Is Neurofeedback Therapy Good For Opioid Addiction?
June 9, 2021
Neurofeedback therapy is a method used for treating different mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The therapy is a form of brain training, which helps your brain produce more of certain brain waves while inhibiting others.
Neurofeedback is a good form of therapy because it is both non-pharmacological and non-invasive. In other words, it does not use drugs or surgery to achieve its goals. Instead, neurofeedback relies on the brain’s electrical activity, which is monitored as brain waves through a piece of equipment called a quantitative electroencephalogram (QEEG). Basically, the idea is to use operant conditioning to get your brain to produce more “healthy” brain waves. In other words, if you get your brain to make more of those good waves, you get rewarded for it. In turn, the rewards reinforce your brain to behave in a certain way.
Neurofeedback therapy is also useful in the addiction recovery process. In fact, the procedure is effective as an added therapy for many kinds of substance use disorder, including opioid addiction.
What are opioids?
Under normal circumstances, opioids are used as pain medications. Doctors prescribe them to patients experiencing moderate to severe pain, and opioids are effective for pain relief if used properly.
The bad side of opioids is they have a tendency to be addictive. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies them as Schedule II controlled substances. This means that opioids have a high potential for abuse and can make you dependent on them.
People who have been prescribed opioids often do not misuse them on purpose. But some people increase their dose without first consulting their doctors. They do this usually because after a while, they no longer feel the level of pain relief that they did the first time around. Thinking it will improve the pain relief, they take more than what is on their prescriptions.
Unfortunately, that is the first step for them to end up with opioid addictions. Soon enough, they’ll find that taking the drugs will give them euphoric feelings, and since these are pleasurable, they will want more. If this is not addressed quickly, these patients will soon develop drug-seeking behaviors.
For this reason, when you are taking opioids, it’s crucial to strictly follow your doctor’s prescription. If you think you need a higher dose, talk to your doctor first.
What do opioids do to the brain?
These drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. In effect, this gives immediate relief from pain, but there is a side effect. Opioid use can also produce feelings of euphoria, and this is what makes the drugs addictive. Once you discover that opioids can make you high, you will crave for that feeling more and more.
Once opioids have hijacked your brain’s rewards center, you’d find it difficult to experience pleasure without taking the drugs. Then, as you take more of the drugs over time, your brain will become tolerant to their effects. That means you have to take even higher doses of opioids to get the same highs as before. At this point, you would be suffering from an opioid addiction.
Later on, you will find yourself showing typical addictive behaviors, such as:
- Uncontrollable cravings for opioids
- Not being able to function normally without taking opioids
- Spending most of your time and money taking opioids
- Neglecting your family, work, and hobbies
- Feeling upset or angry when family and friends urge you to stop taking opioids
- Being unable to curb your own opioid use, even if you’re experiencing the consequences
What happens in neurofeedback therapy?
The first step in neurofeedback therapy is hooking you up to the QEEG. Usually, a number of electrodes would be taped directly onto your scalp. In other cases, you would be asked to wear a cap studded with electrodes. These would read your brain’s electrical impulses and display it on a monitor as waves. The waves would vary in frequency depending on what you’re currently thinking and feeling.
Once you’re connected to the QEEG, the neurofeedback therapist would create a brain map. He can then diagnose problematic areas based on the patterns of brain waves. Addictions and other mental health problems cause abnormal wave patterns in different areas of the brain, and these need to be restored into the normal state.
Once the therapist has pinpointed the problem areas, he can then create a customized neurofeedback plan for you. That way, the therapy will target the right parts of your brain and help with your recovery.
How will neurofeedback therapy help with opioid addiction?
Neurofeedback therapy aims to correct erring brainwaves brought about by the addiction. In particular, it attempts to normalize brain waves called alpha and theta waves, which are involved in stress response.
The theory that most researchers put forward is this: amplifying alpha and theta waves, as well as improving their interactions, lead to improved handling of stressful and anxiety-inducing situations. This is similar to what happens to patients who have just started to recover. This way, you would not have strong urges to take opioids whenever you’re faced with stress.
Also, neurofeedback therapy can help curb compulsive drug-taking. One theory is that if you are dependent on opioids, you become unable to experience pleasure from normally pleasant things. Neurofeedback corrects your brain’s reward mechanisms, allowing you to feel pleasure normally again. With that, you will have less of an impulse to take drugs whenever you feel like it.
Can I take neurofeedback therapy by itself to deal with opioid addiction?
Although research has proven that neurofeedback therapy gives good results, it is often done alongside other therapies. A complete opioid addiction recovery program does not consist of only one therapy, but a range of treatments that work together to help you overcome it.
Opioid addiction in particular needs medical help when you’re still starting to recover. You need special medications to help wean you off the drug; otherwise, you would experience potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. This is the first step before going into therapies like neurofeedback.