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Neurofeedback Training as a New Method in Treatment of Crystal Methamphetamine Dependent Patients: A Preliminary Study

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Abstract

This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of neurofeedback (NFB) plus pharmacotherapy with pharmacotherapy alone, on addiction severity, mental health, and quality of life in crystal methamphetamine-dependent (CMD) patients. The study included 100 CMD patients undergoing a medical treatment who volunteered for this randomized controlled trial. After being evaluated by a battery of questionnaires that included addiction severity index questionnaire, Symptoms Check List 90 version, and World Health Organization Quality of Life, the participants were randomly assigned to an experimental or a control group. The experimental group received thirty 50-min sessions of NFB in addition to their usual medication over a 2-month period; meanwhile, the control group received only their usual medication. In accordance with this study's pre-test-post-test design, both study groups were evaluated again after completing their respective treatment regimens. Multivariate analysis of covariance showed the experimental group to have lower severity of addiction, better psychological health, and better quality of life in than the control group. The differences between the two groups were statistically significant. These finding suggest that NFB can be used to improve the effectiveness of treatment results in CMD patients.
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Applied Psychophysiology and
Biofeedback
In association with the Association
for Applied Psychophysiology and
Biofeedback
ISSN 1090-0586
Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback
DOI 10.1007/s10484-015-9281-1
Neurofeedback Training as a New Method
in Treatment of Crystal Methamphetamine
Dependent Patients: A Preliminary Study
R.Rostami & F.Dehghani-Arani
1 23
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Neurofeedback Training as a New Method in Treatment
of Crystal Methamphetamine Dependent Patients: A Preliminary
Study
R. Rostami
1
F. Dehghani-Arani
2
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media New York 2015
Abstract This study aimed to compare the effectiveness
of neurofeedback (NFB) plus pharmacotherapy with
pharmacotherapy alone, on addiction severity, mental
health, and quality of life in crystal methamphetamine-
dependent (CMD) patients. The study included 100 CMD
patients undergoing a medical treatment who volunteered
for this randomized controlled trial. After being evaluated
by a battery of questionnaires that included addiction
severity index questionnaire, Symptoms Check List 90
version, and World Health Organization Quality of Life,
the participants were randomly assigned to an experimental
or a control group. The experimental group received thirty
50-min sessions of NFB in addition to their usual
medication over a 2-month period; meanwhile, the control
group received only their usual medication. In accordance
with this study’s pre-test–post-test design, both study
groups were evaluated again after completing their re-
spective treatment regimens. Multivariate analysis of co-
variance showed the experimental group to have lower
severity of addiction, better psychological health, and
better quality of life in than the control group. The dif-
ferences between the two groups were statistically sig-
nificant. These finding suggest that NFB can be used to
improve the effectiveness of treatment results in CMD
patients.
Keywords Crystal methamphetamine dependency
Neurofeedback Addiction severity Mental health
Quality of life Effectiveness
Introduction
Substance dependence disorder (SDD) or addiction has
been described as a chronic, relapsing mental disorder that
results from the prolonged effects of drugs on the brain
(Volkow et al. 2004). This disorder is believed to take
control of a patient’s brain and behavior by activating and
reinforcing behavioral patterns that become excessively
attracted to compulsive drug use (Trudeau et al. 2009).
Crystal methamphetamine dependency (CMD), as a type of
SDD that has been prevalent in recent years (Hunter et al.
2012), has been found to include psychological effects such
as euphoria, anxiety, alertness, irritability, aggressiveness,
psychosomatic disorders, psychomotor agitation, delusions
of grandiosity, hallucinations, excessive feelings of power
and invincibility, repetitive and obsessive behaviors,
paranoia, and with chronic use and/or high doses, am-
phetamine psychosis can occur (Brands et al. 2011).
As Gossop et al. (2002) mentioned, while major phar-
macotherapy and psychotherapy approaches have been
employed to treat SDD, there has been little significant
improvement in treatment and the relapse rate has re-
mained high. They reported that 60 % of heroin addicts
relapsed 1 year following SDD treatment. This rate could
be even higher in methamphetamine addicts as Brands
et al. (2011) mentioned that treatment of methamphetamine
dependency is more complex than other substances. Also,
most of these patients have comorbid neuro-psycho-
physiological conditions which may require comprehensive
assessments during the course of therapy to determine the
&F. Dehghani-Arani
f.dehghani.a@ut.ac.ir
1
University of Tehran, 1445983861 Tehran, Iran
2
Department of Psychology, University of Tehran, Dr Kardan
Street, Nasr Bridge, Jalal Al Ahmad Street, Chamran
Highway, 1445983861 Tehran, Iran
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DOI 10.1007/s10484-015-9281-1
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need for adding different treatments, i.e., neurotherapy,
medication or psychotherapy to integrate into the treatment
plan (Trudeau et al. 2009).
Accordingly, in recent years, the neuro-psycho-physio-
logical dimensions of SDD have attracted a great deal of
scientific attention (Sokhadze et al. 2008,2011). Volkow
et al. (1988) were the first to use positron emission to-
mography (PET), as a new neurophysiological method, to
study the effects of cocaine on the human brain. Recently
quantitative electro-encephalo-graphy (QEEG) has been
employed as a type of brain mapping technique that is
capable of identifying some neurophysiological abnor-
malities (Newton et al. 2003). The QEEG activity of CMD
patients is characterized by alterations mainly within the
alpha, theta, SMR and beta bands (Alper et al. 1998;
Sokhadze et al. 2008). These studies have played vital roles
in ascertaining the interactions between the SDD, brain,
and human behavior. Certain symptoms of SDD such as
craving, impulsiveness, psychological and psychological
problems are believed to be the result of pathological
neurophysiology; and on the other hand this pathological
neurophysiology is a kind of damaged brain function which
can be the result of prolonged substance abuse (Sokhadze
et al. 2011; Trudeau et al. 2009; Volkow et al. 2004).
