Effect of Neurofeedback on Chemical Dependency
David Kaiser, Siegfried Othmer, and Bill Scott
ANAHEIM, January 21
A behavioral research team announced today that it has doubled the
recovery rate for drug addicts in a study that gave patients feedback
on their brain's electrical activity in conjunction with conventional
treatment for drug abuse.
William C. Scott, principal investigator of the study, said that
across the country, drug rehab programs have generally achieved
a success rate of 20 to 30 percent in relapse prevention one to
two years following treatment. In the current study, in excess of
50% of experimental subjects remained drug-free a year later.
The study used neurofeedback, a technique that trains patients to
alter their brainwave patterns as they receive information about
those patterns. The researchers placed electrodes on patient's scalps
and displayed the brain's electrical activity on a computer monitor
in the form of an audio-visual exercise. The feedback process informed
patients about their success in making changes.
"Beyond the scientific implications of this study, which are
exciting, the real significance is the hope it offers addicts, their
families and our communities," Scott said. "For those
who've tried and failed, here's a result that says, 'try again,
there are new possibilities.' For families and communities, it's
another opportunity to free ourselves from the specter of drugs."
The pioneering study was a collaboration between CRI-Help, a North
Hollywood in-patient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, and
EEG Spectrum, sponsor of a nation-wide network of neurofeedback
providers. The research team released its preliminary results today
at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science because of the potential public policy implications.
Expressing his hope that other researchers would move quickly to
duplicate the study, Scott said the research team would release
a final report within the next year upon completion of a full two-year
Following a standard controlled research design, researchers from
EEG Spectrum and CRI-Help organized 135 drug rehab patients into
two matched groups, one experimental and the second a control group
against which the test subjects could be compared. Both groups received
treatment based on the Minnesota Model, a 12-step oriented program
supported by group, family, and individual counseling. The experimental
group also received 40 to 50 neurofeedback sessions directed toward
improving cognitive function and mood regulation. Controls received
additional individual and group sessions.
In addition to improving the success rate for recovering addicts,
the study documented significant improvements in the ability of
the experimental group to focus their thinking and process information.
Moreover, the experimental subjects exhibited significant improvement
in some relevant measures of psychological functioning (Minnesota
Multiphasic Personality Inventory [MMPI-2]). These gains may help
to sustain the subjects in the ongoing recovery process.
Scott points out that most drug addicts are simply not either mentally
or psychologically "available" for drug rehab therapy.
This results in considerable attrition in conventional programs
as addicts abandon treatment. A key finding in the current study
is that the addition of neurofeedback training to conventional treatment
reduced patient attrition significantly. After only 45 days of treatment,
nearly one-third of the control group had opted out of treatment
prematurely and left the residential facility, compared to only
6% of the experimental group. Scott said, "Any form of treatment
which reduces the dropout rate becomes a valuable rehab technique."
David A. Kaiser, Ph.D., the experimental psychologist who designed
the study, noted that this work complements earlier findings on
the efficiency of neurofeedback in aiding recovery among severe
alcoholics. The present study extends these findings to opiate abusers,
multiple-drug abusers, and users of stimulant-type medications such
as methamphetamine and cocaine.
Siegfried Othmer, Ph.D., chief scientist at EEG Spectrum, said that
to his knowledge this is the first large-scale, carefully controlled
study to date that measures the effectiveness of neurofeedback as
a treatment for drug addicts. "I think these remarkable results
should motivate other researchers to replicate our findings in large-scale
populations," he said.
The study was initiated by Marcus Sola, Chairman of the Board of
CRI-Help. In reflecting on the results, Sola said: "It must
be recognized that we are dealing here not with typical research
subjects but rather with the most difficult type of addict currently
in rehabilitation." Most had been assigned to CRI-Help by courts,
or their care was otherwise mandated. "To have observed this
kind of improvement over what we consider to be a model, state-of-the-art
program already is simply remarkable." Sola believes the conclusion
to be inescapable that when these results are confirmed in other
studies, "they will change the standard of care in the field."