Neurofeedback Impacts on Addiction

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, addiction is currently one of the most significant health and social problems in America, affecting ~12.5% of the population. Medical costs can be up to 300% higher for an untreated alcoholic than a treated alcoholic. Other costs to society have reached almost $500 billion, taking into account unemployment, lost productivity, increased crime and justice system/incarceration costs, health care system strain, increased insurance costs, child abuse/neglect and even workplace violence. It is estimated that every dollar spent on treatment saves $4–$7 in costs from drug-related crime and can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

A recent study in the journal Biofeedback explored genetic factors that contribute to addiction, in particular, phenotypes related to two main underlying brain patterns contributing to addiction: nervous system overstimulation and cingulate (obsessive-compulsive) issues. A phenotype is a pattern of gene expression: Just because a gene is present does not mean it is expressed; therefore these patterns may result in different biological/behavioral outcomes. Neurofeedback treatment was designed based on phenotype alone (applied to addiction in this study) and implemented in a biopsychosocial treatment program (which also included brain recovery exercises, nutrition and counseling).  Electroencephalography (EEG) was used to measure quantifiable results, i.e., changes in brain activation patterns.

This type of treatment has the potential to change lives. Jerry, diagnosed with addiction, schizophrenia and developmental delays, entered the program with the goal of going to college. According to EEG results, the schizophrenia diagnosis was incorrect. After 13 months of treatment, his cognitive function increased by 44%, his semantic memory systems improved, and “his developmental and learning problems were resolved.” He is now an A student in college and has been sober for two years. Other case studies showed decreased beta levels (reducing cortical excitability), increased cognitive function by 44%–48%, stabilized impulse control, and abstinence up to 18 months at time of publication. It should be noted that this was a small (30 person), non-controlled pilot-study program; therefore the results are not statistically significant, and the authors make no claim for treatment efficacy based on this study alone. It does, however, provide promising information on which to base a more rigorous, controlled study.

To read the entire study “Clinical Outcomes in Addiction: A Neurofeedback Case Series,” click here:


Biofeedback is published four times per year and distributed by the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, which is dedicated to advancing the development, dissemination and utilization of knowledge about applied psychophysiology and biofeedback to improve health and the quality of life through research, education and practice. For more information, visit

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