These neuro-psycho-physiological abnormalities in
SDD and CMD, as well as those mentioned limitations of
pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy, underline the need
for complementary therapeutic methods for this disorder,
which contain long-lasting effects and minimal side effects
(Trudeau et al. 2009; Unterrainer et al. 2014). Neurofeed-
back (NFB), as a form of EEG biofeedback, appears to be
one of these promising complementary therapeutic meth-
ods. NFB is an operant conditioning technique that trains
the mind to act in a more optimal way in order to improve
emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical experiences.
It can be used to turn abnormal rhythms and frequencies
into relatively normal rhythms and frequencies and sub-
sequently turn abnormal psychological states into normal
ones (Scott et al. 2005; Simkin et al. 2014). This method
has been used as a therapeutic method for SDD and as the
literature reported its use has been associated with re-
formed negative neuropsychological consequences of
substance abuse, reduced drug-seeking symptoms, im-
proved psychological and neurophysiological variables,
and longer abstinence (Burkett et al. 2005; Dehghani-Arani
et al. 2013; Kaiser et al. 1999; Peniston and Kulkosky
1989; Peniston and Saxby 1995; Sokhadze et al. 2008;
Unterrainer et al. 2014).
The first NFB protocol was alpha training that was
employed in SDD by Passini et al. (1977), who showed the
effects of alpha NFB training in reducing anxiety and im-
provement in the personality measuring scales in SDD
patients. Goldberg et al. (1976) also pointed out that the
alpha conditioning program reduced drug use and in-
creased self-control in four addicted patients. Thereafter,
the treatment of addictive disorders by NFB was popular-
ized by the work of (Peniston and Kulkosky 1989) in which
10 alcoholic patients underwent approximately 40 al-
pha/theta brain wave training sessions. Eight of them re-
mained generally abstinent at least 3 years after NFB
treatment. Fahrion, Walters, Coyne and Allen repeated
these results in 1992 in a controlled case study. The same
results were repeated in studies conducted by Bodehnamer
and Callaway (2004) and Burkett et al. (2005) on crack-
cocaine abusers. They found that the addition of Peniston
alpha/theta protocol to crack cocaine treatment regimens
may promise to be an effective intervention for treating
crack cocaine abuse and increasing treatment retention. In
another study by Raymond et al. (2005), subjects who re-
ceived alpha-theta training showed significant improve-
ment in mood and Minnesota multiphase personality
inventory-2 (MMPI-2) scores. Follow-up studies also re-
ported consistent treatment outcomes in alcohol- or drug-
addicted clients who completed an alpha/theta NFB pro-
tocol (Kelley 1997; Trudeau 2000). Trudeau (2005)
showed the same results on the effectiveness of NFB in
adolescents with SDD.
In 2005 Scott et al. extended the Pension’s traditional
alpha/theta NFB protocol to treat patients with mixed SDD,
rich in stimulant abusers. Chronic EEG abnormalities and
high incidence of pre-existing ADHD in stimulant abusers
suggest that they may be less able to engage in the hyp-
nagogic and auto-suggestive Peniston protocol. Further-
more, eyes-closed alpha feedback as a starting protocol
may be deleterious in stimulant abusers because their most
common QEEG abnormality is excess frontal alpha (Scott
et al. 2005; see also Simkin et al. 2014; Trudeau et al.
2009). According to this explanation, in Scott et al. (2005)
study, patients who had abused stimulants were treated
using attention-deficit type NFB protocols (beta and/or
SMR augmentation with theta suppression), followed by
the Peniston Protocol. The beta and/or SMR protocol used
to normalize attention, and then the standard Peniston
protocol without temperature training apply. This treatment
approach is now widely known as the Scott–Kaiser
modifications of the Peniston Protocol (Sokhadze et al.
2008). In their study, Scott et al. (2005) found that this
protocol doubled the recovery rate for drug dependence.
They documented significant improvements in psycho-
logical functioning and the ability of the experimental
group to focus their thoughts and to process information. In
addition, findings revealed substantial improvement in
long-term abstinence rates in these patients. After only
45 days of treatment, almost one-third of the control group
had dropped out of treatment residential facility compared
with only 6 % of the experimental group.
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Next studies have evaluated the treatment outcomes of
Scott–Kaiser NFB Protocol in SDD. Burkett et al. (2005)
study showed that the addition of this NFB protocol to
crack cocaine treatment regimens caused a significant de-
crease relapse, depression, and anxiety rates compared to
conventional forms of SDD treatment. At follow-up, par-
ticipants regularly reported no uses, or one through nine
uses. Dehghani-Arani et al. (2013) also compared results of
30 sessions of NFB being provided to opioid dependent
patients undergoing outpatient treatment (methadone or
Buprenorpine maintenance), in comparison with a control
group that received outpatient treatment alone. Patients
receiving NFB showed significantly more improvements in
general health and craving. The last study is the Unter-
rainer et al. (2014) study in which a mixed substance
misuse case received 11 sessions including a 2-month
follow-up of NFB protocol combined with short-term
psychodynamic psychotherapy. Pre/post-treatment and
follow-up assessment confirmed a significant psy-
chopathology reduction. Furthermore, there was no relapse
during the follow-up phase of the study.
