New Study Finds that rTMS Could Help Treat Substance Abuse

An Overview of the New Research Breakthrough from a Baltimore Psychiatrist

Nearly 20 million Americans a year suffer from addiction and substance abuse. While it’s clear that addiction - due to physiological impacts on the brain - is a mental health disorder, a stigma still exists around addiction being a choice made by those suffering from addiction. At Psych Associates of Maryland, we’re dedicated to providing top-notch care with industry-leading approaches to help treat even the most severe mental health ailments. As new research emerges supporting that TMS therapy could help treat addiction, we’re excited to share the potential of this unbelievable discovery that could change the way we tackle addiction as a Baltimore psychiatrist. We’re here to break down what TMS therapy is, how it works, and take a look into the study to explain how TMS therapy could be a potential solution for addiction.

What is TMS Therapy?

A Specialized Treatment from a Baltimore Psychiatrist


TMS, which stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation, is a treatment originally intended for depression whose technological origins date back to 1985. It uses a magnetic field to stimulate nerve cells in the brain, which improves symptoms of depression. Entirely non-invasive, TMS Therapy is a widely accepted treatment for depression that continues to improve over time.

The reason TMS Therapy is so effective can be explained through the root causes of depression. Depression occurs due to the underactivation of the frontal cortex: the forward-facing portion of the brain responsible for controlling mood and personality. Underactivation of the frontal cortex reduces the ability for your brain to use chemicals like serotonin and dopamine: the neurotransmitters responsible for keeping us happy.

Addiction works similarly. As a cycle of drug use, withdrawal, and craving, addiction is heavily ingrained into several portions of the brain. Impulsive behavior - a common trait of addiction - is associated with the functions of the prefrontal cortex: the same area that controls depression. Additionally, depression and substance abuse function similarly in the brain in that they both deal with changes in the way our brains receive and release the neurotransmitters associated with our mood and personality.

This basic foundation and understanding of addiction and depression led scientists to begin questions whether or not TMS could be an effective treatment for addiction. 

About the Study

Exploring TMS is Treating Addiction


A meta-study conducted by researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University looked to understand whether or not rTMS (repetitive TMS, or another way to insinuate a short term treatment frame) could target the area of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control and mitigate cravings for alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs. They did this by analyzing the results from 26 different published studies from the past 20 years. These studies included a total of 748 participants with alcohol, nicotine, or illicit drug dependence and looked to compare the effect of active rTMS therapy with placebo treatment (a fake TMS treatment) to evaluate whether or not cravings and substance use subside with the added treatment. Information was gathered using a variety of tools, including questionnaires completes at various points in the studies.

The meta-study found that TMS therapy that stimulates the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) significantly reduces cravings in participants who received active treatment when compared to those receiving a placebo treatment. It’s important to note that treatment to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex has no significant effect on mitigating the cravings of addicted participants, meaning TMS therapy and addiction studies in the future can expect to only analyze the left DLPFC.

The study also found that rTMS on the DLPFC showed significantly better results in participants who were dependent on illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin. While the effects were sustained in candidates dependent on alcohol and nicotine, the effectiveness of TMS on reducing drug cravings was more effective when applied to highly-addictive drugs. The study said that these effects, however, are seen as short-term and the effects of successful rTMS wear off in about 4 months, on average.

What This Study Means for You 

Is TMS Therapy Worth Mentioning to Your Baltimore Psychiatrist?

TMS group therapy baltimore

Knowledge is power, but only when you know what to do with it. With the meta-study finding a connection between TMS therapy and the reduction of addictive cravings, we wonder whether or not this treatment could be used to mitigate addictive cravings in those recovering from substance abuse.

While it’s clear that there may be a connection between TMS therapy and reducing addictive cravings, TMS therapy is currently only FDA-approved for treating depression. However, psychiatrists and other medical professionals who use TMS therapy are aware of its incredible benefits and have hope for future applications and expanding how TMS therapy can be applied to benefits more patients. For the time being, we can expect further studies into the effects of TMS therapy in treating addiction. 

In the meantime, it’s worth visiting a Baltimore psychiatrist to begin taking the first steps in beating your addiction. If you’re looking for treatment for your addiction, get in touch with trusted Baltimore psychiatrist Psych Associates of Maryland today.


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