What Is Biofeedback Therapy for Addiction Treatment?

What Is Biofeedback Therapy for Addiction Treatment?

This type of treatment may sound foreign to some, but it presents a lot of benefits for substance abuse problems. What is biofeedback therapy? How does it work for targeting addiction? Understanding this approach can help widen your options when seeking treatment.

What is Biofeedback?

The term “biofeedback” sounds like medical jargon, but don’t be confused–the process of which this therapy is done is quite simple. If you’re wondering what is biofeedback therapy, Mayo Clinic explains the approach as a technique to help you control physiological processes in your body. Coming from the term “bio” which means body, and “feedback” which means response, this process allows you to gain information on how your different physical functions work in the hopes of modifying it.

To better understand what is biofeedback, here are the general steps during treatment:

Connecting of electrical sensors

You will be connected to a medical equipment with sensors that help detect several physiological functions. This include:

  • Brain waves
  • Heart rate
  • Respiratory rate
  • Muscle contractions
  • Sweat glands
  • Body temperature

After being connected to the electrical sensors, you will see a live image or text representation of how these various functions are being performed in your body.

Interpretation of data

After getting sufficient information about specific body functions, a medical professional will help you interpret the results. They will also provide you with guidelines on how you can modify these bodily functions based on your therapy goals.

Eventually, you will also be able to interpret the data on your own. By increasing your awareness about how your body reacts to stimuli, or how it is presently functioning, you can actively find ways to achieve the treatment objectives.

Response modification

The goal of biofeedback therapy is to retrieve bodily information in order to make changes in a patient’s response. For example, experiencing emotional triggers can cause someone to drink alcohol or use illicit drugs. By working on these triggers during biofeedback therapy, the patient can eventually modify their responses and reduce their tendency to abuse substances.

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Examples of Biofeedback Therapy Exercises

To give you a clearer picture of how does biofeedback work, below are some examples of therapy exercises commonly used during sessions:

Deep breathing

Although used in holistic types of therapy, deep breathing exercise is also effective during biofeedback especially to regulate the respiratory and heart rate. When a stress stimulus is presented and information is gathered about the respiratory and heart rate, the patient is asked to perform deep breathing exercises. This is done by inhaling slowly, holding one’s breath for 3-4 seconds, and then exhaling slowly.

After several cycles, information is gathered again as the patient views the effect of deep breathing. They are encouraged to do the exercise at home when the results are positive.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This exercise is done with the help of a therapist that verbally instructs the patient to loosen certain muscles. Sometimes, people are always in a state of muscle tension even if they aren’t aware of it. Constant muscle tension is also related to many anxiety disorders. Progressive muscle relaxation is known to reduce stress and chronic pain.

Guided meditation

Many people with substance abuse and mental health disorders have hyperactive brain wave feedback during therapy. This over-response to seemingly normal stimuli may be treated using guided meditation. Through the help of a therapist, the patient listens and follows through verbal imagery that helps them overcome:

  • Negative thoughts and feelings
  • Anxieties
  • Trauma
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Depression
  • Other mental health disorders

The purpose of guided meditation is accomplished through the power of suggestion. It is believed that people are more open and willing to follow through a suggestion when they are in a relaxed state, which is similar to hypnotherapy.

As we dig deep specifically into how biofeedback therapy helps in treating addiction disorders, it is also helpful to understand one specific branch of this approach called neurofeedback therapy.

Neurofeedback Therapy

Many are left asking, “Does biofeedback work for substance abuse problems?” The simple answer is yes. In many ways, this treatment approach is effective because it integrates all the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of substance abuse.

If a patient understands the connection of thoughts and emotions with how the body responds, they will be more motivated to alter their perception of addiction triggers. Changing one’s perception of triggers can help in avoiding stress, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and overcome addiction cravings.

Addiction treatment through biofeedback is most effective under neurofeedback therapy. Otherwise known as Electroencephalogram (EEG), brain waves are measured when presented with several stimuli. The goal of neurofeedback therapy in addiction treatment is to help self-regulation or self-control when exposed to triggers.

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback Therapy

Specifically, how does a typical neurofeedback therapy for addiction proceed? For treatment sessions targeting addiction problems, below is an overview of what patients can expect:

  • Presentation of stimuli related to addiction triggers: These can be done through viewing images, watching videos, listening to music, sounds, or any other type of sensory input that the patient associates with substance abuse.
  • Viewing brain activity after the stimuli is presented: The patient and therapist will look at the brain waves and review how this can be modified on the next stimuli. They may do the exercises mentioned above such as deep breathing, guided meditation, or other behavioral therapy approaches.
  • Repeating the stimuli and seeing the difference: The stimuli is presented again or a new one is given. The differences are recorded after applying biofeedback behavioral therapy techniques.

Biofeedback and Overcoming Addiction

Since biofeedback therapy is non-invasive and considered another behavioral therapy approach, many patients are quick to prefer this method in overcoming addiction. If you want to know if this is a great fit for yourself or a loved one suffering from substance abuse, here are some questions to ask:

Do I have contraindications in using the biofeedback equipment?

Some people have pacemakers and other surgically placed metal devices that may be affected with biofeedback therapy. It is best to consult a healthcare professional regarding this matter.

Do I want an integrated approach in addiction treatment?

Biofeedback behavioral therapy helps patients see the scientific and emotional aspects of their substance abuse problem. If you would prefer to go in a more spiritual and transcendental type of treatment, you may be a better fit for options such as 12-Step Rehab.

Do I have a severe addiction?

Biofeedback therapy best works for patients who have already overcome the initial stages of addiction. Some signs of severe addiction include experiencing withdrawal symptoms and a high level of dependency. Many high-quality rehab centers recommend going through detox as the first part of treatment, then proceeding to this behavioral approach in targeting the underlying causes of addiction. If you have a severe addiction, you should consult a specialist regarding the best treatment options.

Biofeedback: Awareness is Key

The main principle of biofeedback is giving individuals an increased awareness of how thoughts and feelings affect their bodies. Just like how we rally for awareness in various social causes, being aware of our own mind, heart, and body is the key to overcoming any problem–including substance abuse.


  • Mayoclinic.org – “Biofeedback”.
  • Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “The dark side of emotion: the addiction perspective”.
  • Health.harvard.edu – “Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response”.
  • Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “The Power of Suggestion: Posthypnotically Induced Changes in the Temporal Binding of Intentional Action Outcomes”.
  • Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Neurofeedback: A Comprehensive Review on System Design, Methodology and Clinical Applications”.

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