Altogether, Sokhadze et al. (2011) have validated the
immense potential that NFB protocols have to likely dou-
ble if not triple the outcome rates in alcoholism and SDD
treatment when they are added as an additional component
to a comprehensive treatment program. It is because of this
method’s potential to improve attention, emotion, and be-
havior self-regulation skills in patients with SDD. Inter-
ventions that incorporate NFB techniques are aimed to
reeducate patients to control and self-regulate their emo-
tional and motivational states, and to reestablish the normal
biological, cognitive, behavioral, and hedonic homeostasis
distorted by SDD (Sokhadze et al. 2008; White and
Richards 2009; Unterrainer et al. 2014).
Despite these promising findings, no study has focused
specially on CMD, while the prevalence of this substance
abuse is increasing (Brands et al. 2011). Previous studies
that used NFB as a treatment method showed positive re-
sults, but typically possessed an important limitation that
reduced their usefulness in treating methamphetamine
disorders: most of these studies involved alcoholic or
mixed abuse patients, and no experimental studies included
a control group on methamphetamine disorders. Present
study is the first to have examined the effectiveness of NFB
especially in CMD patients, in which the effectiveness of
NFB plus pharmacotherapy with pharmacotherapy alone in
two experimental and control group of CMD patients has
been compared. Pre- and post-treatment questionnaires
provided data for the evaluation of patients’ addiction
severity, psychological symptoms and quality of life. In
this simple randomized controlled study it has been hy-
pothesized that the experimental group will show more
improvement in addiction severity, psychological symp-
toms and quality of life in comparison with the control
group. Accordingly, this study was designed to evaluate the
notion that NFB can improve abnormalities of CMD.
Materials and Methods
Participants
Subjects were 100 men aged 17–50 years who were re-
cruited from an outpatient clinic for treatment of SDD.
Inclusion criteria were having CMD disorder according to
DSM-IV-R criteria, receiving at least 5 months of psy-
chopharmacotherapy for SDD, and at least 1 month of
abstinence from substance abuse. Exclusion criteria were
comorbidities such as anoxia, head trauma, stroke, en-
cephalitis, or HIV. After providing signed informed con-
sent, during the pretreatment phase, the participants
underwent blood and urine tests for abstinence; passed
structured clinical interview for aforementioned comor-
bidities; and responded to questionnaires on addiction
severity, psychological health, and quality of life (i.e., ASI,
SCL-90, and WHOQOL). The participants were then ran-
domly assigned to an experimental group or a control
group. There were no significant differences between the
groups at demographic characteristics including age
(t=.21, ns), abstinence (t=-.25, ns), and education
(t=.39, ns) (see also Table 1). Both groups were receiv-
ing pharmacotherapy for SDD. On this purpose, all par-
ticipants had a medical file included a SSRI regimen in an
SDD outpatient clinic in Tehran. This file was being
checked every week by our psychiatrist who was expert in
MCD treatment. The experimental group also received 30
sessions of NFB in addition to their pharmacotherapy. All
stages of the study had been administered and reviewed by
‘study, research and instruction board of Iran Drug Control
Headquarters’’.
Table 1 Demographic data for
the experimental and control
groups
Group N Age Abstinence (months) Education (years)
Mean SD Range Mean SD Range Mean SD Range
Experimental 50 29.2 7.07 17–50 3 1.87 1–5 14.41 1.72 12–16
Control 50 28.89 7.65 18–50 3.1 2.1 1–5 14.3 1.01 12–16
Total 100 28.5 7.32 17–50 3 1.98 1–5 14.35 1.36 12–16
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Experimental Procedure
The duration of the NFB program administered to the pa-
tients in the experimental group was 2 months of thirty
50-min sessions. The patients in the control group spent the
2 months waiting for the program. As crystal metham-
phetamine is a subtype of stimulant substances, in our study
we applied the Scott–Kaiser modification of the Peniston
protocol which is dedicated for a population of subjects with
a history of stimulant abuse. Based on this protocol, the NFB
training protocols in the first 10 sessions were bipolar sen-
sory motor rhythm (SMR) training protocols in the C
4
(the
central brain cortex) and Pz (the central parietal cortex) ar-
eas, and bipolar beta training protocols in the C
3
(the left
central cortex) and FPz (the central fronto-parietal cortex)
areas, with each protocol lasting 25 min. After these begin-
ning sessions, we decreased the time of SMR and beta
training protocols and added 20 min of monopolar al-
pha/theta training protocols in the Pz (the central parietal
brain cortex) area and continued to increase the time of this
protocol until the final sessions. All these protocols were
performed using the Thought Technology ProComp 2 sys-
tem, a single-subject EEG used for self-training, research,
and for working with others. The Thought Technology
ProComp 2 system displayed the brain’s electrical activity
(via electodes placed on the patient’s scalp) on a monitor in
the form of an audio/visual exercise. The feedback informed
the patients of his success in making changes. The training
was introduced as a computer game in which patients could
score points using their brain. Subjects were advised to be
attentive to the feedback and to find the most successful
mental strategy to get as many points as possible; They re-
ceived no other specific instructions.
