UD Researchers Launch Brain Training Program To Help Struggling Opioid Addicts

Jan 30, 2018

UDRI software engineer Kelly Cashion (right) adjusts a wireless EEG headset on research engineer Nilesh Powar to demonstrate what a neurofeedback session would look like.
Credit The University of Dayton Research Institute

There is growing evidence that opioids quickly change the brain, making it more likely for users to get hooked and struggle to recover. 

This spring, researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute will experiment with a new program designed to help opioid addicts retrain their brains, breaking the addiction cycle with neurofeedback therapy.

It’s a method that teaches addicts to rewire the brain pathways associated with drug cravings and withdrawal, officials say. 

UDRI software engineer Kelly Cashion, who wrote the winning proposal and will lead the program, will develop and use a system of neurofeedback therapy intended to help people, “recover control of their minds and bodies and accelerate the path to recovery."

According to UDRI, Cashion’s was one of five winning proposals—two from Ohio, two from Massachusetts and one from Utah—selected for funding by the Ohio Third Frontier from entries submitted by researchers, service providers and other individuals and organizations from nine countries.

The Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge was developed to help engender solutions to the nation’s growing opioid addiction crisis, which has hit the Midwest particularly hard. In 2016, Ohio was second only to West Virginia for the number of overdose deaths related to opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“When a person initially consumes opioids, the experience creates a sense of euphoria caused by a release of chemicals in the brain. The pathways in the brain that are part of that experience grow stronger—forging an addiction—while other pathways grow weaker,” she said in a press release. “Over time, use of the drugs stops creating positive feelings, and their absence creates painful symptoms of withdrawal, so that a person with an addiction needs to use the drugs just to achieve a sense of normalcy." 

Initial plans call for researchers to use software and mathematical algorithms to map the brain signals associated with addiction cravings, and train volunteers to learn to regulate their brain activity so they can avoid returning to opioids.

UDRI officials say similar mind-body programs have demonstrated success in treating nicotine addiction, depression, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

Researchers hope the brain-training program could eventually offer opioid addicts a new treatment option.

The University of Dayton Research Institute won a $10,000 state “Opioid Technology Challenge award” to create the research program. 

Researchers are expected to begin recruiting volunteers this spring. 

Learn more from The University of Dayton Research Institute.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact the state's crisis line, or text:

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) has entered in to a contract with the national Crisis Text Line to provide Ohioans with a state-specific keyword to access its free, confidential service available 24/7 via text

This story is part of Your Voice Ohio, a collaborative effort to produce more relevant, powerful journalism based on the needs and ambitions of Ohioans and Ohio communities.

Your Voice Ohio is an initiative of WYSO and more than 30 news organizations across Ohio. We’re beginning with the opioid epidemic and will let the public guide us from there.

Learn more about the project and how you can get involved.