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How Is rTMS Used In Addiction Treatment?

January 06, 2023

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation -- or rTMS -- is used in treating certain psychiatric disorders, but its usage in drug and alcohol addiction treatment is fairly new. Learn more about this promising therapy and why it may be beneficial in treating substance use.

A Brief History of rTMS

The concept of using magnetics to treat illnesses is more than 100 years old, but it was never scientifically tested until the end of the 20th Century. Anthony Barker designed the first modern transcranial magnetic stimulation device in 1985 using techniques developed by noted scientist Michael Faraday. Since that time, rTMS therapy has been used in hospital settings. Although there are strong proponents, results and opinions about its effectiveness have varied.

What Is rTMS Therapy?

Currently, rTMS Therapy is used during the treatment of psychiatric illness. It employs magnetic stimulation to affect the neurons in the brain. When the brain's magnetic field is strengthened or changed quickly through stimulation, neurons are depolarized. Then the brain releases neurotransmitters that are vital in regulating brain function.

This procedure is relatively benign and painless and does not require anesthesia. A magnetic coil is fitted around a patient's head, and strong magnetic pulses are delivered. The stimulation only penetrates an inch of the skull to ensure that no other brain part is impacted accidentally. Most people experience only a clicking noise and a slight headache. Patients can drive home, and most report no harmful side effects, although seizures may occur in one out of 1,000 people.

How Is rTMS Used In Addiction Treatment?

While there isn't much research on rTMS as a drug or alcohol treatment, it has been effective with nicotine dependence. In these cases, a figure-eight-shaped coil stimulates the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In these instances, rTMS has been shown to reduce cravings. Curbing cravings without medication can drastically help addiction treatment.

The method is similar for drug and alcohol addiction as the magnetic pulse is focused on the same area in hopes of curbing cravings. Some have indicated reduced cravings, while others haven't noticed any change. An alternative H-shaped coil has been used in studies focused on drug and alcohol addiction. This device can penetrate the brain more deeply and has been shown to diminish cravings more than the figure-eight coil.

Promising Future For rTMS Therapy

There is much to be done to perfect the use of magnetic fields in addiction treatment, but studies with rTMS have been promising. Just penetrating the brain slightly with magnetic impulses may dramatically affect someone suffering from substance use. As the technology is refined, even more, significant change is possible. Hopefully, continued studies with this method will unlock some of the mysteries of addiction.

Find The Addiction Treatment You Need

If you or a loved one is looking for help with drug or alcohol addiction, reach out to The Counseling Center. Our intensive outpatient program is the right choice for many, allowing you to live at home while receiving treatment from skilled clinicians. Call 866-850-5001 or fill out our form to get started.