In the SMR and beta training protocols, the feedback
was audio/visual. Active electrodes were placed at the C
4
and C
3
areas and referenced with the Pz and FPz areas. A
ground electrode was placed on the left-ear. In this pro-
gram, the reinforcement band was composed of SMR
(12–15 Hz) and beta (15–18 Hz) frequency bands in each
protocol, and the suppressed bands were delta (2–5 Hz),
theta (5–8 Hz) and high beta (18–30 Hz) frequency bands
in both protocols. Thresholds were adjusted such that when
subjects maintained the reinforcement band above the
threshold for 80 % of the time during at least .5 s, and the
suppressed band below the threshold for 20 % of the time,
feedback was received. When the subjects were able to
maintain the reinforcement band above the threshold for
90 % of the time during two continuous trials, the threshold
was changed automatically so that it was closer to the
optimal threshold (Scott et al. 2005).
Feedback in the alpha/theta training protocol on the Pz
area was only in the audio format. In this protocol, the
subjects closed their eyes, and only listened to the sound
being played to them. Three pathways connected with this
protocol were dedicated to the theta (5–8 Hz), alpha
(8–12 Hz), and beta (15–18 Hz) frequency bands, while an
additional pathway was used to control the delta (2–5 Hz)
frequency band. The initial sessions were used to train
patients to decrease alpha levels that were C12 mV (peak
to peak), while augmenting theta levels, until there was
‘crossover.’’ This was defined as the point at which the
alpha amplitude dropped below the theta level. After
achieving the first crossover, both alpha and theta fre-
quencies were augmented and the delta frequency range
was inhibited. This was intended to discourage the sleep
transition during low-arousal states. Each alpha/theta ses-
sion began with the subject sitting in a chair with eyes
closed. The active electrode was placed at the Pz area with
a left-ear reference (A1) and right-ear ground (A2). Two
distinct tones were employed for alpha and theta rein-
forcement, with the higher pitched sound used to index the
higher-frequency alpha band. At the start of each session,
the therapist spent 3–5 min reading a script of guided im-
agery to the experimental subject that dealt with identified
essential elements of maintaining abstinence. After the
guided imagery, the subjects were clearly informed that the
objective of the training did not involve explicit rehearsal
of the script during the NFB. Subjects reporting previous
meditative practices were asked not to use them during the
training, because meditation has been observed to override
the alpha/theta reinforcement effects (Scott et al. 2005).
Following alpha/theta training, the subjects were given the
opportunity to process their experience. When it appeared
that subjects’ delta activity began to increase and that sleep
might occur during training, those subjects were told prior
to their next session to move a limb if they heard the
therapist say for example ‘‘left hand.’’ Subsequently, dur-
ing sessions where delta was increasing toward no re-
sponsiveness levels, the feedback sounds were inhibited in
order to discourage the sleep transition (Peniston and
Saxby 1995; Scott et al. 2005).
Instruments
The addiction severity index (ASI; McLellan et al. 1980),
Symptoms Check List 90 version (SCL-90; Derogatis et al.
1973), and world health organization quality of life
(WHOQOL; Skevington et al. 2004) questionnaires were
used to evaluate the subjects on addiction severity, psy-
chological health, and quality of life, respectively, before
and after treatment.
ASI is the most widely used instrument in clinical and
research situations that assess the intensity of addiction in
individuals with all types of SDDs. It is a semi-structured
instrument used in face-to-face interviews conducted by
clinicians, researchers or trained technicians. The
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instrument covers 7 areas of a SDD patient’s life: medical
condition, employment/support, drug, alcohol, legal,
family/social, and psychiatric problems. Each area has the
range of .000–1.000 possible scores in which higher scores
indicate more intensive problem in that area. The ASI
obtains lifetime information about problems, as well as
problems within the previous 30 days (Cacciola et al.
2011). Studies have shown its high reliability and validity
(Feelemyer et al. 2014; McLellan et al. 1980; McMahon
2008; Zemore 2012).
SCL-90-R is a widely used instrument composed of 90
items describing psychiatric and medical symptoms. Pa-
tients are asked to rate the severity of their experiences
with 90 items over the past week on a 5-point scale ranging
from 0 ‘‘not at all’’ to 4 ‘‘extremely’’. It consists of 9
symptom dimensions including somatization, obsessive–
compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, anxiety,
hostility, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation, and psychoti-
cism. Each dimension has the range of 0–4 possible scores
that the higher scores indicate greater psychopathology
(Derogatis et al. 1973; Prinz et al. 2013). This instrument
has been normed on four groups: adult psychiatric outpa-
tients, adult nonpatients, adult psychiatric inpatients, and
adolescent nonpatients and studies have shown its sig-
nificant validity and reliability (Bergly et al. 2014; Dero-
gatis 1994; Prinz et al. 2013; Urba
´n et al. 2014).
WHOQOL has been developed by WHO group as a self-
appraise instrument for evaluating quality of life. The brief
version of this measure includes 26 items, encompassing
four major domains of quality of life: physical health (7
items), mental health (6 items), social relation, (3 items) and
environmental health (8 items), in addition of 2 items from
the general facet (Skevington et al. 2004). Each domain is
made up of questions for which according to a Likert scale,
the scores vary between 1 ‘‘very poor’’ to 5 ‘‘very good’’. The
mean score in each domain indicates the individual’s per-
ception of their satisfaction with each aspect of their life,
relating it with quality of life. Higher scores show better
perceived quality of life. The brief version of WHOQOL is
commonly used for academic research, clinical evaluations,
and cross-cultural comparisons (Hsiao et al. 2014). This in-
strument has been validated on a wide range of conditions
and its scores are sensitive to changes in clinical condition.
