Effects of a Theta/Sensorimotor Rhythm Neurofeedback Training Protocol on Measures of Impulsivity, Drug Craving, and Substance Abuse in Forensic Psychiatric Patients With Substance Abuse: Randomized Controlled Trial

Sandra Fielenbach*, Franc Cl Donkers, Marinus Spreen, Stefan Bogaerts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Forensic psychiatric patients are often diagnosed with psychiatric disorders characterized by high levels of impulsivity as well as comorbid substance use disorders (SUD). The combination of psychiatric disorders and SUD increases the risk of future violence. Chronic substance abuse can lead to a structural state of disinhibition, resulting in more drug taking and eventually loss of control over drug intake. When treating SUD, it is crucial to address high levels of impulsivity and lack of inhibitory control.

Objective: This study set out to investigate the effects of a theta/sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) neurofeedback training protocol on levels of impulsivity, levels of drug craving, and actual drug intake in a population of forensic psychiatric patients with a diagnosis of SUD.

Methods: A total of 21 participants received 20 sessions of theta/SMR neurofeedback training in combination with treatment-as-usual (TAU). Results of the intervention were compared with results from 21 participants who received TAU only.

Results: SMR magnitude showed a significant (P=.02) increase post training for patients in the neurofeedback training group, whereas theta magnitude did not change (P=.71). Levels of drug craving as well as scores on the motor subscale of the Barratt Impulsivity Scale-11 decreased equally for patients in the neurofeedback training group and the TAU group. Other measures of impulsivity as well as drug intake did not change posttreatment (P>.05). Therefore, neurofeedback+ TAU was not more effective than TAU only.

Conclusions: This study demonstrated evidence that forensic psychiatric patients are able to increase SMR magnitude over the course of neurofeedback training. However, at the group level, the increase in SMR activity was not related to any of the included impulsivity or drug craving measures. Further research should focus on which patients will be able to benefit from neurofeedback training at an early stage of the employed training sessions. Trial Registration: Dutch National Trial Register: NTR5386; http://www.trialregister.nl/trialreg/admin/rctview. asp? TC=5386 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6nXLQuoLl).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10845
Number of pages13
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2018


  • neurofeedback
  • impulsivity
  • substance use disorder
  • offenders
  • drug craving
  • RISK
  • EEG

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