Brain mapping is a non-invasive procedure that painlessly and safely measures brain activity. While other tests measure brain structure, brain mapping measures its function. Brain mapping can:
- Identify irregular brain wave patterns and the regions in which they occur
- Point to areas where brain activity may be too high or too low
- Reveal areas of the brain that are not optimally communicating with other regions
- Aid in diagnosing psychiatric and cognitive conditions
- Identify brain injuries
- Indicate your level of stress
- Help predict your response to medication
Most importantly, brain mapping yields critical information needed to design a customized neurofeedback program tailored to an individual’s needs.
How Does Brain Mapping Work?
Electrical impulses, or brain waves, are generated when any of the 100 billion neurons in your brain communicate. These brain waves can be picked up by the qEEG (quantitative Electroencephalogram) diagnostic tool. This shows how your brain functions and allows the test administrator to pick up on any atypical results.
It is a relatively quick process. First, a sensor cap is placed on your scalp. You sit comfortably while the electrical activity in your brain is captured by a device connected to the sensor cap. The data is analyzed and compared to normal controls, then a report, including color-coded maps of your brain’s activity, is generated.
Again, the procedure is safe and non-invasive. Brain mapping only records your brain’s signals and does not affect them.
What’s the Difference Between an EEG and a QEEG Test?
What is unique about the qEEG test is that it amplifies the information collected in a standard EEG (Electroencephalogram test). By analyzing EEG information and comparing it to databases of “normal” individuals of the same age and gender, it can indicate areas that are underactive, overactive or normal.
For example, there are identifiable patterns of dysfunction in each of the following brain disorders that can be picked up by brain mapping:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Behavioral Issues
- Bipolar disorder
- Emotional disorders
- Learning disabilities
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Sleeping problems
- Traumatic brain injury
Anyone who is struggling with mental health issues – and that includes addiction – can potentially benefit from brain mapping. It is an invaluable assessment tool.
What Happens After Brain Mapping?
Highly qualified professionals use information from your brain mapping session (along clinical and medical evaluations) to formulate a comprehensive addiction treatment plan. Your initial brain mapping report also provides a baseline from which your progress can be tracked over time.
Part of your plan can include neurofeedback. A form of biofeedback, neurofeedback uses a reward system, such as music or game playing to help retrain your brain to function in a healthy manner. For example, when your brainwaves are optimal, you may hear music or have access to a fun game. Likewise, when your brainwaves are not optimal, you will receive “negative” feedback such as the music or the game stopping. This painless training teaches your brain to operate optimally.
RELATED: How do drugs affect the brain?
Neurofeedback can be a valuable component of your overall addiction treatment plan. It can also be helpful in treating underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression as well as ADHD and PTSD.
Is Neurofeedback Effective?
Neurofeedback is an evidence-based therapy for many brain-based conditions and is utilized by over 7,000 mental health providers in the United States. The International Society for Neurofeedback is a professional association entirely devoted to its practice, and its scientific journal, NeuroRegulation, publishes the latest research in the field. In addition, the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance provides certification for practitioners.
With addiction in particular, there have been numerous research studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of neurofeedback.
An often-cited 1999 study included addicts of various illicit substances who were undergoing addiction treatment. A control group received traditional treatment only, while the experimental group received traditional treatment plus neurofeedback. Researchers found that those who received neurofeedback:1
- Remained in treatment nearly 40% longer than those who received traditional addiction treatment alone
- Were much more likely to be sober 12 months after treatment (77% of the neurofeedback participants versus 44% of the control group)
- Showed improvement in attention measurements
- Showed “significant” improvement in five of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 clinical scales, including depression, schizophrenia, social introversion, hysteria and hypochondriasis
- Experienced decreased feelings of alienation, defensiveness and depression
- Were found by therapists to be “more cooperative and attentive” as they progressed through treatment
Medication assisted therapy (MAT) in combination with neurofeedback was shown to be more effective than MAT alone in another study of 20 opioid-dependent clients. Those receiving neurofeedback in addiction to MAT:2
- Experienced improved somatic symptoms (physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue, weakness, stomach upset, etc.)
- Lessened depression
- Improved overall mental health
- Had greater expectation of a positive outcome for their treatment
- Had a decreased desire to use opioids
- Experienced greater relief from withdrawal cravings
Seeing cues related to drug or alcohol use can trigger a brain reaction that leads to relapse. One study showed a decreased response to alcohol-related cues after neurofeedback3 while another showed lower response to drug-related cues.4
This is just a sampling of the many studies on neurofeedback and addiction conducted to date. It is also worthy of note that virtually all neurofeedback studies regarding substance use disorders examine neurofeedback as an additional element addiction treatment, meaning that it is not viewed as a standalone treatment.5 Each therapy has its place in a holistic addiction treatment program.
Dealing with the Boss: Your Brain
Turns out, everything really is all in your head. Your brain is the boss of your body, for better or worse. It controls nearly everything you do.
Similar to a computer system, it receives input – all that we see, taste, feel, hear and do, along with the outcomes of our actions. It then processes this input against everything we have learned up until this point, and out comes our reaction or how we act in the world, just as typing on a keyboard produces an effect on a laptop screen.
It is no surprise, therefore, that efforts to retrain the brain can be effective in treating addiction, which itself is a brain disease. Much like the rewards of illicit substance use trained your brain to seek more of the drug, at any cost, brain training in the form of neurofeedback can reduce cravings, improve your mental health, and most importantly, train you to live (and live well) without drugs or alcohol.
Are you struggling with addiction now? When you need to know where you want to go, but aren’t sure how to get there, a map is a good place to start. Brain mapping shows where you are now – unearthing issues – and points to effective therapies that restore healthy brain function. Along with MAT, counseling, and social support, brain mapping and neurofeedback are valuable tools in achieving sustained recovery.
1 Scott WC, Kaiser D, Othmer S, Sideroff SI. Effects of an EEG biofeedback protocol on a mixed substance abusing population. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2005;31(3):455‐469. doi:10.1081/ada-200056807
2 Dehghani-Arani, F., Rostami, R. & Nadali, H. Neurofeedback Training for Opiate Addiction: Improvement of Mental Health and Craving. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2013;38, 133–141. doi:10.1007/s10484-013-9218-5
3 Kirsch M, Gruber I, Ruf M, Kiefer F, Kirsch P. Real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback can reduce striatal cue-reactivity to alcohol stimuli. Addict Biol. 2016;21(4):982‐992. doi:10.1111/adb.12278
4 Horrell T, El-Baz A, Baruth J, et al. Neurofeedback Effects on Evoked and Induced EEG Gamma Band Reactivity to Drug-related Cues in Cocaine Addiction. J Neurother. 2010;14(3):195‐216. doi:10.1080/10874208.2010.501498
5 Sokhadze TM, Cannon RL, Trudeau DL. EEG biofeedback as a treatment for substance use disorders: review, rating of efficacy, and recommendations for further research. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2008;33(1):1‐28. doi:10.1007/s10484-007-9047-5