Furthermore, studies have showed its excellent psycho-
metric properties (Feelemyer et al. 2014; Skevington et al.
2014; Skevington and McCrate 2012; Tracy et al. 2012).
Results
The results obtained in the pre and post-treatment phases
for the experimental and control groups were analyzed
using the SPSS.16 tool. To determine whether NFB plus
pharmacotherapy was more effective than pharma-
cotherapy alone, the scores of the experimental and the
control groups in pre- and post-treatment stages were
compared using Multivariate Analysis of Covariance
(MANCOVA). A separate MANCOVA was performed for
each of the three major dependent variables (i.e. addiction
severity, mental health, and quality of life):
Addiction Severity
For the first MANCOVA, the scores of the post-treatment
indexes of ASI served as the dependent variables, the in-
tervention (NFB in two experimental and control group
levels) as the independent variable, and the scores of pre-
treatment indexes of ASI as the covariates. After examin-
ing the hypothesis of normality, linearity, univariate and
multivariate outliers, homogeneity of variance–covariance
matrices, and multicollinearity, with no serious violation
noted, the effect of intervention with the indexes of ASI
was studied. This analysis yielded a significant multivariate
groups main effect [W=.34; F(6, 49) =7.62, q=.001]
which showed that there was a significant difference be-
tween the groups on the combined dependent variables
(indexes of ASI), and the group variable (intervention)
could establish 47 % of this difference (g
2
=.47). These
primary findings justified separate examination of each
indexes of ASI effects.
Descriptive statistics for the experimental and control
groups, the pre- and post-test scores of indexes of ASI are
shown in Table 2and graphically displayed in Fig. 1.
MANCOVA results are presented in Table 3, where it is
apparent that the intervention produced significant change
in the medical condition [F(1, 99) =3.77; p=.04], em-
ployment [F(1, 99) =5.92; p=.01], drug use [F(1,
99) =17.14; p=.0001], legal problems [F(1,
99) =13.31; p=.0001], and psychiatric problems [F(1,
99) =17.75; p=.0001]. It can be argued that the inde-
pendent variable caused a significant difference between
Table 2 Descriptive indexes for the ASI prior to and following
treatment
Variables Experimental Control
Mean SD Mean SD
Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post
Medical .25 .04 .22 .13 .26 .12 .23 .22
Employment .51 .48 .32 .31 .51 .55 .3 .35
Drug use .10 .02 .08 .04 .11 .06 .07 .08
Alcohol use .04 .01 .09 .04 .04 .03 .08 .08
Legal .09 0 .12 0 .09 .06 .12 .11
Family .33 .1 .24 .11 .34 .27 .23 .23
Psychiatric .44 .11 .21 .09 .43 .28 .21 .2
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the experimental and control groups in these dimensions of
addiction severity. Pre- and post-test means’ comparison in
these dimensions say that their changes were reduction of
their intensity. No differences in alcohol use and family
problems were observed between the groups. On the other
hand, Etta coefficients show that the effect size of inde-
pendent variable (grouping) is small in Medical and Em-
ployment variables, but also average in Drug use, Legal
and Psychiatric. So it could be concluded that the group
factor (NFB intervention) has had just a small or average
role on changes occurred in these areas of addiction
severity, but it had been still a significant effect.
Psychological Symptoms
In second MANCOVA, the scores of the post-treatment
indexes of SCL-90 served as the dependent variables, the
intervention (in two levels) as the independent variable,
and the scores of pre-treatment SCL-90 indexes as the
covariates. After examining the hypothesis of normality,
linearity, univariate and multivariate outliers, homogeneity
of variance–covariance matrices, and multicollinearity,
with no serious violation noted, the effect of intervention
with the indexes of ASI was studied. This analysis yielded
a significant multivariate groups main effect [W=.27;
F(8, 49) =14.01, q=.001] which showed that there was
a significant difference between the groups on the com-
bined dependent variables (indexes of SCL-90), and the
group variable (intervention) could establish 83 % of this
difference (g
2
=.83). These primary findings justified
separate examination of each indexes of SCL-90 effects.
Descriptive results in means and standard deviations of
the experimental and control groups in the pre- and post-
test scores of SCL-90 are shown in Table 4.
MANCOVA of SCL-90 indexes showed the ex-
perimental group, compared with the control group, to be
changed on the scales of somatization [F(1, 99) =37.9;
p=.01], obsessive–compulsive [F(1, 99) =23.98;
p=.001], interpersonal sensitivity [F(1, 99) =4.94;
p=.04], anxiety [F(1, 99) =21.32; p=.002], and hos-
tility [F(1, 99) =4.8; p=.04] but not on the scales of
depression, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation, and psy-
chotics (Table 5). Comparison of the pre- and post-test
means in scales with significant changes, clarify that they
reduced in post stage which means the reduction of
symptoms severity. Etta coefficients show that the effect
size of independent variable is average and the group factor
(NFB intervention) caused 40–75 % of changes occurred in
these scales of psychological symptoms.
The results of pre- versus post-test assessments of the
symptoms subscales in the experimental and control groups
are presented in Fig. 2.
