Dealing with addiction before it ruins your festive holidays

How drugs and alcohol impact the brain and role of neurofeedback in recovery

15 November 2023 - 13:09 By Thango Ntwasa
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
The silly season is upon us but many might struggle with sobriety during this time.
The silly season is upon us but many might struggle with sobriety during this time.
Image: 123RF/fjjimenez / 123RF

While the warm and fun festive season may be a good time to sit back, relax and not worry about waking up with hangovers the next morning, this can be a difficult time for addicts who need to cope with their addictions.

It can also be hell for the loved ones of those struggling with addiction as they are often not equipped to deal with their needs. To help people better understand addiction, brain trainer and founder of Brain Harmonics, Kerry Rudman, makes the difficult science behind how one becomes an addict easier to understand.

Rudman said she and her team are dedicated to advancing the science of addiction recovery. 

“We believe understanding the connection between addiction and the brain is the first step in finding effective and long-lasting solutions.”

She said the impact of drugs and alcohol on the brain is profound, leading to long-lasting changes in neural circuits and behaviour. Understanding this connection and exploring innovative treatment options is essential to address this global public health crisis.

“The human brain is a remarkable and intricate organ that plays a central role in our thoughts, emotions and behaviours,” explained Rudman.

“The introduction of drugs and alcohol can disrupt the delicate balance of the brain's neurotransmitter systems, altering our perceptions and leading to addiction. The release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, is often triggered by substance use, reinforcing the desire for more. The brain adapts to these repeated exposures, ultimately leading to cravings and the compulsion to use the substance, even in the face of harmful consequences.”

Rudman said the brain's function in addiction can be likened to a radar system constantly searching for chemicals and neurotransmitters that are lacking or imbalanced. This search for chemical equilibrium is a fundamental aspect of the brain's role in addiction.

She said the two following elements play a role in this behaviour.

Beta-endorphins and alcohol craving

Beta-endorphins are natural opioids produced by the brain, often referred to as “feel-good” chemicals. When a person is deficient in beta-endorphins, they may experience feelings of discomfort, anxiety or low mood. In response the brain seeks substances that can boost the feel-good chemicals, such as alcohol. Alcohol consumption leads to the release of beta-endorphins, temporarily relieving these negative feelings. The brain registers this relief and associates alcohol consumption with a solution to its deficiency, reinforcing the craving and the cycle of addiction.

Dopamine and methamphetamine addiction

Methamphetamine addiction is closely tied to the brain's dopamine system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and reward. Methamphetamine use significantly increases dopamine release, creating intense feelings of euphoria. However, chronic methamphetamine use depletes the brain's natural dopamine reserves. This dopamine deficiency is a key driver of addiction as the brain craves the intense pleasure associated with the drug. As a result, people addicted to methamphetamine continue to seek the drug to restore dopamine levels, reinforcing their addiction.

“In both cases, addiction develops as the brain attempts to correct the chemical imbalances or deficiencies created by drug use. It perceives the substance as a solution to its discomfort, stress or lack of natural feel-good chemicals,” said Rudman.

“This perception strengthens the association between drug use and relief, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to resist cravings and addiction.

“Understanding this radar-like mechanism in the brain highlights the importance of addressing the root causes of addiction, which often include neurotransmitter imbalances. Comprehensive addiction treatment approaches may include therapies such as neurofeedback to help individuals regain control over their brain's chemical balance and reduce the reinforcement of addiction.”

To address the neurological underpinnings of addiction, a promising approach is emerging, namely neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a non-invasive technique that helps individuals gain better control over their brain activity. Rudman said this therapeutic method offers hope to those seeking recovery from addiction by targeting specific neural pathways and helping to rewire the brain towards healthier patterns.

How does neurofeedback work, and how can it assist in addiction recovery?

Here are six steps that simplify the process.

An expert shares information to better understand addiction.
An expert shares information to better understand addiction.
Image: Michael Discenza

Personalised treatment

 Neurofeedback is highly individualised. It begins with a comprehensive assessment of a person’s brainwave patterns, identifying specific areas of concern. This personalised approach tailors treatment to address the unique neurological challenges faced by each patient.

Normalisation of brain function

Over time substance abuse can lead to irregular brainwave patterns and rebranching of dendrites. Neurofeedback helps people regain normal brain function by providing real time feedback on their brainwave activity. This training enables the brain to correct and reestablish healthier neural pathways.

Reducing cravings 

One of the most significant challenges in addiction recovery is managing cravings. Neurofeedback can assist in reducing the intensity and frequency of cravings by targeting areas of the brain associated with impulsivity and desire.

Emotional regulations

Substance abuse often leads to emotional dysregulation. Neurofeedback can help people regain control over their emotions by improving the brain's ability to self-regulate, resulting in better emotional stability.

Enhancing cognitive function

Addiction can impair cognitive functions such as decision-making and impulse control. Neurofeedback aims to enhance the cognitive abilities by strengthening the corresponding neural circuits.

Long-term recovery

By addressing the root causes of addiction on a neurological level, neurofeedback offers a path to more sustained recovery. It equips people with the tools to resist relapse and better cope with life's challenges.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, consider exploring neurofeedback. For more information, contact Brain Harmonics or visit the website at

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.