Addiction Relapse Prevention

TMS & Addiction Relapse Prevention

How can Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Help with Addiction Relapse Prevention?

Relapse Prevention in Addiction using TMS

After federal estimates reported that 70,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid addiction a public health emergency.

“At last count, more than 2 million Americans were addicted to heroin or prescription opioids, the umbrella term for painkillers like morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. Owing in part to the spike in overdose deaths, for the first time in decades, the American life expectancy is declining” (Bahler 2018).

How does addiction work in the brain?

In an addicted brain, the reward processing circuits become imbalanced. The brain receives an abundant supply of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter involved in experiencing pleasure. The brain “learns” to seek out the “high” previously experienced with the excess dopamine. Elevated brain activity in response to drug cues — referred to as cue reactivity —predicts relapse in addiction. Treatment approaches that target the neural circuitry related to cue reactivity may reduce relapse in patients. Emerging evidence suggests transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be able to directly target the neural circuitry involved in addiction.

Ongoing Research

New research investigating TMS for addiction has yielded positive results. To date, several studies have evaluated TMS in the treatment of substance use disorders such as nicotine, cocaine, alcohol, heroin, and methamphetamine use disorders as well as behaviorally addictive disorders such as gambling use disorder and binge eating.

In 2018, researchers demonstrated TMS significantly reduced the brain’s reactivity to drug cues in chronic alcohol users as well as chronic cocaine users (Kearney-Ramos 2018). In this study, addicts viewed drug cues, like liquor bottles, and their reactions to the cues were studied using fMRI. Both alcohol users and cocaine users showed significantly reduced drug reactivity following TMS treatment.

TMS is non-invasive

TMS is noninvasive technique that uses magnetic fields to stimulate neural activity in the brain. It gained FDA indication for the treatment of major depressive disorder in 2008. Since then, researchers have continued to explore the countless ways that TMS may benefit the mental health community. In August 2018, the FDA added an indication of TMS for the treatment of OCD. The most common side effect of TMS is a mild scalp discomfort during active treatment.

Addiction is Widespread

It’s difficult to describe the impact that addiction has on many Americans. The burden that alcohol and drug abuse places on millions of addicts, their families and their friends is tremendous. Recent evidence suggests that TMS may be a safe and effective treatment option for addiction.


Bahler, K. (2018). Opioid addiction: how parents are cutting off their kids | Money. Accessed November 15, 2018

Bolloni, C., et al. (2018). Transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of cocaine addiction: evidence to date. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 9, 11-21. doi:10.2147/SAR.S161206

Elsevier. (2018). Magnetic stimulation dampens brain response to drug cues in addiction. Science Daily. Accessed November 19, 2018

Kearney-Ramos, T. et al. (2018) Transdiagnostic effects of ventromedial prefrontal cortex transcranial magnetic stimulation on cue reactivity. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 3, 7  599-609, ISSN 2451-9022.  Retrieved November 19, 2018 from

Sandoiu, A. (2018). Drug addiction: is brain stimulation the answer? Medical News Today. Accessed November 19, 2018

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