Quality of Life
Finally in the last MANCOVA, the scores of the post-treat-
ment indexes of WHOQOL served as the dependent
Fig. 1 Pre and post test results of ASI subscales in experimental and control groups
Table 3 Results of MANCOVA for ASI subscales in the ex-
perimental and control groups
Variable F Sig. g
2
Medical 3.77 .04* .04
Employment 5.92 .01** .06
Drug 17.14 .0001*** .15
Alcohol .46 .49 0
Legal 13.31 .0001*** .12
Family/social 3.15 .07 .03
Psychiatric 17.75 .0001*** .16
df =(1, 99); * p\.05; ** p\.01; *** p\.001
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variables, the intervention (in two levels) as the independent
variable, and the scores of pre-treatment indexes of WHO-
QOL as the covariates. After examining the hypothesis of
normality, linearity, univariate and multivariate outliers,
homogeneity of variance–covariance matrices, and multi-
collinearity, with no serious violation noted, the effect of
intervention with the indexes of ASI was studied. This ana-
lysis yielded a significant multivariate groups main effect
[W=.41; F(5, 49) =5.62, q=.03] which showed that
there was a significant difference between the groups on the
combined dependent variables (indexes of WHOQOL), and
the group variable (intervention) could establish 39 % of this
difference (g
2
=.39). These primary findings justified
separate examination of each indexes of WHOQOL effects.
The means and standard deviations of WHOQOL pre-
and post-test assessments in the experimental and control
groups are presented in Table 6.
Table 7shows the results of MANCOVA of WHOQOL.
These results suggested that changes were significant in the
scales of mental health [F(1, 99) =5.5; p=.02], social
relation [F(1, 99) =3.96; p=.04], general health status
[F(1, 99) =5.15; p=.02], and general quality of life
Table 4 Descriptive indexes
for the SCL-90-R prior to and
following treatment
Variables Experimental Control
Mean SD Mean SD
Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post
Somatization 1.33 .57 .67 .41 1.32 1.19 .68 .82
Obsessive–compulsive 1.71 1 .69 .63 1.75 1.75 .64 .82
Interpersonal sensitivity 1.40 .71 .72 .47 1.39 1.14 .73 .79
Depression 1.65 .83 .72 .56 1.65 1.24 .71 .87
Anxiety 1.40 .07 .7 .56 1.4 1.04 .7 .72
Hostility 1.13 .64 .61 .42 1.15 1.16 .59 .69
Phobic anxiety .6 .37 .32 .36 .6 .4 .31 .36
Paranoid ideation 1.48 .94 .75 .59 1.49 1 .75 .66
Psychotics 1.25 1.11 .63 .34 1.25 .98 .6 .56
Fig. 2 Pre and post test results of SCL-90-R subscales in experimental and control groups
Table 5 Results of MANCOVA for SCL-90-R subscales in the ex-
perimental and control groups
Variable F Sig. g
2
Somatization 37.9 .01* .53
Obsessive–compulsive 23.98 .001** .75
Interpersonal sensitivity 4.94 .04* .42
Depression 1.56 .24 .16
Anxiety 21.32 .002** .72
Hostility 4.8 .04* .4
Phobic anxiety 0 .9 0
Paranoid ideation .01 .9 .02
Psychotics 1.46 .26 .15
df =(1, 99); * p\.05; ** p\.01
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[F(1, 99) =4.39; p=.03]. By comparing the pre- and
post-test means it can be seen that the changes were en-
hancement of these QOL scales. However, no changes
were observed in the scales of physical health and envi-
ronmental health. Etta coefficients show a small effect size
for independent variable. According to these findings,
although the group effect was significant, but it has had just
a small role on changes occurred in scales of QOL.
Figure 3shows the pre- and post-test results of WHO-
QOL for the experimental and control groups.
Discussion
The results of present study showed that NFB plus phar-
machotherapy, in comparison with pharmachotherapy
alone, generate more improvement in severity of addiction,
mental health, and quality of life in CMD patients. Earlier
studies on alcoholic patients (Passini et al. 1977; Bod-
ehnamer and Callaway 2004; Burkett et al. 2005; Raymond
et al. 2005) demonstrated improvement similar to that
observed in our study in which the experimental group that
received NFB showed greater improvement than the con-
trol group. Our study also provides support for the study by
Scott et al. (2005) that showed an increase in psychological
health in patients with mixed SDD receiving NFB and for
the studies by Passini et al. (1977) and Peniston and
Kulkosky (1989) that found significant differences in
anxiety signs. Prior to present study Unterrainer et al.
(2014) also had found significant results confirming the
efficacy of NFB in a case of adolescent with substance
misuse. The most important finding subscribe to all these
studies, as could be concluded in present study too, is that
in SDD treatment, a combination of different treatment
approaches including pharmachotherapy, psychotherapy,
Table 7 Results of MANCOVA for WHOQOL subscales in the
experimental and control groups
Variable F Sig. g
2
Physical health 1.58 .21 .03
Mental health 5.5 .02* .13
Social relation 3.96 .04* .09
Environmental health 1.3 .26 .03
General quality of life 4.39 .03* .12
General health status 5.15 .02* .11
df =(1, 99); * p\.05
Fig. 3 Pre and post test results of WHOQOL subscales in experimental and control groups
Table 6 Descriptive indexes
for the WHOQOL prior to and
following treatment
Variables Experimental Control
Mean SD Mean SD
Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post
Physical health 18.2 18.9 4.1 4 18.28 18.88 4 4.12
Mental health 16.22 17.48 4.09 3.07 16.3 16.21 3.98 3.89
Social relation 7.58 9.05 2.88 2.2 7.28 7.82 2.68 2.89
Environmental health 23 23.62 5.55 1.4 23.02 23.12 5.42 5.4
General quality of life 2.94 3.95 1.89 1.07 2.84 2.76 1.92 1.96
General health status 3.26 4.17 1.24 1.11 3.26 4.15 1.21 1.14
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and neurotherapeutic methods such as NFB is highly more
effective than using a one-dimensional method. It is more
vital in more complex SDDs such as CMD.
