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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Can Help with Symptoms Associated with Alcohol Addiction

Researchers from The Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience, Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, Linkoping Univeristy, Sweden have published their study in which deep, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) showed promising outcomes for alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction, also known and alcholism, is defined as having a strong craving and inability to stop drinking despite the negative consequences of its effects. Signs of alcoholism include:

Alcohol addition is a progressive disorder meaning its impacts and risk for health issues can worsen with prolonged use. The first step of treatment involves detoxing the body of alcohol which can lead to withdrawal affects causing the individual to experience headaches, vomitting, insomnia, and sweating and in rare cases of about 5% of individuals will experience delirium tremens, which comes with hallucinations and delusions. However, these symptoms usually subside after 48 hours after the last drink and completing this process in a facility allows medical professionals to help during this process. Once treatment is complete, the patient should continue inpatient or outpatient rehab which can target both the addition and the root causes of it. 

The researchers targetted a certain neurocircuitry that's associated with the pathophysiology of alcohol addition and evaluated the clinical outcomes and explored associated neural signatures using fMRI. 

In this trial the researchers randomly assigned participants to two groups to receive an active or placebo treatment for adults with moderate to severe alcohol dependence. Prior to starting the Tx, the individuals were asked to hold and smell a glass of alcohol but not drink it during a period called craving induction. The researchers offered study participants TMS targetting the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. The results indicated that the treatment significantly decreased heavy drinking days compared to the placebo group. The group who recieved TMS reported significantly less alcohol cravings, and showed less functional connectivity on the fMRI in areas of the brain that can trigger cravings and relapse. The promising results from phase 2 trials were exciting and if the results can replicate in phase trial 3, a novel treatment will be available to treat this treatment resistant and impactful disease. 

Markus Heilig MD, PhD professor and dirctor of the Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience in Sweden stated that they would like to make the brain as malleable as possible. Heilig explained that brain networks are more malleable when they are active which is why the researchers asked the participants to smell a glass of alcohol before proceeding to the TMS or placebo group. This three week treatment consisted of five 30-minute sessions per week using a BrainsWay TMS device. These findings pave the way for a full-scale confirmatory multicenter trial to further improve the treatment options for alcohol addition.

To read the paper, click here.

For more information on the interview with Dr. Heilig, click here.

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