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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Psychiatry 1/2017

Effect of short-term heart rate variability biofeedback on long-term abstinence in alcohol dependent patients – a one-year follow-up

BMC Psychiatry > Ausgabe 1/2017
Ana Isabel Penzlin, Kristian Barlinn, Ben Min-Woo Illigens, Kerstin Weidner, Martin Siepmann, Timo Siepmann



A randomized controlled study (RCT) recently showed that short-term heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback in addition to standard rehabilitation care for alcohol dependence can reduce craving, anxiety and improve cardiovascular autonomic function. In this one-year follow-up study we aimed to explore whether completion of 2-week HRV-Biofeedback training is associated with long-term abstinence. Furthermore, we sought to identify potential predictors of post-treatment abstinence.


We conducted a survey on abstinence in patients with alcohol dependence 1 year after completion of an RCT comparing HRV-biofeedback in addition to inpatient rehabilitation treatment alone (controls). Abstinence rates were compared and analysed for association with demographic data as well as psychometric and autonomic cardiac assessment before and after completion of the biofeedback training using bivariate and multivariate regression analyses.


Out of 48 patients who participated in the RCT, 27 patients (9 females, ages 42.9 ± 8.6, mean ± SD) completed our one-year follow-up. When including in the analysis only patients who completed follow-up, the rate of abstinence tended to be higher in patients who underwent HRV-biofeedback 1 year earlier compared to those who received rehabilitative treatment alone (66.7% vs 50%, p = ns). This non-significant trend was also observed in the intention-to-treat analysis where patients who did not participate in the follow-up were assumed to have relapsed (46,7% biofeedback vs. 33.3% controls, p = ns). Neither cardiac autonomic function nor psychometric variables were associated with abstinence 1 year after HRV-biofeedback.


Our follow-up study provide a first indication of possible increase in long-term abstinence after HRV-biofeedback for alcohol dependence in addition to rehabilitation.

Trial registration

The original randomized controlled trial was registered in the German Clinical Trials Register (DRKS00004618). This one-year follow-up survey has not been registered.
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