Although pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy ap-
proaches alone can lead to some improvement in CMD
patients, they come with weak points that include side ef-
fects and the high risk of relapse (Simkin et al. 2014;
Gossop et al. 2002). Because NFB, on the other hand, deals
with the fundamental operational functions of the brain and
acts as a mechanism for the brain to self-regulate, it has the
ability to correct irregular brain functions and consequently
improve psychological abnormalities. Furthermore, re-
searches confirmed the stability of NFB effects and its
prevention of negative side effects (Hammond 2011; Un-
terrainer et al. 2014). Thus, pharmacotherapy can be used
to maintain the initial balance between physiological and
psychological health in SDD and then NFB training can be
used to guide the patient toward longer lasting health and
balance (Trudeau et al. 2009).
Nowadays, several theoretical opinions exist on the
fundamental mechanisms of effectiveness of NFB as a
therapeutic method for SDD. Most of these opinions con-
centrated on the Pension’s alpha-theta protocol. McPeak
et al. (1991), Rosenfeld (1992), and Taub et al. (1994)
introduced this protocol as a kind of meditation technique
and suggested that self-induced altered states found in
various forms of meditation can sometimes replace the
self-destructive pursuit of alcohol and drugs. Cowan (1994)
suggested that the effectiveness of such training may be
due to the enhanced imprinting of positive temperance
suggestions and the feeling of inner empowerment that the
alpha/theta state seems to encourage. In a more detailed
view, Ochs (1992) has suggested that the most active (and
apparently transformational) properties of NFB protocols
in SDD treatment may involve teaching the subjects to
intentionally increase the amplitude and coherent interac-
tion of both their alpha and theta brainwave frequencies in
either of the brain locations. Complementing this finding
Simkin et al. (2014) explained that the alpha-theta NFB
protocol trains SDD patients to promote stress reduction
and achieve profoundly relaxed states by increasing alpha
and theta brainwaves and decreasing fast beta brainwaves.
In Scott et al. (2005) viewpoint, the efficacy of alpha/theta
NFB may lie in its ability to allow subjects to better tol-
erate stress, anxiety, and anxiety-eliciting situations, which
are particularly evident during the initial phases of recov-
ery. On the other side, White and Richards (2009) men-
tioned that alpha-theta protocol can induct higher states of
consciousness and insight, helping to alter one’s relation-
ship to self and the world as a result of what is seen and
understood in those higher states. They concluded that the
effectiveness of this protocol may be explained in large
part by a neuroplasticity concept known as the malleability
of memory, which means that revisiting and re-evaluating
early experiences via alpha–theta protocol allows the
neurological rewriting of one’s memory and consequently
modify affective reactions, and alter the nature of mem-
ories. Furthermore, in alpha–theta protocol subconscious
(emotional) memories become more available to conscious
(episodic) process and traumatic memories are often re-
leased and appear as flashbacks from the past. As these
flashbacks are relived in the context of current adult re-
sources and perceptions, the subconscious memories may
become more readily available for healing and alteration.
From another perspective, explaining effectiveness of
NFB protocols in SDD, some neuropsychologists focused
on conditional normalization of reinforcement systems in
the brain. Blum et al. (2012) were concerned with the
Reward Deprivation Syndrome (RDS) as a dysfunction in
the Brain Reward Cascade (BRC), which leads to sub-
stance craving and being a possible candidate for suscep-
tibility to alcoholism and SDD. Therefore, SDD patients
have a neurologically based inability to experience pleasant
feelings and calmness from simple stimulation. It has been
noticed that dysfunction of this pleasant feeling is the most
important factor in forcing patients to feel craving and
resort to substance abuse (Kreek et al. 2005). Following
this idea, some studies have stated that an apparent neu-
rological ‘‘normalization’’ could be responsible for shifting
the trained subject into a physical state of comfortable
calmness (Fahrion et al. 1992; Salansky et al. 1998).
Studies suggested that NFB training can initiate this neu-
rological normalizing shift (Scott et al. 2005; Sokhadze
et al. 2011; Unterrainer et al. 2014).
Recently, mechanisms by which NFB therapy may
cause behavioral changes have been suggested by research
in neuronal plasticity. A number of investigators (Rosen-
zweig 2003; VanPraag et al. 2000) are essentially in
agreement pointing out that ongoing direct experience that
evokes persistent neuronal activation alters brain structure
and brain functioning. A possible link is observed between
steady-state stimulation, induced neuronal activation, and
neuronal plasticity in the increasing body of evidence that
the electrical activity of the brain regulates the synthesis,
secretion and actions of neurotrophins (Schindler and Poo
2000), which together promote synaptogenesis. In
Sokhadze et al. (2011) explanation pre- to post-treatment
electrical activity changes are considered to positively af-
fect motor control, cortical inhibition function, general
arousal, and alertness level. This can mediates the positive
effects of proposed NFB protocol on addictive behaviors.
