An automated EEG biofeedback system works just as well as a clinician-run system in helping reduce attention deficits in those with substance use disorders, according to an independent joint study from researchers at UCLA and UNC Wilmington.
The finding means that addiction treatment centers now have an easier and more affordable way to help clients with issues such as ADHD learn to self-regulate their attention and, thus, control the impulsivity and distractibility that can hamper recovery. Moderate to large effect sizes in focus were demonstrated in 15 sessions over 1.5 weeks.
"The results support the hypothesis that BrainPaint's automated EEG biofeedback, which our technicians learned to operate in a week, was as effective as a clinician-controlled system in this study," said lead author Dr. Julian Keith, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. "Both systems were effective at improving symptoms of ADD/ADHD, but the automated neurofeedback is more practical and cost-effective in a substance use disorders residential treatment setting."
The study appears online and will soon be printed in the American Psychological Association's journal of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
EEG biofeedback, also known as neurofeedback, trains people how to self-generate "effortless attention" – a relaxed, stable, alert focus that enhances control over emotions and actions. For those whose substance use comes with an attention issue – estimated to be roughly one in four of those with addictions – this can translate to an improved ability to make healthy decisions and greater willingness to remain in treatment. It also provides an alternative to the drugs commonly used to treat ADD and ADHD, many of which have the potential to spark addiction or relapse.
The study involved 95 participants randomly assigned to one of three groups who either received 15 sessions of BrainPaint® automated EEG biofeedback, 15 sessions of Neurocybernetics® with a seasoned clinician (18 years' experience), or 15 additional therapy sessions without biofeedback. In addition to both neurofeedback groups significantly improving results on the Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA®), an outcome measure used to diagnose ADD/ADHD, the BrainPaint® group stayed 65 days or 71% longer in treatment than the control group, and the Neurocybernetics® group stayed 57 days or 62% longer. Research demonstrates that longer stays in treatment translate to a better chance of long-term sobriety.
Leading addiction treatment centers are incorporating neurofeedback as an important component of recovery. "Receiving neurofeedback can increase a client's attention dramatically, making them more likely to complete treatment and remain abstinent," explained Dr. David Sack, CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, which includes Promises Treatment Centers. Elements Behavioral Health has integrated neurofeedback at 11 of its treatment centers around the US.