New technology offers hope to addicts
By Lara Krupicka For The Beacon-News
“It was a great sense of hope for individuals going through addiction,” says Katie McGuine, community liaison for Linden Oaks, of a recent event at the Naperville Public Library.
At the presentation, “Unchain Your Brain,” Jeff Lucas, certified drug and alcohol counselor at Isenberg & Associates in Naperville, together with Dr. Paul Capriotti of Linden Oaks Hospital, shared information about advances in drug addiction treatment that focus on neurological aspects of the disease.
“Addiction is being re-understood as a brain disease,” Lucas says. “It has helped to break the myth that addiction is a moral failing. It’s really a health problem.”
Lucas explains that over time, drug usage changes the chemistry and energy in the brain. The brain becomes caught up in a cycle of dependence and compulsion. To break the addiction then, addicts must retrain the brain. This training happens through a method called “Brainwave Optimization,” an advancement in traditional neurofeedback.
“Addicted persons keep using drugs because the brain has been changed so much,” Lucas says. “The reward centers — pleasure and motivation and self control are taken over by the drugs. The person is out of control.”
In brainwave optimization, the client is connected by sensors to a feedback machine, which measures the brainwaves and sends the frequencies back to the client through headphones. Without any effort from the client, the brain immediately detects imbalances in the frequencies — more patterns on one side of the brain than the other — and begins to adjust and correct. As the brainwaves come into balance, clients notice a greater sense of calm and feel less reactive.
The treatment works to counter abnormalities related to the effects of drugs on dopamine production in the brain. Drugs cause the brain to produce more of this reward- and pleasure-related neurotransmitter. As Lucas says, they send a flood of dopamine to the reward circuit — 10 times more than normal and much more rapidly.
Over time then, he explains, the brain stops naturally producing as much dopamine, leaving addicts depressed. “At that point, many take drugs to simply feel normal,” Lucas says.
For some addictions, such as alcohol, clients experience complete relief from cravings within two to three days of neurofeedback sessions twice a day. Other addictions, such as heroin, require longer treatment. For these clients, brainwave optimization works once they are sober but still experiencing cravings. It can be particularly helpful in tapering off withdrawal treatments.
Lucas sees promise in brainwave optimization particularly for teens who aren’t eligible for treatments commonly used by adults, such as methadone maintenance (medication used to prevent withdrawal symptoms); or treatments which aren’t as effective at younger ages, such as a 12-step program.
Because of its non-invasive nature, Lucas believes neurofeedback can play a positive role in teen addiction treatment.
Dr. Capriotti also encourages parents of teens struggling with addictions to make sure underlying issues, such as stress or depression, are treated to ensure the greatest success. And he encourages families to stay involved in treatment.
“I would look at really being proactive, as parents, in being involved in treatment,” Capriotti urges.
Audience members raised questions about the possibilities surrounding brainwave optimization. While Lucas admits to a recovered addict that brainwave optimization wouldn’t allow him to return to a casual use of substances, he does offer hope to another questioner.
“What about someone who’s been using drugs for 15 years?” the audience member asks.
Lucas is optimistic about the potential results, even in such a circumstance.
Pinpointing what makes the treatment such a hopeful option, he notes, “it restores the addict’s ability to choose.”