The crucial point about NFB is that it directly acts on the
brain oscillations, which are altered in SUD. So, NFB-
induced modifications could be manifestations of neural
plasticity, which is a phenomenon that has been considered
a basic mechanism for behavioral modifications.
Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback
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Finally, while taking into consideration the complexity
of the dimensions of this disorder, the worthwhile program
must be able to affect various factors while not being prone
to the problems of previous methods, such as relapsing,
instability, and other side effects (Trudeau 2000). On this
purpose present study showed the strength of NFB in im-
proving treatment results in MCD, as well as its ability to
work collaboratively with other methods. But, as a
limitation, although we attempted to control different fac-
tors in the process of NFB training, our use of a new
method of technology in NFB and patients’ hope and
motivation for the new treatment could have had an un-
controllable effect on our research. It is also noticeable
about the NFB clinician contact effect. Despite this, we
believe that the use of a placebo group could have
strengthened the design of the NFB program and created
control over other aspects of the program. However, this
was a preliminary study in which, because of the high cost
of the technology involved in NFB, it was not possible to
use a placebo group. Although we noticed less use of a
placebo group in prior studies, that future studies should
include a placebo group to control the effects of interfering
factors and thereby clearly reveal the benefits of NFB
training. In addition, the present study could not be con-
ducted on CMD patients without using pharmacotherapy.
Future studies should include one group of patients who
would receive NFB without receiving pharmacotherapy to
show the effectiveness of the two methods exclusively.
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... EEG frequency band studies of treatment prediction and response are quite limited, with two studies reporting symptom relief (lower anxiety, higher quality of life), or improved cognitive performance (increased attention), and longer rates of abstinence, as a result of targeted EEG neurofeedback. The first EEG neurofeedback study focuses on parietal alpha/theta and frontocentral/ parietal beta power training in methamphetamine users abstinent for at least one month (Rostami and Dehghani-Arani, 2015), whereas the second study targets central beta power in stimulant and opioid users also enrolled in psychotherapy (Keith et al., 2015). Findings from these two studies suggest that beta band neurofeedback training, while extremely time intensive (15-30 sessions), appears to reduce psychological distress, improve cognitive control, and extend periods of abstinence. ...
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Recent methamphetamine and opioid use epidemics are a major public health concern. Chronic stimulant and opioid use are characterized by significant psychosocial, physical and mental health costs, repeated relapse, and heightened risk of early death. Neuroimaging research highlights deficits in brain processes and circuitry that are linked to responsivity to drug cues over natural rewards as well as suboptimal goal-directed decision-making. Despite the need for interventions, little is known about (a) how the brain changes with prolonged abstinence or as a function of various treatments; and (b) how symptoms change as a result of neuromodulation. This review focuses on the question: What do we know about changes in brain function during recovery from opioids and stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine? We provide a detailed overview and critique of published research employing a wide array of neuroimaging methods – functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography, event-related potentials, diffusion tensor imaging, and multiple brain stimulation technologies along with neurofeedback – to track or induce changes in drug craving, abstinence, and treatment success in stimulant and opioid users. Despite the surge of methamphetamine and opioid use in recent years, most of the research on neuroimaging techniques for recovery focuses on cocaine use. This review highlights two main findings: (1) interventions can lead to improvements in brain function, particularly in frontal regions implicated in goal-directed behavior and cognitive control, paired with reduced drug urges/craving; and (2) the targeting of striatal mechanisms implicated in drug reward may not be as cost-effective as prefrontal mechanisms, given that deep brain stimulation methods require surgery and months of intervention to produce effects. Overall, more studies are needed to replicate and confirm findings, particularly for individuals with opioid and methamphetamine use disorders.
... The combined alpha-theta and SMR training developed by Scott et al. (2005) was first investigated as an add-on treatment for standard rehabilitation program, where they observed longer treatment compliance, and a higher percentage of abstinence (77% of experimental group compared to 44% of control group) at 12 months follow up compared to a control group that received additional counseling (matched in time to neurofeedback sessions). Two more studies used SMRtraining in addition to theta-alpha protocol to treat methamphetamine (Rostami and Dehghani-Arani 2015) or opioid (Dehghani-Arani et al. 2013) addiction and found decreased severity of addiction and reductions in craving compared to the treatment as usual (pharmacotherapy) control group. Neither study included a follow up assessment. ...
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... Overall, including exercise might significantly enhance recovery in previous methamphetamine dependents; thus, exercise therapy should be offered and provided as supportive treatment (65). In a randomized controlled trial, neurofeedback was also found to improve addictionspecific endpoints and quality of life compared to pharmacotherapy alone (66). ...
... LoE 2 [224] Abstimmungsergebnis: 82% ⇔ ...
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... However, in the absence of an a priori hypothesis about how A/T training may affect specific mentalization dimensions, this interpretation must be treated with caution and it might be useful in guiding future researches. Furthermore, contrary to previous studies (Arani et al. 2010;Dehghani-Arani et al. 2013;Fahrion et al. 1992;Peniston and Kulkosky 1991;Rostami and Dehghani-Arani 2015), no significant effect of A/T training was observed on psychopathological symptoms. As already hypothesized (Imperatori et al. 2017), this result is probably due to the non-clinical sample involved in the present study. ...
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