This can be such a difficult topic for so many people, because all of us are addicted to something or other. You will find herein subsections (with drop-down menus) on alcoholism, drugs, and other addictions, like gambling, or pornography, that we have worked with. Though these seem rather different categories, all are based on underlying human needs for that which is familiar and pleasurable. We have known people (and may be them) who are addicted to good food, travel, sex, running or working out, even writing, making music or art.
Once again a very good question is, how can the “same old thing” that works with anxiety, attentional problems or depression etc. (neurofeedback) work with addictions? The answer is that it doesn’t “cure” anything; but it does help make the person more flexible, functional, and able to help him or her self.
It is the out-of-control addictions which impair, rather than enhance, quality of life that we are most concerned about; where we don’t “have a problem,” the “problem has us.” At Stone Mountain Center we do not have facilities for residency or rehabilitation, nor can we help people “dry out” or detox. So our requirement when working with alcoholics or other seriously addicted people, is that they have already accomplished a “detox” phase of their healing before they come to us.
We have used nearby hospitals such as Four Winds to refer people for these needs. There is a biofeedback literature, in which researchers Eugene Peniston and Matthew Kelly have used combined biofeedback/neurofeedback/psychotherapy approaches with alcoholic veterans and Native Americans and achieved great success. (See A Symphony in the Brain, by Robbins, or visit the ISNR.or AAPB.org websites, where there are resources on all sorts of topics related to neurofeedback and biofeedback.) Len Ochs has reported cases in which even people using at the time of treatment achieve a distaste or a distance from their previous addiction.
At Stone Mountain, our strongest results with the LENS and addiction are in helping previously addicted people prevent relapses. It was probably an irritated or out-of-balance nervous system that helped form the addiction in the first place, and we have all, professionals and lay-people alike, heard the term: self-medicating behaviors. Addictions, for all their destructiveness, often help people cope with anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, hypervigilance or metabolic insufficiencies. (And that is why so many feel real terror when asked to give up their addictions.)
The problem with many, even excellent rehabilitation programs, which release their participants clean and sober, and with a resolve to start a new life, is that the underlying CNS dysregulation has not really quieted, and the fact, verified by all kinds of statistics on relapse and recidivism, that people have an overwhelming tendency to go back to their old remedies for the suffering parts of life.
Heroin Addictions: The principle has been brought home to us by two seriously heroin-addicted patients who were sent to us by an out-of-country ibogaine clinic (which uses an African Root that seems to induce an overwhelming insight into the cause of one’s addiction.) The experience, like many other approaches, including cathartic, or Dialectical Behavior therapies, is that they seem genuinely helpful, but only last for a while. Wisely, these Mexican and Bermuda-based centers realize that people still relapse when they are out of the set and setting that helped them see and confront the roots of their addiction.
Our first reaction was rather guarded and pessimistic, but we agreed to work with two very different men (one in his twenties, and a failed student, the other his forties, and a very succesful business owner). As each man improved with the ongoing LENS treatment (stabilized sleep architecture, improvement in energy, more stable moods and clearer thinking) other aspects and habits of living became “co-therapists” in the process. People around the recovering addict really note their changes and sincere effort to improve, who have previously felt helpless to do anything. The younger man got a girlfriend, the older one confronted a relationship that was full of dependency and threatened to pull him back. He felt he could move in a higher level of more civically-minded business owners, where before he was afraid they would pick up his addiction.
Especially with alcoholism and hard drug ddiction, our office, with medical supervision, recommends nutritional and dietary support and regular exercise, yoga or meditation (and have facilitated people working with groups or teachers we trust and recommend).
Other Addictions: A 450 lb man came to us for his depression. He was lethargic and unmotivated. He didn’t do much around the house or yard, and his wife was terrified that he might fall and need serious help (or a small derrick) to get him up again. We worked on his depression with neurofeedback and HeartMath (he definitely had cardiac problems). Then he began to report an amazing transformation. For the first time in his adult life, he could look a box of Friehoffer’s chocolate chip cookies in the eye, and take one or two, not devour the whole thing. Over six months he lost 90 lbs. A knee operation and some help with the photonic stimulator (an infra-red device which our office recommends) for the oedema, that had his legs swollen up like balloons. Even after discontinuing the course of treatment (his depression about 70% better, and on a moderate daily dose of SAM-e) he continued to lose weight without going back to Weight-watchers, which had previously helped him laboriously lose weight, all of which he had then gained back again (and he “couldn’t stand” going back to weight watchers again.
Other addictions we have worked with with positive results are to video games or Nintendo addictions in kids, pornography (usually in males–and made exponentially worse by the availability of “adult” channels on TV and the internet), fast driving or compulsively reckless behavior, including gambling or the stock market. (The latter really are addictions to ones own catecholamines or stress hormones, that often give a heightenend sense of being alive.)
See also Obsessive-Compulsive disorder under Anxiety.