Alternative treatment focusing on the brain helps drug users beat addiction
(FOX 11) - You've heard of traditional methods like the 12-step program, group therapy and medication to treat drug addiction, but could the real secret to getting clean... Lie within the brain?
Emily Linford can now smile and laugh with her 8 month old son, but her journey to this happy place has been long and painful as a recovering drug user.
"I can't say I'll never drink or use again, but I can say I'll never forget the day they took him," Linford said.
That day was April 17, 2017 after Emily had given birth to her son while addicted to heroine.
Social workers took custody of her son who was placed in foster care.
"I was never going to give up on him and I was going to do whatever it took to get him back," she said.
Getting her son back meant entering a treatment center to get clean.
Linford said she researched different treatments and then found something called neurofeedback, which is an alternative treatment that focuses on the brain.
Questions about whether neurofeed back works and if it's effective have been the subject of industry research.
FOX 11 spoke with Deborah Whitney, the CEO of Pure Recovery in Ventura, where Linford entered this new type of rehab.
"We're actually teaching the brain to go from a pattern that's dysfunction like your doing drugs and making poor decisions and you don't feel calm, to teach the brain to be calm and re-regulate back to normal," Whitney explained.
Neurofeedback became a key component when this center opened two years ago.
During treatment, patients are hooked to an EEG machine that measures their brain activity in real time.
With "brain games" that simulate different scenarios, the center's neuroscientist Rebecca Bassham said neuro-feedback encourages patients to think clearly and calmly which is opposite of the foggy and racing thoughts they experienced while on drugs.
"What I want you to do now Zach is focus on your breathing and think about calm thoughts," Bassham said during a session. "See this area that's red that part is running too hot."
Former patient Zach Novickoff is in Bassham's treatment room.
As his brain begins to calm the game rewards him with visual and audio stimulation before brain activity normalizing reflects on the EEG scan.
"When your brain is green here that means it's regulating," Bassham said. "That's in the normal range of activity for someone your age and gender."
At just 24 years old, Novickoff had been addicted to opioids for ten years prior to treatment.
"The only way to deal with myself and calm myself was to get loaded," he said. "When I started getting this neurofeedback it made it easier for me to make better decisions."
Novickoff said he's been off drugs since starting the treatment.
Patients who spoke with FOX 11 with report needing at least 30 days of treatment before seeing results.
Neurofeedback is also being looked at for a whole host of conditions including ADHD and concussion treatment.
Still, some experts warn that there's little scientific evidence this alternative treatment has any long-term success in treating addiction-- the verdict is still out.
"Despite some promising studies and some really promising research this is still considered to be an alternative treatment," Dr. Jenn Mann, Psychotherapist, said. "A person who has an addiction is not going to get better just by this kind of therapy alone."
According to Dr. Mann, addicts seeking help should look for treatment centers that are well established, encourage a 12-step program, have licensed therapists and a medical director, and provide aftercare for patients.
She also said be wary of any facility that promises a quick fix.
"I do think people are looking for shortcuts to getting clean and sober," Dr. Mann said. "It's an incredibly painful and difficult process and there's just no avoiding that."
The people behind neurofeedback agree that any addiction recovery is a long process.
Still patients undergoing the neuro-feedback brain scans say they're seeing promise:
"It's really about the willingness of the person in front of us," Whitney said. "If they want it we can get them there."
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