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Biofeedback in Addiction Treatment

Biofeedback - What is it?

Biofeedback is simply monitoring various things that are happing in our bodies such as blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, muscle tension and perspiration and seeing the results in real time.

Even things like taking your temperature or weighing yourself on your bathroom scale could be considered biofeedback.


Biofeedback Therapy is used to treat a wide range of issues, but is commonly used to treat things like hypertension (high blood pressure), incontinence, migraines and chronic headaches, muscle tension and pain, sports injuries insomnia and anxiety.

More recently and with promising, but not proven results, biofeedback has been applied to the treatment of ADHD and also incorporated into addiction treatments.1

How it Works

The idea behind Biofeedback Therapy is that we can control our body’s responses and behavior by understanding it better. With the help of scientific equipment, patients are made aware of physiological information in real time that they would otherwise not notice, and with the help of a professional, these results can be interpreted and applied to improve the ailment.

With practice and training, biofeedback therapy can put the patient more in control of physical processes of the body - processes that previously were automatic responses of the nervous system or brain. Although results can vary dramatically, the idea is that by having access to this physiological information, you can teach yourself to self regulate better. Essentially, mind over matter.

In terms of its application to addiction, biofeedback is in some aspects the scientific approach to the benefits of meditation. Getting attuned to your body and mind and therefore having greater influence over it. By learning relaxation techniques and controlling respiration rates, biofeedback can improve sleep and help treat anxiety and depression. Many patients say they gain more confidence about their bodies when they realize they can control physiological aspects of themselves.

Some studies have shown that people who have alcohol abuse problems also have different brain wave patterns, yet by observing brain waves and learning biofeedback techniques, one can retrain the brain subtly over time.

For Example

There is a connection between skin temperature and the level of stress someone is experiencing. Therefore, when a biofeedback machine registers a drop in body temperature, then the patient knows that they need to start relaxation techniques.

Another measurement that is often taken is the activity of sweat glands and the amount of perspiration (galvanic skin response) that a patient expels, because this reflects levels of anxiety. One well known application of this is the polygraph machine (lie detector) which takes advantage of this physiological response to find out if someone is not telling the truth.

Brain waves can also be observed using an electroencephalography or EEG. Different types of brain waves reflect different mental states. Beta waves indicate wakefulness, Alpha waves show relaxation and Theta waves reflect calmness.

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