma.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Constipation.
  • Raynaud’s disease.
  • Side effects from chemotherapy.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Incontinence.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Addiction.

How Does Biofeedback Therapy Work?

Biofeedback focuses on consciously improving involuntary responses to triggering stimuli. The most common methods are thermal or temperature biofeedback, electroencephalography (EEG), and electromyography (EMG) biofeedback. Each form involves the placement of electronic sensors on your body to monitor different functions.

Thermal or temperature biofeedback is used to monitor changes in body temperature. Changes in muscle tension are monitored using EMG biofeedback, while EEG measures brain wave activity. Other types include heart variability biofeedback, which assesses your pulse and heart rate, and galvanic skin response training, which measures how much sweat you produce over time.

Signs of stress in your body are measured using a biofeedback machine. As you perform each technique, you watch the changes in rates, promoting further relaxation. Most sessions last between 30 to 60 minutes, and the number of sessions needed varies depending on multiple factors, such as the type of treatment you need and how quickly you adapt to the treatment.

The goal of a biofeedback session is for you to understand your bodily functions and learn how to control them. A typical session might entail a biofeedback therapist teaching you different methods and exercises to lower your heart rate, such as mental, breathing, and relaxation techniques.

Biofeedback Therapy for Addiction

The use of biofeedback therapy for substance use disorders (SUDs) has been shown to be very beneficial. Since biofeedback focuses on understanding and regulating involuntary functions, it is particularly useful to help patients handle withdrawal symptoms and fight urges to use. It is commonly used in conjunction with other evidence-based treatment methods, such as behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy.1

Patients with co-occurring disorders can greatly benefit from dual diagnosis treatment programs that offer biofeedback because of its holistic effects on physical and mental health. Heightened levels of physical stress and involuntary responses are often brought on by withdrawal symptoms. This therapy allows people in recovery to use their newfound understanding of themselves to fight symptoms of drug withdrawal, such as depression, anxiety, restlessness, and chronic muscle pain.

Your biofeedback therapist will work with you to produce an individualized plan for your recovery. With progressive sessions, you develop the skills to actively listen to your body and recognize signs of stress, ultimately learning to regulate these functions. This can also aid in decreasing your chances of relapse. As you become more aware of symptoms that trigger involuntary responses, you can coach yourself through resisting the urge to use.

How Effective is Biofeedback for Addiction?

Several studies have examined the efficacy of biofeedback therapy for addiction as an alternative option or in addition to behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy.1 Both studies focused specifically on EEG, with one examining multiple clinical studies on the effects of EEG on addiction.3

Another study focused on the effects of EEG on the level of cravings in participants addicted to opiates. The study supported the use of neurofeedback in conjunction with pharmacotherapy as a treatment for addiction. Mental health professionals recommend using biofeedback combined with other evidence-based treatment modalities.1

Biofeedback has long-lasting effects on the psychological symptoms associated with substance use disorder and addresses them with minimal side effects.1 There are no reported risks in using biofeedback for addiction, and it is generally safe for people of all ages.4 However, this treatment will not work for everyone. It requires active participation and a strong desire to get better.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) provides access to some of the best treatment facilities in the country. Desert Hope Treatment Center, located near Las Vegas, Nevada, provides biofeedback along with various services like inpatient and outpatient rehab, sober living, and other specialized treatment options. If you’re interested in finding a treatment center that offers biofeedback, contact AAC for more information on what your insurance will cover.

Biofeedback Therapy FAQs

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